Rooney Rule

Scott Milanovich Turned Down Colts’ Play-Calling Duties?

Jim Irsay‘s unusual decision to name Jeff Saturday as his team’s interim head coach has not been well-received around the league. Among Frank Reich‘s holdover staffers, a fair amount of unrest has emerged.

Saturday is going with assistant quarterbacks coach Parks Frazier as his offensive play-caller in Week 10, but Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post reports Frazier was not the first choice. QBs coach Scott Milanovich, a former Jaguars play-caller who helmed the Toronto Argonauts to a Grey Cup as head coach in 2012, turned down the chance to call plays.

Milanovich called plays in Canada and for a short stretch with the Jaguars. He has been on Reich’s staff since last year. While Frazier has been with the Colts since Reich’s 2018 arrival, the 30-year-old does not have play-calling experience and was on the quality control level as recently as 2020. The Colts also have former East Carolina HC and Maryland OC Scottie Montgomery on staff as running backs coach; Montgomery was on the Panthers’ OC radar this offseason.

[RELATED: Reich Aiming For Another HC Job]

Irsay’s decision to hire Saturday has caused tumult among staffers and players, according to La Canfora, who adds Matt Ryan and other veterans were “irate” when informed of the Reich-for-Saturday swap. Some vets have said they do not want to play for the team any longer, though the trade deadline having passed limits players’ options. GM Chris Ballard, whom Irsay said was not in danger of being canned, told players the Saturday decision came “directly from the owner.” Irsay made that plain with his comments this week.

Irsay being behind the firing of offensive coordinator Marcus Brady is not surprising, but La Canfora notes the owner overruled Reich on quarterback selection. Reich did not view Sam Ehlinger as ready to play, and although the since-fired HC did not want to bench the struggling Ryan, he would have gone to Nick Foles before Ehlinger. Reich said this offseason he had wanted to acquire Foles in previous years. Prior to Ehlinger replacing Ryan, he moved past Foles as Indy’s QB2. It does not appear Reich backed that move.

The Colts are 0-2 with the 2021 sixth-round pick starting, and although Ehlinger drew praise from Reich, some around the league believe the Colts are tanking with their Saturday-Ehlinger-Frazier strategy. Irsay vehemently pushed back on that notion (via The Athletic’s Bob Kravitz), but the Colts — who also traded Nyheim Hines‘ through-2024 contract to the Bills at the deadline — will be far less experienced in key spots when they face the Raiders on Sunday.

That’s the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard, that we’re tanking,” Irsay said. “That’s bulls—. We’re in this thing; 9-7-1 get us in, no question about it. … We’re not tanking the season. Whoever says these things, that we’re not playing Matt because [of an effort to tank], that’s all bulls—. That’s not true. … We’re going to do what it takes to win. I don’t know who people think we are, they don’t know us. We don’t tank in Indianapolis.”

Irsay also said, via Kravitz, Ryan could play again this year. Previously, the thought was Reich’s 2023 injury guarantee will keep him sidelined. Ryan has missed time with a shoulder injury, but upon switching to Ehlinger, Reich said the move was not injury-related. The longtime Indianapolis owner said it is inaccurate to suggest he forced the QB switch on Reich, indicating Saturday will have free rein to change quarterbacks. Irsay has, however, taken a hands-on role regarding quarterbacks this year. He forced the trade of Carson Wentz and instructed Ballard to finalize the Ryan deal, so his fingerprints being on the Ehlinger move would not be a stretch.

The Colts won the Andrew Luck sweepstakes 10 years ago, going 2-14 in 2011. But the team losing Peyton Manning for a full season led to that pick, rather than a full-fledged tanking effort. Though, the Colts certainly benefited from losing at the right time. Indianapolis has yet to find a Luck replacement; the team will certainly be linked to first-round passers in 2023.

Reich’s staff also includes DC Gus Bradley, a four-year Jaguars HC who has been on the coordinator level for over a decade, and former Panthers, Broncos and Bears HC John Fox, a senior defensive assistant. Special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone is viewed as a rising talent in the coaching ranks. The Saturday decision and Irsay’s defense of the choice has drawn criticism from other staffers around the league, Kimberley Martin of ESPN.com tweets.

