The “Spirit” of the Rule

Former Steeler Chairman Dan Rooney is now the U.S. ambassador to Ireland. He leaves behind a great legacy, playing a front office role on all six Steeler Super Bowl championships.

However, in my opinion, the greatest impact Rooney leaves on the game of football has nothing to do with the Steeler success on the field … at least directly. He is the force and creator of what’s known as the “Rooney Rule”. It was designed a few years back by Rooney to discuss the clear inequality of minority head coaches in the NFL.

The problem was not just the lack of numbers, but the lack of opportunity for qualified candidates of different ethnic groups to get interviews and get in front of the decision makers. The rule, established in 2003, has opened the door for many coaches of color including Pittsburgh’s own Mike Tomlin.

I sat down and talked to Rooney about the rule back in 2004 and the spirit behind it. He told me the idea behind it was to allow teams to get a chance to meet and talk with coaches of color and, by virtue of that opportunity, the best man would win the job and sometimes that man would be the minority candidate. Dan Rooney was quite clear during our discussion that this was not a “token” interview situation.

Pete Carroll: The New Seattle Seahawks coach but was the “Rooney Rule” violated in his hiring?

Fast forward to 2010 … and the spirit of the rule has been lost … as has the execution. The Seattle Seahawks hired college coach Pete Carroll to turn around their fortunes. The hire was no surprise to anyone as of Friday when word leaked out. However, this past weekend African-American assistant coach Leslie Frazier interviewed with Seattle. Today, Carroll was hired.

Commission Roger Goddell said the Rooney rule was satisfied in this instance. After my conversation with the man who created the rule, its my opinion that not only this rule ignored, but Frazier had what amounted to a “token” interview. Even if they didn’t offer Carroll the job until after they interview Frazier, are you telling me only one person was worthy of an interview before hiring Carroll.

Teams will always have their eye on a coach or two as they look for a new leader. However, it does them no service to make a mockery of the hiring process by not interviewing several candidates before choosing the apple of their eye. That’s the spirit of the “Rooney Rule”. That is the right thing to do.

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