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Recently, the Rooney Rule and the implementation of it have come under fire. Both the Redskins and Seahawks have been chastised for what has been perceived as skirting the rule that requires teams to interview a minority candidate for a head coaching job or a high administrative position. Some are arguing that the rule isn't being enforced properly and the NFL should take action, others think it should be eliminated all together.
All those critics are off-base. The Rooney Rule doesn't need to be changed or eliminated.
Last Wednesday, the Redskins hired Mike Shanahan as their new head coach. It's reported that they interviewed assistant coach Jerry Gray before they had even fired Jim Zorn, in order to comply with the Rooney Rule. In Seattle, Jim Mora Jr. was fired Friday and instantly there were rumors swirling that USC's Pete Carroll would be his successor. But the Seahawks then interviewed Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier on Saturday morning. And then on Sunday the Seahawks were able to announce their hiring of Carroll.
The critics say the actions the Redskins and Seahawks took were against the "spirit" of the Rooney Rule and that it's not doing what it was intended to do. Spirit? Pardon the pun, but rules work best when they are black and white. Either they did or they didn't comply by the rule and in these cases Roger Goodell has said they both complied. You can argue that the rule needs to be amended but don't be so naïve into thinking that any loopholes in a rule won't be exposed.
Tony Dungy recently told the Associated Press, "The idea of the rule is to slow down the process and get teams to do their homework and investigate a lot of candidates, not just minority candidates." That sounds great but it's not realistic. With big-name head coaches such as Shanahan and Carroll, time is of the essence. If one team doesn't move quickly another will. The teams often already know who they covet before the axe drops on their current coach. If teams blink for a second they could lose out on their top target.
It might seem like I'm in favor of the NFL discontinuing the Rooney Rule. This couldn't be further from the truth. The minority candidates interviewed for these jobs aren't stupid. Do you think Jerry Gray didn't know the Redskins were after Shanahan? The Skins' owner is Daniel Snyder, of course he's going to pay a boat-load to the biggest name out there. You think Leslie Frazier hadn't heard all the rumors that you and I had? He knew Carroll was as good as hired. This doesn't mean the Rooney Rule doesn't work in its most basic goal of helping minorities get hired.
Let's say you're an up-and-coming actor and you read in the trades that sources say Tom Cruise is going to star in the next Spielberg film. Your agent calls you and says Spielberg would like you to audition for that role. Are you going to turn it down because you know you're not going to get the part? Of course not. You go in and audition in hopes that he sees your talent and remembers you next time - or perhaps tells other directors how talented you are. Just going through the audition or interview is an invaluable learning process.
The proof is in the results. Prior to the implementation of the Rooney Rule in 2003, the NFL had had just seven black head coaches. Since the rule's adoption, that number has doubled. Some, like Mike Florio of The Sporting News has suggested the rule be discontinued. Some point to Super Bowl XLI in 2007 where Lovie Smith's Bears faced Dungy's Colts as a sign that it's no longer needed. But the fact remains that in a league where roughly 70 percent of the players are black, just 20 percent of the head coaches are black. Progress has been made but not nearly enough.
The Rooney Rule isn't perfect, but it still serves its purpose of giving minority coaches more opportunities. Some teams will circumvent the system and appear to abide by the rule but for those that remain close-minded they will miss out on the possibility of a better candidate. Isn't that a much bigger punishment than a fine for violating the "spirit" of the Rooney Rule?