The Rooney Rule does not apply to interim hires. Rod Graves, the director of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, said (via CBS Sports’ Josina Anderson, on Twitter) that should change going forward. The NFL’s expanding of the Rooney Rule in recent years certainly points to the possibility it will later apply to interim hires. It is not yet known if the league will discuss that matter for potential 2023 application.

NFL Expands Rooney Rule To Quarterbacks Coach Positions

The NFL’s Rooney Rule will is expanding to the position coach ranks. The league passed a resolution Tuesday to incorporate the quarterbacks coach position into the Rooney Rule requirements, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.

Teams with vacancies at this position will now be required to interview a minority candidate. This continues a stream of enhancements to the Rooney Rule, which now mandates at least two minority or female candidates be interviewed for general manager and coordinator positions.

The quarterback coach role represents the top feeder spot to offensive coordinator gigs, and a notable disparity between white and minority coaches persists at that position. Only three teams — the Falcons (Charles London), Eagles (Brian Johnson) and Saints (Ronald Curry) — employ a minority quarterbacks coach.

Not every team has a staffer in this role, but most do. The Colts and Texans had minority coaches in these roles recently and promoted both (Marcus Brady and Pep Hamilton, respectively) to offensive coordinator over the past year and change. Brady and Hamilton are two of the league’s four minority OCs entering the ’22 season.

Most of the current head coaches with offensive backgrounds became coordinators after stays as QBs coaches — from Andy Reid to Kyle Shanahan to Matt LaFleur to Zac Taylor. This specific Rooney Rule expansion stands to grant more minority assistants audiences with teams during the annual winter hiring periods.

Steve Wilks, Ray Horton Join Brian Flores’ Lawsuit; Allegations Made Against Cardinals, Titans

Two additions have been made to the class-action lawsuit filed by Brian Flores. Panthers secondary coach Steve Wilks and former NFL staffer Ray Horton have joined the suit, making allegations against the league, but also the Cardinals and Titans, respectively. 

As first reported by Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, Wilks’ allegations stem from his time as head coach of the Cardinals. The 52-year-old held that title for one year, the 2018 season. As the new complaint details, Wilks “was hired as a ‘bridge coach’ and was not given any meaningful chance to succeed” (Twitter link via ESPN’s Adam Schefter). It adds that Wilks “was unfairly and discriminatorily” fired after the team went 3-13.

Central to that point is the fact that general manager Steve Keim was away from the team during the preseason leading up to that campaign as a result of a DUI, and has since been given a contract extension. As Florio notes, Wilks also preferred the team trade up to draft Josh Allen that year; it was with the Cardinals’ ultimate selection, Josh Rosen, that Arizona and Wilks had that losing season. The allegation details how his replacement, Kliff Kingsbury, “has been given a much longer leash” during his tenure alongside Kyler Murray, despite the former’s lack of NFL experience and college success.

Horton, 61, alleges that in 2016 he participated in a “sham interview” for the Titans’ head coaching position. He had previously been the defensive coordinator of the team for two seasons, but they hired Mike Mularkey. As noted by the complaint, the latter had already been told he would be hired before the “fake” process of interviews (including with Horton, to satisfy the Rooney Rule) began, and stated as much in a recent podcast interview (audio link via Pro Football Focus’ Ari Meirov). Horton most recently coached in Washington in 2019.

In the aftermath of these developments, Flores (who has himself made changes to his complaint), Wilks and Horton have made brief statements (Twitter link via ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler). Both the Cardinals and Titans have rebuffed the assertion that their respective decisions were discriminatory.

Extra Points: Rooney Rule, Booth, CFL, USFL

The NFL made more adjustments to the Rooney Rule this week. Teams must go into the season with a minority coach or a woman on their offensive staff, Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com notes. This can include a woman of any race, and the NFL also will include women among Rooney Rule requirements going forward. Teams must interview at least two external minority candidates for head coach, coordinator and GM roles; women are now included in this pool. Clubs, however, will not be required to interview female staffers for these positions. The female or minority staffer hired as part of this offense-based initiative must work closely with their respective team’s head coach, Seifert adds, and their respective salaries will be paid via a leaguewide fund. The NFL has a league-record 17 minority defensive coordinators currently, with two teams employing co-DC setups, but 27 of the league’s 31 offensive coordinators (the Patriots do not currently have a staffer in this role) are white.

