Monday, January 11, 2010

Owners' Thought Process & the Rooney Rule

The mere mention of race in sports sends many of us into a tizzy. Sports are supposed to help us escape the daily travails of modern life by being above them, right?

Yet since we’re talking about an industry that is dominated by minority participants, the conversations are inevitable. The makeup of an NFL team doesn’t resemble that of almost every place of employment in the United States. This comes from an evolution of thinking; from thinking that non-whites have no place in the game to thinking that non-whites can’t be middle linebackers to thinking that non-whites can’t be quarterbacks. The third to last step of progress, it seems, is allowing them the chance to become head coaches (Commissioner and team owner being the final two).

The Rooney Rule has helped change the dynamics a bit, but as the recent hires in Seattle and Washington prove, there’s still some work to be done. We need to be honest with ourselves here when it comes to the Rule; beyond debating the merits of affirmative action/alleged reverse discrimination and required-but-fruitless interviews. The rule was put in place because qualified minority candidates were not considered for such tenuous positions.

In a sport where these leading managers are treated more like fast food fry cooks until “The One” comes to save the franchise, you would have thought many dues-paying position coaches and coordinators would have been gobbled up in efforts to changes fortunes of many teams. Yet, especially in the preceding seasons before the Rule was adopted in 2003, many middling retreads were rehired to be fired rather quickly.

Every franchise has changed head coaches at least once since 1994, yet since the interim tag was removed for Jeff Fisher in 1995, the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans are the only team in the NFL to have had one person at the helm. Since 1996 to be specific, there have been 96 head coaching changes, which in turn resulted in countless changes in the coordinator and specialty coaching positions.

The average team has changed head coaches slightly over three times – 3.09677419354839 to be exact – in the last fourteen years, including ongoing changes after the conclusion of the 2009 season. The Oakland Raiders will likely have their seventh different head coach in this span if Al Davis does fire Tom Cable as expected, yet fourteen different franchises have had at least four different head coaches during this period.

Ninety-six different introductory press conferences is a staggering number. Absolutely staggering.

Many people connected to the NFL believe that the Rooney Rule will only gain teeth if the league truly investigates and penalizes teams for meeting the requirements just for show. In addition, despite extending the policy to include senior football operation positions (General Managers, essentially), there are calls to look into coordinators and other members of the coaching staff to truly give the Rule wide sweeping effectiveness.

Yet, there will always be an issue with the Rooney Rule not only for racial reasons, but because there will always been such high turnover among head coaches. Ideally, the Rule exists because of such instability. The fact that owners and fans have thin patience and even thinner triggers shows that there will be more opportunities. Many owners suffer from “I want what he’s got” syndrome, proving the adage that the NFL is a copycat league. Yet, others seem to have issues beyond patience. Woody Johnson and Daniel Snyder believe in big, splashy hires. Al Davis & the McCaskey family don’t want to pay anyone big bucks. Ralph Wilson can’t seem to find the right mix of personnel and philosophy. Jerry Jones just wants someone to not show him up, even when things are good (see Johnson, Jimmy).

As much as all candidates should be given greater consideration, it’s extremely difficult to legislate what’s on the minds of these owners. For various reasons – quick financial windfalls being the biggest along with ego – they will go after proven head coaches more often than not. It takes a lot for an owner to decide to take a chance on someone who had never managed an entire team at this level before, regardless of ethnic makeup. It takes just as much for that owner to take his or her lumps in the beginning to find long-term success. Maybe that’s what may happen with Tampa Bay and Raheem Morris; rumored to have been canned after one season though the Buccaneers do not have the horses in the stable.

We look at Mike Tomlin for the Pittsburgh Steelers as a sign that the Rule works, even though the namesake of the provision, the Rooney family, owns the team. There’s a strong culture in the organization that allowed for him to find success, as there was for Tony Dungy to steward the Indianapolis Colts to a Super Bowl title. Yet, no rule, no matter how great the intentions, will make an impact if these teams and owners don’t stop becoming case studies of chaos, mismanagement and impatience.

Say What?!?!: Better insights from Roy S. Johnson. The comments, however, go from atrocious to even worse.


mindpinball said...

When the rule works, it gives people of color the opportunity to increase their exposure, or "get there names out there," to get head coaching jobs, if not necessarily get hired for those jobs. That is the letter and spirit of the rule, not just sham interviews to say "I interviewed a minority" then just to go hire who you were going to hire regardless.

The Rule is a good policy, but if it is going to be circumvented in such egregious ways, there needs to be some teeth (re: enforcement) to ensure that the rule's requirements are met in such a way that there is not any doubt of an organization's intentions.

Jason Clinkscales said...

Fair-minded people believe in the process and maybe I'm naiive enough to think that all the owners believe in the principle of the rule. Considering how publicly conscious NFL owners are, to show any blatant discrimination is not just immoral, but terrible business.

I wonder HOW the league can tell that candidates are fairly and properly vetted. That's the source of consternation and hopefully change.

Mia Jackson said...

Unfortunately, I don't think that all owners believe in the integrity of the Rooney Rule. Many of them consider it a check box (see Daniel Snyder)as they move to hire the hot name of the moment. The problem is, Tony Dungy notwithstanding, when does an African-American's name come up as a "hot choice?" Maybe after I've calmed down after watching these last two hires I'll see things a bit more clearly. I'll write more later of course.