January 23, 2013

NFL's Rooney Rule Under Unfair Criticism

While the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens prepare for the Super Bowl, the remaining thirty NFL teams are looking to the 2013 season. After the end of the regular season, eight head coaches and seven general managers were replaced. None of the 15 openings were filled by a minority. This has once again brought up the effectiveness of the Rooney Rule.

The Rooney Rule, named for Dan Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and chairman of the league's diversity committee, was implemented in 2003. It requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation opportunities. While I understand the disappointment over the recent lack of minority hires, I believe the Rooney Rule still remains an effective tool for the NFL.

From an outsider's perspective there are valid arguments to be made for all fifteen new hires. I hope that none of these reasons include the color of their skin. It remains my hope that every hire made was the best man for the job, not the best white man for the job.

Those who say the Rooney Rule is no longer effective were most likely singing a different tune when the 2009 season opened up with a record nine minority head coaches. So how can the Rooney Rule suddenly be a bust?

An example of the outrage appears to center around Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell. Caldwell nearly went undefeated as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts three years ago, and is now leading his offense to the Super Bowl. There are more questions than answers regarding why Caldwell wasn't interviewed for any openings. And I don't pretend to have those answers. But pointing to his skin color is just an easy out.

When thinking of guys who deserved a second chance as an NFL head coach, my mind quickly turns to former Giants head man Jim Fassel. Similar to Caldwell, Fassel led the Giants to the Super Bowl and lost. Where is he now? He is the head coach, general manager, and president of the Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League.

I have no idea why one of the 32 NFL teams never gave Fassel a head coaching chance after he was fired by the Giants. But I certainly won't point to the color of his skin; just like I won't go there with Caldwell. In fact, it would have been more embarrassing had Caldwell been interviewed just to fill a Rooney Rule quota for some team. There are just too many factors, some objective and some not, to see it (no pun intended) in such black and white terms.

Call me naive, but I truly believe nearly every decision made by NFL teams is first and foremost a business decision. Teams make more money by winning games, so the question when selecting a head coach should be: "Who gives us the best chance to win?"

Prior to the implementation of the Rooney Rule in 2003, the NFL had seen only six minority head coaches in its history. Since the rule was implemented, there's been 13 minority hires. Four of the past six Super Bowls have featured at least one black head coach. Seems to me the rule has had a big impact on diversity in the head coaching ranks. While it's unfortunate that no minority coaches were chosen this season, let's not be so quick to question the rule's effectiveness after one off year.

Pete is a lifelong Montauk resident and former sports talk host at 88.7FM WEER. He can be reached via email at peterfmundo@gmail.com

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