The NFL’s Rooney Rule was put in effect in 2003; it requires a team that is seeking to hire a new head coach to interview at least one “diverse candidate”. Over time, that requirement has been expanded to include hiring searches for GMs and for senior coordinator positions and etc. Later, it was expanded again to mandate the interview of more than a single “diverse candidate” in an attempt to avoid tokenism in the interview process. The rule is well-intentioned, but it has not been acclaimed as being highly successful in achieving the goal of matching the proportion of “diverse players” in the league to the “diverse occupants” in those leadership jobs.
- [Aside: I use the quotation marks around “diverse candidates” here because the reality is that the Rooney Rule and its modifications applies to Black candidates for the jobs and not any of the other populations that one might normally consider to be “diverse”.]
About a year ago, the NFL mavens tried to enhance the Rooney Rule again to get it to achieve hiring percentages closer to the NFL player population; the idea then was to award teams an extra draft choice if they hired a “diverse” candidate” for a head coaching or GM opening. That proposal was like waving a white flag because:
- Minority candidates for head coach and GM jobs did not want to have any “stigma” attached to them when/if they got hired.
- They wanted to get the job on their merits and not because the team might secure an extra draft pick somewhere down the line tagged to their ethnicity.
That proposal died a natural death – – but to relate to a common storyline in horror movies – – no one put a wooden stake in the heart of that proposal. For that reason, it came back to life last week in an announcement from NFL Senior VP for Player Engagement, Troy Vincent. Here is the essence of the “Vincent Amendment” to the NFL’s “Rooney Rule” (the VARR):
- The NFL will give two third-round compensatory draft picks to any team that has a “diverse candidate” hired away from them into head coaching or GM positions.
This is not a good idea on several levels:
- First, it still links the hiring of a “diverse candidate” into one of those jobs with a draft day event. Granted in this case, there is a reward to the team that “developed” the “diverse candidate” as opposed to the first scenario where there was a reward for the hiring team. That is not an insignificant difference. Nonetheless, it makes EVERY hiring of a “diverse candidate” subject to a level of scrutiny that is not necessarily going to happen if Caucasian Joe Flabeetz gets the job.
- Second, if you buy into the idea that the NFL Draft is a semi-science wherein teams select the best fits for their team needs every time it is their turn to draft, this idea flies in the face of the fundamental reason to have a draft in the first place. The draft is supposed to allow the weaker teams to get better in the draft at the expense of the stronger teams based on the order of selections. The VARR will kick that concept in the head.
- “Diverse candidates” will always be sought from the stronger teams than from the weaker teams. Not a lot of coordinators from teams that just went 4-12 or worse are going to get serious interviews for head coaching jobs or GM positions. Therefore, under the VARR, it is going to be the stronger teams who will be rewarded for having hired “diverse candidates” for those coordinator positions now that another team has poached them for a more senior position.
- What is the need to reward the stronger teams with 2 extra third round picks?
- How will the hiring of coordinators be influenced by the potential to harvest future third-round picks down the line if the hiring decision is successful?
This is another well-intentioned idea that is not a good idea. This idea incentivizes the hiring of “diverse candidates” below the head coaching level such that the hiring decision MIGHT bring a draft pick bonanza down the road. If “diverse candidates” did not like the idea of having a “price on their head” in the previous suggestion to award picks for their hiring, why should they like the same idea to be applied to the hiring decision to make them coordinators?
I have no reason or intention to trash Troy Vincent here; I am completely convinced that his intentions in this initiative – and in the previous one about a year ago – are pure as the driven snow. However, the best way to achieve “color-blindness” in the senior hiring decisions in the NFL is NOT to attach a price to influence those decisions in either direction. There are two shining examples as of this morning for NFL owners to examine and consider when/if they move to “take their franchise in a different direction”:
- Brian Flores: He is a “diverse candidate” who got hired last year to a team that seemed to all in the outside world as a “tanking candidate”. They won 5 games last year and they are squarely in the playoff race in the AFC this year.
- Mike Tomlin: He is a “diverse candidate” who got hired in 2007 and has never had a losing season with the Steelers since he arrived on the scene.
Not every “diverse candidate” will be a Brian Flores or a Mike Tomlin – – just as every “majority candidate” will not be a Bill Belichick nor a Richie Kotite. Hiring a head coach or a GM – – or both – – is a crapshoot. Some owners make good decisions; others make bad decisions. AND some owners make choices that work out famously just by dumb luck. For the NFL to put its thumb on the scale so to speak in that decision making process in any way does not conform with the idea that NFL football is a meritocracy where skill at one’s job augmented by dedicated hard work are the keys to success.
Dan Rooney created the Rooney Rule. Dan Rooney died in 2017. We can never know what he might think about the Vincent Amendment to the Rooney Rule as announced last week. He may have thought it was a brilliant extension to his proposal – – or he might have thought it was a step backward. I think it was the latter…
Finally, Alfred Adler was a psychotherapist who was the person responsible for identifying the concept of a human inferiority complex. Here is what Dr. Adler had to say about humans and noble principles:
“It is easier to fight for one’s principles than to live up to them.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………