NFL owners pass vote to expand 'Rooney Rule,' improve diversity in hiring process

Changes designed to enhance opportunities for minorities to get executive, head coaching and co-ordinator positions were passed Tuesday by NFL owners.

Minorities, females must now be included in interview phase of multiple positions

Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores watches on during a game against the Indianapolis Colts in 2019. Following the 2018 campaign, Brian Flores was the only minority head coach hired to fill one of eight job vacancies in the NFL that off-season. (Darron Cummings/The Associated Press)

Changes designed to enhance opportunities for minorities to get executive, head coaching and co-ordinator positions were passed Tuesday by NFL owners.

They include addendums to the Rooney Rule, which has fallen short in its goal of increasing diversity in the league.

"We feel the package of steps and initiatives the owners fully supported today all will contribute to making progress in this area," Commissioner Roger Goodell said. "Most importantly, our work is not done. We continue to focus on a number of other initiatives and will continue to until we have greater success in this area."

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, a conference call among the 32 teams owners replaced the planned spring meeting in Marina del Rey, California. The league's annual meeting in March in Florida was cancelled.

On the same day that teams were allowed a limited reopening of their training facilities — most clubs did not do so, many because of governmental restrictions in their area — the owners eliminated one perceived barrier for minorities. By the beginning of 2021, all clubs will now be required to interview at least two minority candidates from outside the organization for head coach vacancies; at least one minority candidate for any of the three co-ordinator vacancies; and at least one external minority candidate for senior football operations or general manager positions.

Origin of the 'Rooney Rule'

The Rooney Rule has been expanded to apply to a wide range of executive positions. Teams must now include minorities and/or female applicants in the interviewing processes for senior level front-office positions. Those include club president and senior executives in communications, finance, human resources, legal, football operations, sales, marketing, sponsorship, information technology and security jobs. The league office will also adhere to these requirements.

"The NFL is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion, which I believe is critical to our continued success," added Goodell, who acknowledged that the Rooney Rule has worked, but not to its full intent.

"While we have seen positive strides in our coaching ranks over the years aided by the Rooney Rule, we recognize, after the last two seasons, that we can and must do more. The policy changes made today are bold and demonstrate the commitment of our ownership to increase diversity in leadership positions throughout the league."

Passed in 2003 and named after the late Steelers owner Dan Rooney, who along with then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue championed the push for more NFL diversity, the Rooney Rule has fallen short of its goal in recent years. There currently are four minority coaches and two general managers in the league.

'We have been doing poorly in this area'

After the 2018 season, eight head coaches lost their jobs. Only one opening was filled by a minority candidate, Brian Flores in Miami.

Following last season, five jobs came open and one minority, Ron Rivera, was hired, by Washington.

"We have been doing poorly in this area," said Troy Vincent, the NFL's executive vice-president of football operations and a former player and president of the players' union.

Also passed was a proposal to free up assistant coaches to pursue co-ordinator jobs with other teams. After the conclusion of the regular season through March 1, clubs are prohibited from denying an assistant coach such opportunities, though the league has specified the opening must be for a "bona fide" offensive, defensive or special teams co-ordinator.

Goodell will have the authority to rule on any disputes that arise between teams.

The owners also voted to ban denying a "non-high level/non-secondary football executive" from interviewing for a "bona fide assistant general manager position." No contract can be negotiated or signed until after the conclusion of the employer club's season.

Incentivized hiring proposal met with criticism

A plan to reward clubs that hire minorities as head coaches or general managers with improved draft-pick positioning was tabled after being met with some hefty criticism.

"We table resolutions frequently because the discussion leads to other ideas that can make it more effective," Goodell said. "There was a great deal of support, but also suggestions and amendments that we may try to go back and talk to the Fritz Pollard Alliances and others and strengthen it."

The owners have another conference call on May 28, but that is designed to deal with rules, including dumping the video review of pass interference after a one-year experiment that many in the NFL believed caused more headaches than solutions.

"I did not feel like it worked," said Falcons President Rich McKay, co-chairman of the competition committee. "We put New York in some really tough, tough spots. Whatever New York did, someone was going to criticize it on the other side. It was a no-win situation. That had always been the fear and was why we were scared, or I should say hesitant, to make those fouls subject to review. We didn't make a recommendation to have a continuation of that after the one-year trial, so the rule dies on its own accord."


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