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The Rooney Rule An After Thought

The Rooney Rule, established in 2003,requires National Football League teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operations opportunities. The rule is named after Dan Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the chairman of the National Football League’s diversity committee, and indirectly the Rooney family in general, due to the Steelers’ long history of giving African Americans opportunities to serve in team leadership roles. It is often cited as an example of affirmative action. The Rule was established to make sure that qualified minority coaches were considered for high-level coaching positions. Until 1979, Fritz Pollard was the only minority head coach in NFL history (which was during the league’s early years in the 1920’s) and by the time the Rule was implemented, only Tom Flores, Art Shell, Dennis Green, Ray Rhodes, Tony Dungy, and Herman Edwards had ever held head coaching jobs. (Only Dungy and Edwards were actively head coaching when of the Rule’s implementation, though Shell and Green would later return to the sidelines as head coaches.) Dungy in particular had struggled for years before getting a head coaching job; he was often promoted as a head coaching candidate by Chuck Noll when Dungy was an assistant under Noll in the 1980’s with the Steelers, but he would not become a head coach until 1996 when he took over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Although Mr. Rooney had good intentions for minority sports professionals, the rule has done more harm than it had done good. Of course, we can say it has helped Lovie Smith, Romero Cranell, Herm Edward, Tony Dungy, Rahim Morris and Mike Tomlin. But for me, the rule is more of an annoyance, when it make news headlines with the obligatory overtone.

Over the years I have been quite irritated by the focus and attention given to the head coaches’ selection process. NFL franchises are always happy to let us know, which candidates are in the running for the vacancy, followed by the cliché “after the team complies with the Rooney Rule”. Now tell me why these teams feel like they have to compel themselves to letting us know, that they were thinking about a few minority candidates to soothe their inner thoughts a/k/a Rooney Rule.

The Rooney Rule – to use or not to use is a matter of good human principles, and not a matter of making a media alert.

If finding the best candidate is the goal of each NFL franchise, why would I want ESPN to tell me that the Seahawks has agreed to a contract in principle with Pete Carroll, but they have to make sure they entertain a few in a black, hispanic or another minority candidates first.

Do me a favor team owners save that drama for your losing record – spare me the agony and just go ahead in “principle” with Carroll or which ever over- rated candidate, you will hire and fire after one season again.

It’s okay just to say you have selected Carroll, Mangini, Daniels, Zorn or any other Coach. Heck just schedule your press conference and make the announcement like the Redskins did. Snyder surely did not think about letting us know whether he invoked the Rooney before hiring Shanahan. Political correctness is a key part of our culture, but if you have to let the media know what you are doing about the Rooney Rule…do us all a favor – go to hell.

Sports fans are not in this business of skin color, we accept whichever play-caller you select, we buy the expensive sports packages, we mortgage our homes for season tickets and we listen to post game shows, when your prodigy selection screams “playoffs, playoffs”. Personally, I think the NFL should rename the rule and call it the “Phony Rule” – no disrespect to Mr. Rooney.

  1. Tim
    January 9, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    I agree with you totally about the rule, not the person being more of an annoyance than anything. It would not hurt my feelings, if the owners would drop this ‘horse & pony’ show and pick their head coaches.

    Mr. Rooney, I appreciate what you and your family was trying to do!

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