In a vacuum, the Rooney Rule is a great thing for the NFL. It promotes equality. However, it can be circumvented, and it can often prove to be counterproductive.
For the uninitiated, the Rooney Rule requires NFL teams to interview minority candidates for head coach and front office roles. Teams are not required to hire minority candidates, but they can be subject to fines if they fail to interview some.
The Rooney Rule gives opportunities to minorities that otherwise would not have had the chance to become a head coach or upper-level front office member. It unveils many candidates that might not have been interviewed before the rule’s implementation.
The Bad, a.k.a. Everything Else
The NFL is a business. Teams want to compete for playoff spots and Super Bowls. Owners want their teams to make money. Teams and owners can ensure this by hiring the best available candidates.
With the Rooney Rule, teams are required to interview minority candidates. Sometimes, the minority candidate is not the best candidate for the job, but the organization could face potential backlash for not hiring a minority candidate.
On the other hand, teams might receive backlash for hiring a minority candidate. Outsiders could argue that some minority hires are just for show. Take the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2007. They hired Mike Tomlin, and some said that the hire was just made to one-up the Rooney Rule.
It is unfair to minority coaches and front office members because they can be viewed as a checkbox rather than a genuine candidate.
In recent years, the NFL has pitched ideas to incentivize teams that both hire and cultivate minority coaching talents.
Again, the message is sound. Equality is important.
In one version of a potential rule change, teams that hire a minority head coach or general manager would receive extra third-round picks. In a recent pitch, teams that have a minority coach or front office member hired by another team would receive third-round picks.
In plain English, the 2018 Patriots would get extra draft picks for the Dolphins hiring Brian Flores and the 2021 Chiefs would get extra draft picks when Eric Bieniemy becomes the head coach of the Jets, Texans, or another team.
In the “hire a minority, earn draft picks” method, teams can game the system to secure extra draft picks. If a team is in a deep rebuild, they could potentially cycle through minority head coaches and minority general managers.
The team could disguise the gestures as “looking for the right guy,” but the team would receive third-round picks for hiring and firing guys. Personnel would have to be in place for a year before being fired, but teams could find workarounds.
Wait. It’s only a third-round pick. Third-round picks aren’t that consequential right?
Take the Chiefs as an example. They drafted five future Pro Bowlers in the third round between 2005 and 2017. These players include multi-time All-Pro players Jamaal Charles and Travis Kelce. Good teams turn extra draft picks into good players no matter the position in the draft.
If you are the Texans, and your ultimate goal is to beat the Chiefs, win the AFC, and win the Super Bowl, why would you want to give them two extra draft picks? Even if the players aren’t Kelce and Tyrann Mathieu (a third-round pick taken six picks after Kelce), they are still cheaper alternatives to veterans, and they have the chance to become special players. For a team that will be pinned to the salary cap for the next few years, extra draft picks would almost be a “get out of jail free” gift from Houston.
Equality is an important goal for the NFL to strive for. Countless minority candidates were wrongly passed up for promotions and job openings in NFL history. However, the Rooney Rule and its potential expansion is the incorrect way to promote diversity. The Rooney Rule does not promote the hiring of minority candidates; it fundamentally undermines its goal by a secret motive of racism.
Minority candidates could end up with an artificial value. Bieniemy is walking around Kansas City’s facilities with free third-round picks floating over his head.
Teams could also defend not hiring Bieniemy because of the potential excess draft capital that Kansas City could possess.
At the end of the day, the 32 best head coaches should have jobs in the NFL. The hired candidates should earn their roles based on merit. Age, sex, race, and any other non-football factors should not play a role in the hiring process.
The sentiment behind the Rooney Rule is an admirable one. However, there is no perfect solution because the NFL cannot accurately account for the spread of coaches and general managers. The best 32 head coaches or general managers might not match the general population.