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. 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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