Rooney Rule Is Just Fine, Thank You
They (ahem) interviewed one of their black assistant coaches for the head job that was filled at the time and whose replacement already was known. And, yes, the Seattle Seahawks had zero intentions of hiring the black assistant coach they (ahem, ahem) interviewed last week despite having another guy virtually signed, sealed and delivered.
And, yes, with another Dr. King holiday approaching, the NFL joins its peers in professional and collegiate sports by not totaling making racial progress.
That said, I haven't a problem with the Rooney Rule, named for Steelers owner Dan Rooney (pictured).
Neither should you -- nor should anybody else -- when it comes to a mostly wonderful rule that requires NFL teams to interview at least one minority candidate before hiring a coach or front-office official. The rule is flawed, because all rules are, but this one is less flawed than its alternatives.
Even so, former NFL head coach Tony Dungy and others have blasted the rule's integrity during the last few days. They mentioned how the Redskins and Seahawks stiff-armed the spirit of the rule by continuing to interview those aforementioned black assistant coaches -- even though those teams knew from the start that they were going to hire Mike Shanahan and Pete Carroll, respectively.
That's the tiny picture. As for the gigantic one, there is John Wooten, the chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance -- which spurred the Rooney Rule into existence -- and Wooten has this whole thing exactly right.
"No. 1, it's easy for guys to say the rule is not this or not that," said Wooten, 73, telling the truth to FanHouse about Rooney Rule bashers, who generally mean well, but rarely have an alternative that doesn't feature a fairy tale scenario of everybody singing "We Are the World" from now through eternity.
Wooten, by the way, is a former NFL offensive lineman, who later was an accomplished player personnel guy for three decades with the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles and Baltimore Ravens. He played during the league's truly racially insensitive time of the late 1950s to the latter 1960s. He was around when the Redskins flaunted their reputation as anti-minority by playing "Dixie" as part of their game-day routine.
Not only that, Wooten was among the league's Jackie Robinsons in a suit when he joined the Cowboys' player personnel department in 1975. There were no NFL black head coaches back then. In fact, when Wooten helped form the Fritz Pollard Alliance in September 2002, with the league introducing the Rooney Rule barely a month after that, there were just two back head coaches in Dungy and Herm Edwards.
"Let's go back and examine exactly what this rule has done as it relates to the NFL, OK?" Wooten said. "Would Marvin Lewis have gotten the job in Cincinnati if the Rooney Rule wasn't in existence?"
Nope. Bengals owner and president Mike Brown has said that he wasn't thinking about hiring a black coach until he was introduced to Lewis through the Fritz Pollard Alliance in 2003. Now, seven years later, Lewis has the highest winning percentage during the regular season of any Bengals coach in their 42-year history. That includes Paul Brown, Mike's legendary father, who founded the franchise.
Elsewhere . . .
"All of us, starting with me, thought Russ Grimm or Ken Whisenhunt was going to get the Pittsburgh Steelers' job [in 2007], and Mr. Rooney, who really didn't have to interview Mike Tomlin [to satisfy the Rooney Rule], because he already had interviewed [another minority candidate], talked to Mike Tomlin anyway," said Wooten, referring to Dan Rooney.
Rooney later used his considerable prestige among the NFL hierarchy to get the rule passed, and then put his actions where his mouth was by hiring then-34-year-old Tomlin.
Two seasons later, Tomlin was the youngest coach ever to win a Super Bowl.
Without the Rooney Rule, none of that happens. Neither does the hiring of most of the NFL's other five black head coaches. "Mike Singletary [with the San Francisco 49ers]. Jim Caldwell [with the Indianapolis Colts]. I mean, these jobs didn't just come open and an NFL owner just happened to grab these guys," Wooten said.
The Fritz Pollard Alliance identifies black candidates for various NFL jobs, preps them and then contacts teams to interview them. There also are follow-up sessions, with the leaders of the alliance asking the interviewers what their black candidates did right and wrong to help them and others in the future.
The results? Well, while Caldwell just became the league's first head coach ever to begin his career at 14-0, Singletary took the 49ers to their first non-losing season (8-8) in six years during his first full season as an NFL head guy.
In addition to Lewis, Tomlin, Singletary and Caldwell, you have Lovie Smith, who led the Chicago Bears to a Super Bowl. Then there is 33-year-old Raheem Morris, who rose out of nowhere from defensive coordinator to head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season. After a predictable rough start with a bad team, Morris spurred the Buccaneers down the stretch by taking over the defensive play calling.
So what's the problem with the Rooney Rule again?
You can't legislate morality. Plus, even though the process that the Redskins and the Seahawks used to fill their head-coaching positions was shaky at best, there is the human nature aspect to all of this, and it has nothing to do with race.
It has everything to do with celebrity.
Sometimes, NFL owners just want a splashy hire -- for better or worse -- and that's their constitutional right to make fools of themselves.
"You know and I know that owners are always going to be infatuated with the glamour coaches, because they always have," said Wooten, with the Redskins' Daniel Snyder (Steve Spurrier, the second coming of Joe Gibbs) sprinting front and center of the pack in this regard. He was going to hire Shanahan no matter what. That means Snyder's interview of Redskins assistant coach Jerry Gray last month, when Jim Zorn still was the head coach, was fraudulent.
But those things happen in a world run by human beings with all sorts of biases and preferences. Those things will continue to happen, too -- whether you have the Rooney Rule or not -- unless its slew of bashers have a better idea.
Which they don't.