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Media Hand-Wringing Over the NFL’s “Rooney Rule”

Tom Blumer has a great write-up on the subject over at NewsBusters, but I wanted to add a few points to it.

1) Liberals say the “Rooney Rule” isn’t a quota-system, but the sports press seem hell-bent on making it one.

Exhibit A – This 9-minute “debate” on ESPN2’s “First Take” where Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless lament the lack of minority hirings after the 2013 “Black Monday” in which at least two black coaches — Chicago’s Lovie Smith and Kansas City’s Romeo Crennel — lost their jobs.

At the end, the two admit the one thing they wish they could do through the Rooney Rule, but can’t: Force a team to hire someone.

2)  Some teams have been working around the Rooney Rule for years, treating it like a joke.

The best example of this was the San Francisco 49ers who a few years back and so hellbent on getting Mike Nolan onto their sidelines, they publicly made a major media display of interviewing former Vikings and Cardinals coach Dennis Green just for the sake of saying they didn’t violate the Rooney Rule.

This year, it looked like Atlanta Falcons’ special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong was the sacrificial interviewee as five or the eight teams took a look at him.  None of them hired him.  (After all, when was the last time a special teams guy was named a head coach?)

Might Armstrong get a head coaching gig in the future?  Perhaps, time will tell.

3)  Most African American ex-football players go into media, not coaching.

ESPN is part of the problem.  For every likely future NFL offensive coordinator / head coach in training like Packers’ receivers’ coach Edgar Bennett (Yes, that Edgar Bennett.) or former Chicago Bears’ linebacker Mike Singletary who go into coaching, there are two to three times as many who want to be NFL analysts at CBS, Fox, ESPN and the NFL Network.

Would Ray Lewis make for a great coach when he retires after the Super Bowl (personal issues notwithstanding)?   We’ll never know.

He’s set to get an analyst gig at ESPN if the initial report from Sports Illustrated is correct.

4)  Colleges are tightening the reins around their coaches.

The most obvious candidate for a black coach to jump from the college ranks to the NFL after last season was Stanford’s David Shaw — Remember him?  He’s the one who beat Wisconsin (and Barry Alvarez) at the Rose Bowl.

Well, after losing Jim Harbaugh to the 49ers only two years ago, “The Cardinal” gave Shaw a “long-term contract” prior to the Rose Bowl.  The terms of which, have yet to actually be disclosed publicly.

5)  The NFL is becoming offense-oriented, most black assistant coaches are defense-oriented.

Let me list the last five black coaches to be terminated from their respective teams.

Lovie Smith, Chicago Bears — former defensive coordinator w/ Tampa Bay prior to hiring.

Romeo Crennel, Kansas City Chiefs — former defensive coordinator of the Chiefs prior to elevation, HC of Cleveland, defensive coordinator of the New England Patriots.

Jim Caldwell, Indianapolis Colts — former offensive coordinator of Colts prior to elevation, will be Ravens offensive coordinator during the Super Bowl.

Hue Jackson, Oakland Raiders — former offensive coordinator, now secondary coach for the Bengals and said to be in line for offensive coordinator’s job with Carolina Panthers.

Raheem Morris, Tampa Bay Buccaneers — former defensive backs coach of Bucs prior to elevation, now holds same job with Washington Redskins and said to be in line for defensive coordinator’s job in Cleveland.

It is likely that being in the playoffs hurt Caldwell’s chances at another shot at being a head coach.  He wouldn’t the be first assistant who couldn’t interview for his next job because he was in the process of working his current one.  If Jackson gets the Panthers’ gig, he could be back as a head coach within the next three years.

Should the Rooney Rule be expanded to the coordinator level as now been proposed?  It’s possible, but again, which side of the ball these guys are specialists in is having probably more of any impact today than their melanin count.

6)  Some  guys just make for better coordinators than head coaches.

See:  Ray Rhodes.

See:  Romeo Crennel.

See:  Charlie Weis.

7)  In the end, NFL owners want to win, no matter who is coaching their teams.

Well…unless you’re either Rex Ryan (who has to have photographs of Jets owner Woody Johnson somewhere) or Jason Garrett (and you’re owner’s a mad man), chances are the likeliest things which will determine who becomes an NFL head coach in the future are the same things that have in the past:

Which “Coaching Tree” are you from?

Do you have any experience in whatever system works for our franchise quarterback (i.e. “West Coast Offense” and Brett Favre)?

Have you a proven track record as a winner? 

It’s the same thing which tends to lead to employment in most other aspects of life: connections, knowledge and experience; Rooney Rule or not.

Will advocates for more diversity truly be pleased with an NFL post-Rooney Rule?  Frankly, nothing short of time is going to change that as the NFL gets newer owners and newer generations of family owners who couldn’t care less who’s on their sideline as long as they’re winning on any given Sunday.

ProFootballTalk.com puts it this way:

The issue remains a thorny one for the NFL.  The Rooney Rule does not mandate hiring; it only mandates an opportunity to interview, for one minority candidate per job.  The problem is that owners typically enter the hiring process with a wish list containing a few names.  The idea that the league office often forces owners to conduct unnecessary interviews is more likely to create resentment than diversity.

That same mindset will apply to coordinators and assistant head coaches.  New coaches fill their staffs primarily by hiring friends or relatives, or relatives of friends.  Tapping the brakes for interviews of people the coaches don’t plan to hire will serve only to anger the coaches.

Exactly.  So the question the quota-seekers of the Rooney Rule need to ask themselves is: Are they helping, or hindering black coach development by trying to force it on owners?

At the end of the day, all that matters to most NFL owners are two things: Is their team winning, and are they making money?  Diversity of the coaching staff typically isn’t anywhere near the top of the list.

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