Since the Rooney Rule was instituted in 2003, 15 non-white head coaches have led NFL teams on a non-interim basis. But in 2020, only three teams are coached by African-Americans, the same number as in 2003.
After much speculation, the NFL held a virtual owners meeting Tuesday and enacted a number of enhancements to the rule, designed to further the advancement of minority coaches and executives. The league also is making it easier for assistant coaches to move, no doubt hoping to boost minority promotion, but obviously, assistants of all ethnic backgrounds will benefit.
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The league tabled the proposal that got flashy headlines this week -- an incentive program in which teams could move up in the draft by hiring minority coaches or general managers. Some observers wondered if this was ever a serious proposal, or just an attempt to make the actual changes being considered seem less drastic and therefore less controversial.
Previously, teams had to interview one minority candidate for a head coaching job. In some situations, these interviews became perfunctory, with the interviewee not viewed as a serious candidate. Now, each team must conduct two external minority interviews for a head coaching spot -- meaning, the coaches interviewed can’t already work for the team -- and teams must interview a minority candidate if they are hiring for any of the three coordinator positions.
This last change might reflect the fact that right now, offensive coordinators are the hottest NFL head coaching commodities, and there are only two African-American OCs -- Kansas City’s Eric Bieniemy and Tampa Bay’s Byron Leftwich. Both serve under head coaches with offensive backgrounds, Andy Reid and Bruce Arians.
The league is expanding the Rooney Rule to executive positions. The NFL’s news release said that “Clubs must now include minorities and/or female applicants in the interview process for senior-level front office positions such as club president, and senior executives in communications, finance, human resources, legal, football operations, sales, marketing, sponsorship, information technology and security positions. The league office also will adhere to these requirements.”
Each team also will have a full-time minority coaching fellow, with the fellowships lasting one to two years.
Previously, teams didn’t have to allow an assistant to interview with a competing team for a coordinator role. Now, they must, if the position is “bona fide” and not an empty title. Commissioner Roger Goodell will settle any disputes over what is “bona fide” and what isn’t. The language of the new rule doesn’t say that a prospective coordinator has to be given play-calling responsibilities, only that he or she leads all team meetings on their side of the ball, reports directly to the head coach, supervises the position coaches on that side of the ball, and plays a role in the development of the game plan.
Goodell said in a statement that while the Rooney Rule has brought about “positive strides ... we recognize, after the last two seasons, that we can and must do more."
The Eagles ended up not giving the title of offensive coordinator to anyone after they fired Mike Groh at the end of the 2019 season. Under the new directives, other teams would not have to grant the Eagles interviews of their coaches for such a title, since the new language stipulates that a coach under contract can’t be leaving for a “shared title.” This is defined as someone already on the staff having been named run game coordinator, pass game coordinator, or assistant head coach. The Eagles check all three boxes: offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland is run game coordinator, quarterbacks coach Press Taylor is pass game coordinator, and running backs coach Duce Staley is assistant head coach.