Skip to main content

Dan Rooney: The Rooney Rule 'workable,' can be tweaked

The numbers themselves do not look good. For any proponent of the NFL's Rooney Rule and any advocate of open-minded hiring, it was a shutout.

Eight coaches and seven general managers lost their jobs following the 2012 NFL season. None of those posts was filled by a person of color.

That has led Robert Gulliver, the NFL's executive vice president of human resources, to call it "disappointing."

But was it a failure of the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for each coach or GM opening?

Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, namesake of the decade-old rule, views it differently. He would advocate for tinkering with the rule he championed in 2003.

"Let me say this: In all eight cases, we have very excellent compliance," Rooney told and NFL Network in an exclusive interview. "Every team followed procedures, interviewed minority candidates. From that standpoint, we were pleased. As far as, now people saying they didn't get the job. Maybe this year, there weren't the candidates they thought there would be so they would get the jobs. On the other hand, it's up to the coach, the candidate, to show the owner that they're capable of doing the job. That's a big thing. Evidently, they weren't able to do that this year."

Rooney believes this year's shutout was an anomaly. He believes in the Rooney Rule, saying that the minority candidates didn't sell themselves like in previous years. He also pointed out that the rule is designed to ensure that minority candidates have interviews and fair shots at these jobs -- nothing more.

"You can't saddle these (coaches or owners) and say, 'You have to do this,' " Rooney said. "We want minorities to get the job, and we're willing to say that's our goal. But when it gets down to a team, you can't say to them, 'This is what you have to do.' You can say to the owners that the Rooney Rule, you have to follow it."

Still, tinkering to the rule can improve it. The primary goal? Increase the pipeline from position coaches to coordinators.

With seven of eight teams hiring offensive-minded head coaches this year, offensive coordinators emerged as ideal candidates. However, only Jim Caldwell of the Ravens was in such a position as a play-caller.

"I think what we have is definitely a workable thing," Rooney said. "We do have to come up with an idea to try to help people to get to be candidates. But it does get down to the coaches building a staff."

Rooney also would like to ramp up training methods to put minority candidates in such positions. That will provide owners and GMs with a broader look.

A couple of years back, Rooney hosted seminars to help members of the teams' brass to meet assistants on other teams, including minority candidates. He'd like to use that idea to help teams get to know talented coaches again. Rooney also doesn't quite understand why the hiring of a staff has to be done so quickly. Wouldn't not rushing to fill out a staff allow the coach to see a more wide-ranging view?

Extending the hiring process might force teams away from simply hiring people they know.

"With these eight coaches, now they have to build a staff," Rooney said. "A lot of people think it's really difficult and things like that. They do it quickly. Where in times, they should look at the whole thing. Is it necessary to do it as quickly as they've done?"

Rooney isn't alone in thinking that. John Wooten, the chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance that works with the NFL on minority hirings, was frustrated that candidates like Caldwell and Packers assistant head coach Winston Moss didn't receive interviews. The previous knock on Caldwell was that he didn't call plays, yet in the final few games and into the Ravens' playoff run -- he has. Still, no interviews. Wooten even puts a massive list together -- the Ready List -- each year for the teams highlighting the top minority candidates for each job.

"Why isn't (Caldwell) getting the chance to show in the interview process?" Wooten asked. "We believe in the interview process. We feel that can determine what a guy can do or can't do. Put his presentation on the board, show for him not to get that opportunity. We're looking for the best people. How can you say it's the best people if we don't have the interview process?"

Could a focus of tinkering with the Rooney Rule be to develop minority coordinators from assistants? Wooten wouldn't get into specifics of what he'll present to the NFL, but he did tip his hand.

"You are right on target," Wooten said. "What you said is exactly it. I just can't discuss that plan with you. We know what needs to be done and working with the league, we feel confident in moving in that direction. We have a plan of action and we want to move forward on that. "

In short, as Wooten said, "We just didn't have the guys in the pipeline. We need to do something about that."

That was the essence of Gulliver's statement, saying attention should be "around increasing and strengthening the pipeline of diverse candidates for head coach and senior football executive positions."

Either way, Rooney doesn't see it as a failing of the rule that honors his name. He recalled a conversation from 2009, when there were seven minority head coaches.

"At one time, two years ago, we don't need the Rooney Rule; everybody's hiring minorities coaches," Rooney said. "Well this year, you go back. That happens. You don't have the same situation this year."

Follow Ian Rapoport on Twitter @RapSheet.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.