Rooney Rule

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.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFL May Revise Rooney Rule

The NFL will consider significant changes to the Rooney Rule, as Jim Trotter of NFL.com writes. On Tuesday, the league will present two resolutions in hopes of further leveling the playing field for minority coaches and GMs. 

The first proposal would nix the league’s anti-tampering measure that allows teams to prevent assistant coaches from interviewing for other coordinator positions. Between the end of the regular season and March 1, teams would not have any right to block an interview. An offensive or defensive coordinator job is a stepping stone to becoming a head coach, so the NFL’s hope is that this would lead to more minority HCs around the league.

The other proposal would give “improved draft slots” to teams that hire minority HCs or “primary football executives,” Trotter hears. This, too, would be a major revamp to the Rooney Rule. As currently constructed, the Rooney Rule penalizes teams who do not interview minority candidates for their key positions. If ratified, this would incentivize teams to hire minority head coaches with a six-spot jump from their slotted third-round pick. Meanwhile, a team hiring a minority GM would move up ten spots. A team that does both would move up 16 spots in the third, potentially allowing an early third-round pick to turn into a mid-second-rounder.

Furthermore, a team’s fourth-round pick would climb up five spots if that coach or GM reaches Year 3. As Trotter notes, Steve Wilks was fired by the Cardinals after one year and Vance Joseph was fired after two years. They represent two of the four African-American head coaches hired in the last three years. Meanwhile, the league has just two GMs of color out of a possible 32.

The proposed rule changes could be beneficial for Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, and many more minority coaches across the pro and collegiate ranks. The Rooney Rule has been in place since 2003, but Steelers owner Art Rooney II has been dissatisfied with the “10 or 12 minority coaches” hired in the last ~17 years.

In addition to the aforementioned proposals, the league will also pitch the following on Tuesday, per Trotter:

  • If a minority assistant accepts an OC/DC/ST coordinator job elsewhere, his former club would receive a Round 5 compensatory pick
  • If a minority coach or exec leaves to become a HC or GM, his previous team would receive a Round 3 comp pick
  • Any team that hires a minority QB coach would receive a fourth-round comp pick, if that coach is retained for more than one year.
  • The NFL may also require at least two minority candidates to be interviewed for HC vacancies while expanding the rule to include coordinator positions.

I think where we are right now, is not where we want to be, not where we need to be,” Rooney said earlier this year. “We need to take a step back and look at what’s happening with our hiring processes.”

Currently, the league has just four minority head coaches: Mike Tomlin (Steelers), Anthony Lynn (Chargers), Brian Flores (Dolphins), and Ron Rivera (Redskins). Out of five vacancies in the last cycle, Rivera was the only minority candidate to land an HC job. The Browns also hired Andrew Berry this past offseason; Berry and Chris Grier (Dolphins) represent the league’s only two black GMs.

After Tuesday’s meeting, the hiring process could change dramatically. Teams frequently prevent their best assistants and executives from pursuing outside opportunities; presumably, coaches and front office personnel of all backgrounds would be permitted to seek outside opportunities during the January–March 1 window.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.