Editorial: NFL’s Rooney Rule needs modifications


Associated Press

Miami Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel speaks to reporters Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022, in Miami Gardens, Fla. The Dolphins announced the hiring of three former players as part of McDaniel’s first coaching staff with the NFL football team. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

By Northern Star Editorial Board

Of the head coaches hired to fill the nine head coaching vacancies this offseason, two identify as minorities: Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel, who is biracial, and Houston Texans head coach Lovie Smith, who is Black.

The NFL has made efforts to promote diversity and awareness in its product in the past. In 2003, the league adopted “The Rooney Rule,” named after late Pittsburgh Steelers owner, Dan Rooney. One of the key components of this policy is that “NFL clubs must conduct an in-person interview with at least one external minority candidate for any GM or head coaching interview.”

In the 19 years since it was enacted, it seems the Rooney Rule has become nothing more than a box to check in the hiring process. In a professional sports league where about 75% of players identified as minorities in 2020, a measly 12.5% of head coaches were minorities during that same season. The Northern Star Editorial Board feels that, while the Rooney Rule seemed like an excellent move at the time, the execution of it has been anything but.

The apparent shortcoming of the league’s efforts to promote diversity have only been exacerbated by the fact that former Dolphins and current Steelers assistant Brian Flores filed a class-action lawsuit against the NFL. Flores’ lawsuit alleges discrimination in his dismissal from his head coaching duties on Jan. 10 and his ensuing interviews for head coaching vacancies at the time.

The Rooney Rule in its current state should be an insult to minority candidates. While the policy does enable a metaphorical foot in the door, teams already have a general idea of who they plan to hire, as exemplified by the text conversation between New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and Flores.

During this text conversation, Belichick informed Flores that Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll had already been tabbed as the next head coach of the New York Giants three days prior to Flores’ scheduled interview with the Giants for the same position,

It can be reasoned that many qualified minority candidates are being brought in to simply meet the racial quota established by the league’s executives.

The Editorial Board feels that revisions must be made for this policy to truly have its intended effect on diversity in the upper ranks of team management. The league cannot simply up the number of minority candidates teams are required to interview from two to three.

In addition to the current requirements of the rule, teams should also be required to schedule their interviews with minority candidates before all others to ensure the possibility that these candidates can be taken seriously before teams can begin talking to predetermined favorites.

While there is no guarantee that these changes will have an immediate impact on diversity and hiring, this should be the first step the league looks to if they want to give credibility to the Rooney Rule. Teams will hire who they want to hire, but providing minorities with the first opportunity to sway team decision-makers can only help the NFL’s struggles with diversity in team management.