Here is the latest from around pro football:

  • Clemson cornerback Andrew Booth looms as a first-round prospect, but he will not be ready for his team’s offseason activities. The incoming rookie defender underwent sports hernia surgery, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. While Booth (Scouts Inc.’s No. 30 overall prospect) is expected to be ready for training camp, it will be a bit before he is healthy.
  • De’Anthony Thomas joined Oregon draft hopefuls in working out at the school’s pro day Friday, with Schefter adding the former Chiefs wide receiver/return man is aiming to make a comeback (Twitter link). A six-year NFL veteran, Thomas has not played since 2019. He was among the first to opt out due to COVID-19 concerns ahead of the 2020 season. The Oregon alum is currently on the British Columbia Lions’ roster in the Canadian Football League, signing with the team in February.
  • Staying in the CFL, Martavis Bryant will receive another chance north of the border. The former Steelers and Raiders wide receiver who battled suspensions in the NFL signed with the CFL’s Edmonton Elks, who are taking a flier on the talented pass catcher despite his refusal to report to the Toronto Argonauts’ training camp in 2021. The Argos held Bryant’s rights last year, but he is now in Edmonton. Bryant last played in the NFL in 2018, catching 19 passes for 266 yards with the Raiders. Bryant posted two 600-plus-yard receiving seasons in Pittsburgh but was suspended three times during his NFL career for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
  • Another spring league will launch this month, with the rebooted USFL beginning play April 16. The latest spring effort’s contracts are structured in a way that will make it a bit more difficult for the XFL to acquire players when its latest relaunch occurs in 2023. The USFL gave its players one-year contracts with team options for 2023, per Ben Fischer of Sports Business Journal (via Mike Florio of PFT). None of the recent spring leagues — from the Alliance of American Football (2019) to XFL 2.0 (2020) — finished their respective seasons, so the matter of USFLers’ 2023 contracts is not exactly a front-burner item just yet. Some notable players — like Paxton Lynch, De’Vante Bausby, Kyle Lauletta and other ex-NFLers — are part of this centralized (in Birmingham, Ala.) USFL.

Brian Flores Sues NFL, Dolphins, Giants, Broncos

Brian Flores filed a class-action lawsuit against the NFL and three teams — the Dolphins, Giants and Broncos — on Tuesday, alleging racial discrimination, Marcel Louis-Jacques of ESPN.com reports. The Dolphins’ decision to fire him after three seasons, along with the Giants and Broncos choosing other candidates in 2022 and 2019, respectively, are at the root of this suit, which he filed in New York.

The Dolphins stunned most by firing Flores after back-to-back winning seasons, but the 2019 season — one in which the team was connected to tanking for the 2020 No. 1 overall pick — comes up frequently in Flores’ suit. The since-fired HC alleges Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered him an additional $100K for each loss that season and that GM Chris Grier informed Flores that Ross was mad when the team’s wins down the stretch that season compromised its 2020 draft position. The Ross allegations are particularly explosive, and the Dolphins owner came up in another part of this lawsuit as well.

Miami likely fielded the NFL’s worst roster in 2019, having gutted it at the start of a rebuild, but Flores went 5-11 to push the team’s 2020 draft slot down to No. 5. The Dolphins were connected to Tua Tagovailoa for over a year, but they had changed course and wanted Joe Burrow after his record-setting Heisman campaign. Instead, the Bengals landed the LSU superstar and rebuffed the Dolphins’ attempt to trade up from No. 5.

Flores also alleged Ross wanted Flores to recruit a “prominent quarterback” at the end of the 2019 season — before free agency, which would have violated the NFL’s tampering rules. This, per Flores, included a meeting on a yacht before the legal tampering period. When Flores refused to go through with this meeting, he claims he was met with “treated with disdain and held out as someone who was noncompliant and difficult to work with.” The Dolphins cited collaboration issues as part of the reason they fired Flores last month.

