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This offseason, the Raiders found themselves in a bit of a controversy over their head coaching search. On Christmas Eve, owner Mark Davis reached a verbal agreement with Jon Gruden to become the team’s next head coach. It wasn’t until after New Year’s Day that two minority candidates – Oakland tight ends coach Bobby Johnson and USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin – were interviewed for the position. On January 6, the Raiders rolled out the black-and-silver carpet to announce Gruden’s return in an over-the-top press conference. It was clear that neither Martin nor Johnson had a real chance at getting the job.
Established in 2003, the Rooney Rule stipulates that teams must interview at least one minority candidate for head coaching positions. Named after former Steelers owner Dan Rooney, the rule is in place to make sure that candidates of color have a fair shake at climbing the ranks. Some felt that the Raiders broke the spirit of the rule by not giving real consideration to a minority candidate, but the NFL recently declared that the Raiders did in fact comply with the protocol. The Fritz Pollard Alliance, which works with the NFL to monitor minority hiring practices, has vowed to push for changes to the rule that will prevent a similar situation from playing out.
When the Rooney Rule was introduced, there were historically very few non-white head coaches in the NFL. Fritz Pollard became the first black head coach in NFL history in the 1920s and the league did not see another minority head coach until 1979 when the Raiders hired Tom Flores.
Since the advent of the Rooney Rule 15 years ago, dozens of qualified minority candidates have been given opportunities to showcase themselves for head coaching positions. However, it’s hard to say concretely whether this has directly led to a greater number of minority hires as the number has vacillated over time. For example, there were four head coaches of color in 2003, eight in 2011, four in 2013, and eight again in 2017. The number stands at eight today, matching the all-time high, with Mike Tomlin, Todd Bowles, Anthony Lynn, Vance Joseph, Hue Jackson, Marvin Lewis, Ron Rivera, and Steve Wilks all holding HC positions.
In recent years, the rule has been extended to general manager vacancies. In December 2016, the NFL agreed to informally apply the rule to offensive and defensive coordinator positions, though there are no penalties for noncompliance. If a team is found to have broken the Rooney Rule in a head coaching search, the club may be faced with a substantial fine and/or a forfeiture of draft picks.
In the wake of the Raiders controversy, we could see further reform to the Rooney Rule between now and the 2018/19 offseason.