In 2003, under Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, the NFL embarked on a policy designed to produce more minority hires in both the head coaching ranks and front office.
The Rooney Rule, named after Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney who headed up the NFL’s Diversity Committee, required that each team interview at least one minority candidate prior to making any head coach or senior front office hire.
Fast-forward thirteen years, where the NFL stands ready to expand the Rooney Rule to include certain coordinator positions, with a focus on the offensive side of the ball, since some have said that the lack of minority assistants with knowledge of the quarterback position has stalled the hiring of minorities to head coaching positions.
The new rule will not apply to head coaches coming in to new jobs since those coaches need to have the option of picking their own incoming staffs. Instead, the rule will apply only to established coaches with existing staffs.
Of course, the expanded Rooney Rule will run into the same problems as the original version, that of teams interviewing minority candidates to satisfy the rule then turning around and hiring who they actually want. The NFL could spare minority applicants the indignity of “token” interviews by allowing teams to interview only candidates that they seriously consider hiring.
Bills offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn, who is black, dislikes the Rooney Rule. Lynn told Fox Sports, “I think it’s good to get in front of the decision-makers and let them hear what you have to say. But at the same time, I think some people take advantage of it. I’m not for it. Hire the best man for the job. That’s all I want. I think sometimes people do that to check the box.”
Lynn’s point raises another issue, which is why does the Rooney Rule exist? If NFL owners naturally discriminate against hiring minorities, which seems like the only reason for this rule, then the league has greater problems than the mere absence of minority coaches. If the league needs a rule to keep its owners from acting like bigots, that seems like the bigger problem.
Follow Dylan Gwinn on Twitter: @themightygwinn