The unnamed quarterback is believed to be Tom Brady, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports (video link). The Dolphins were linked to Brady, whom Flores spent over a decade with in New England, but were not believed to be among the finalists for the future Hall of Fame passer by the time the tampering period began.

The Giants hired Brian Daboll over Flores, who called his interview process with the team “a sham” meant to comply with the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which mandates teams interview two minority candidates for HC positions. Flores, who spoke with the Giants before they hired GM Joe Schoen and later interviewed with Schoen and Co. in person, cites Bill Belichick texts about his pursuit of the job in his suit. In the messages, Belichick claimed that he had “Buffalo and NYG that you are their guy.” Flores’ former boss later texted his apologies for misunderstanding the situation. The suit claims Flores’ in-person meeting with the Giants came after they had already decided to hire Daboll, via the New York Post.

Flores also alleges members of the Broncos’ interview contingent, including former GM John Elway, arrived for his 2019 HC interview an hour late and hungover. The Broncos ended up hiring Vic Fangio to replace Vance Joseph that year, leading Flores to Miami. Calling Flores’ account “blatantly false,” the Broncos detailed their 2019 interview process with Flores (via the Washington Post’s Nicki Jhabvala, on Twitter). The Dolphins and Giants have also rejected Flores’ claims.

Flores conducted a second interview with the Texans on Monday, and the Saints did go through with their interview Tuesday at the Senior Bowl, ESPN.com’s Mike Triplett tweets. This lawsuit certainly complicates Flores’ chances of landing a job this year. His suit against the NFL aims, among other matters, for the league to increase the number of Black coordinators, incentivize the hiring and retention of Black GMs, HCs and coordinators and provide transparency of the salaries attached to GMs, HCs and coordinators.

God has gifted me with a special talent to coach the game of football, but the need for change is bigger than my personal goals,” Flores said. “In making the decision to file the class action complaint today, I understand that I may be risking coaching the game that I love and that has done so much for my family and me. My sincere hope is that by standing up against systemic racism in the NFL, others will join me to ensure that positive change is made for generations to come.”

The NFL called Flores’ claims meritless in a swiftly released statement. The league changed its Rooney Rule multiple times during Flores’ Miami tenure but currently features just one team employing a Black head coach. Two others — Washington and the Jets — employ minority HCs.

The NFL and our clubs are deeply committed to ensuring equitable employment practices and continue to make progress in providing equitable opportunities throughout our organizations,” the NFL said in a statement, via Rapoport (on Twitter). “Diversity is core to everything we do, and there are few issues on which our clubs and our internal leadership team spend more time. We will defend against these claims, which are without merit.”

Raiders’ HC Search Narrowing

The Raiders’ 2021-22 NFL season hasn’t yet come to an end, but, according to the rumors circulating in the NFL, Raiders’ owner Mark Davis is already locked-in on his preferred replacement hire for head coach. Davis hasn’t conducted an official search, but Mike Florio of NBC Sports confirms what most of the league is thinking: that Davis already knows who he wants.

As of right now, the hot gossip around the league is pointing to Davis pursuing current University of Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh, of course, had a previous stint in the NFL, coaching the 49ers for four seasons. Harbaugh’s record as an NFL head coach stands at 44-19-1. Harbaugh went to the NFC Championship game in all of his first three seasons and even made it to the Super Bowl in his second year, only to lose to his older brother and the Ravens. Harbaugh’s fourth year saw the 49ers go 8-8 and resulted in the end of his contract.

Since his departure from the NFL, Harbaugh has been one of college football’s more eccentric coaches, leading the Wolverines to a 61-24 record since 2015 and helping Michigan to their first Big Ten Championship since 2004. The upside of Harbaugh is apparent as he has shown the ability to win at both levels.

Current interim head coach of the Raiders, Rich Bisaccia, may have something to say about that, though. Bisaccia took over after Jon Gruden’s noisy departure and has kept the ship upright, going 6-5 and keeping the Raiders alive in the playoff hunt. Things could get interesting if the team rallies under Bisaccia to make some noise in the playoffs.

According to Vic Tafur of The Athletic, Davis, who also owns the Las Vegas Aces, made a splashy hire for their head coaching position, pulling Becky Hammon away from the San Antonio Spurs. What’s interesting is that he told Bill Laimbeer, the incumbent head coach of the Aces from the previous season, that, if Hammon declined to take the position, Laimbeer would be retained. A similar offer could be in the cards for Harbaugh and Bisaccia.

The unfortunate part of this situation is that, when owners make up their mind like this before a search can be conducted, it makes a mockery of the league’s Rooney Rule. Davis will surely make sure his franchise complies with the rule, inviting ethnic-minority candidates in to interview, but interviews haven’t even begun to be planned, and the outcome already seems like a foregone conclusion.

Regardless, all signs are pointing to Jim Harbaugh becoming the next head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders with his main competition being the current interim head coach. Bisaccia looks to to make Davis’s decision a little more difficult tonight with a win against the Chargers.

NFL Expands Rooney Rule Requirements

Coming out of the owners meetings this week, the NFL made another change to the Rooney Rule. Teams must now interview at least two external minority candidates for general manager positions and coordinator jobs, the league announced.

In 2009, the rule designed to increase minority hiring expanded to GMs, stipulating clubs must interview at least one minority candidate for those high-profile roles. Last year, the league implemented a firm policy expanding the Rooney Rule to coordinator positions. This week’s change will double those previous meeting mandates.

Last year, the NFL made major changes to the Rooney Rule for head coaches and GMs, incentivizing such hiring decisions by included draft pick compensation. Teams with head coaching vacancies were also required to interview two minority candidates for HC roles. Expansion on the coordinator front will allow for more diverse hiring pools going forward.

The NFL moved from two minority offensive coordinators in 2020 to five this year, with the Lions (Anthony Lynn), Colts (Marcus Brady) and Dolphins (Eric Studesville) making such hires. Three teams with GM vacancies — the Falcons, Lions and Washington — also hired minority candidates for those posts (Terry Fontenot, Brad Holmes, Martin Mayhew), moving the NFL from two to five in these positions as well.

We have to do more because we clearly haven’t gotten to a place where we have to have more opportunity for a lot of these great [coaches]. The pipeline is great. The pipeline of coaching talent is great. The pipeline of minority coaching talent is great,” Jonathan Beane, NFL Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer said, via CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones. “But still the opportunity to interview for these roles is still not where we want it to be and certainly not for hires.”

Additionally, the NFL informed teams virtual interviews with head coaching candidates may be conducted during the final two weeks of the regular season. While the league introduced this option last season, it only notified teams this was permitted a day before that window opened. This year’s virtual interview window will open Dec. 27 and only applies to teams with in-season HC vacancies.

Extra Points: Coaches, GMs, Schedule, OTAs

After the NFL expanded the Rooney Rule this offseason, it has a “ready list” of minority candidates for head coaching jobs, offensive and defensive coordinator positions and GM candidates, according to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio. Beyond some of the big names — Eric Bieniemy, Marvin Lewis, Todd Bowles, Leslie Frazier among them — coaches like Clemson OC Tony Elliott, Penn State HC James Franklin and Michigan State HC Mel Tucker appear on the HC portion of the list. On the GM side, some first-time candidates include Bills pro scouting director Malik Boyd, Raiders pro scouting director Dwayne Joseph, Ravens exec Vincent Newsome and Chargers player personnel director JoJo Wooden. Former Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson — now the franchise’s pro scouting director — also appears on the GM portion of the list. The Rooney Rule now mandates teams interview two minority HC candidates and expanded the rule to include coordinator positions. Franchises must also open their senior-level executive jobs to minority and female candidates.

Here is the latest from around the league:

  • Normal NFL offseasons feature several weeks’ worth of OTAs preceding a June minicamp, but the NFLPA would like a schedule that looks closer to this year’s virtual offseason. Union executive director DeMaurice Smith said “there is absolutely no reason” for the NFL to return to full-scale OTAs, per Sports Business Daily’s Ben Fischer (subscription required). Having seen no decline in performance after this atypical offseason, union president J.C. Tretter agrees with Smith. This would be a stretch for coaching staffs, which have steadily seen their time with players cut back. The past two CBA agreements have significantly limited offseason and padded training camp workouts, and 2020’s COVID-19-altered offseason created steeper acclimation challenges for young players.
  • The NFL has agreed to a formula for its 17th regular-season game, making it increasingly likely this season will be the last one of the 16-game era. In what will be the first shift to the league’s scheduling setup since 2002, the 17-game schedule will feature a fifth interconference game. The schedule will pit an AFC division winner against an NFC division winner, and on down the line within each division, but the extra interconference game will not feature two teams who played the previous year, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. In the event the NFL moves to the 17-game season in 2021, the Chiefs and Buccaneers could not play again next season; the earliest such a regular-season rematch would occur would be 2022.
  • Roger Goodell may well be on board with shortening the preseason slate from four games to two. The commissioner “seemed in favor” of halving the preseason schedule at last week’s owners meetings, according to ESPN.com’s Seth Wickersham, but some high-profile owners are not. Jerry Jones, Robert Kraft, John Mara and Art Rooney II dismissed the idea of going from three preseason games — the new number as of the 2020 CBA — to two, according to ESPN. No vote occurred on the matter, though Goodell discussing the idea publicly points to it remaining an issue going forward.

NFL Unlikely To Incentivize Rooney Rule Hires 

Last month, the NFL weighed a handful of amendments to the Rooney Rule that would incentivize teams to hire coaches and leading executives of color. However, the proposal ultimately did not make it to a vote. In an interview with Shlomo Sprung of Forbes, NFL executive VP of Football Operations Troy Vincent indicated that the system will be revamped, but in a different fashion. 

[RELATED: NFL To Change Policy On Coordinator, Front Office Interviews]

By no stretch of the imagination was there any thought about degrading, using individuals as bribes, pawns,” Vincent said. “Coach [Tony] Dungy said it right, we should not be rewarding people or have a system that rewards people for doing the right thing. But we do believe there’s merit in rewarding people for identifying and developing minority coaching talent.”

The May proposal reportedly would have given teams improved draft position in exchange for hiring minority head coaches or GMs. A team hiring a minority HC would move up six spots in the third round; a team hiring a minority GM would move up 10. Those incentives also could have been combined, per the proposal. A team hiring a minority head coach and a minority GM would jump up 16 spots in Round 3.

Ultimately, league owners didn’t put that pitch to a vote, but it seems likely that the league will adjust the Rooney Rule – perhaps with a compensatory pick for losing a hired minority employee to another team. Vincent says it’s a “broken” system, one that was designed to increase the hiring and advancement of minority leaders, but has resulted in only four minority head coaches in the NFL.

NFL Tables Rooney Rule Draft Proposal

On Tuesday, the NFL proposed incentives to further the mission of the Rooney Rule and increase the league’s number of minority coaches and lead executives. That resolution has been tabled for the time being, according to NFL.com’s Jim Trotter (on Twitter).

Under the proposed plan, teams would receive improved draft slots in exchange for hiring head coaches or “primary football executives” (read: GMs) of color. A team hiring a minority HC would move up six spots in the third round; a team hiring a minority GM would move up 10. Those incentives would also be combined – hiring both would mean a 16-spot leap in Round 3.

Reaction to the draft-related proposal was mostly negative, so it is not exactly surprising to see it stalled. But the league did make some key changes this week, implementations that add to teams’ hiring processes — which have received criticism in recent years. Of the past 20 head coaching vacancies, minorities filled only three. The changes will force teams to meet with more people of color.

Teams must interview multiple external minority HC candidates and expanding the Rooney Rule to the coordinator level. Clubs must also interview at least one minority candidate for all coordinator positions. These changes did not require a vote and will take effect immediately. But the more controversial changes involving draft positions, which first surfaced last week, will be pushed back.