The NFL’s hiring rule aimed at promoting diversity continues to work, according to the leaders of the group charged with enforcing it. The leaders of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, named for the first African American coach in NFL history, said they don’t think the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins improperly circumvented the rule that requires teams with head coaching vacancies to interview at least one minority candidate.
Some observers have criticized the coaching searches conducted by the Redskins and Seahawks and questioned whether the interviewing rule–widely known as the Rooney Rule after Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, the chairman of the NFL’s workplace diversity committee–worked properly in those cases.
The Redskins hired Mike Shanahan, a former two-time Super Bowl-winning coach for the Denver Broncos, after satisfying the rule by interviewing one of their assistant coaches, Jerry Gray, before firing Jim Zorn as head coach.
The Seahawks, who announced Monday they had agreed to a contract with Pete Carroll, satisfied the rule by interviewing Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier on Saturday, after some media outlets reported Friday that a tentative deal with Carroll already was in place.
Former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy said in a televised interview Monday that he feels Frazier’s interview with the Seahawks “was done in fairness and the spirit of the law” but he thinks that Gray’s interview with the Redskins set a “terrible precedent” because it was conducted before Zorn was fired.
The NFL’s franchise owners enacted their minority interviewing rule by acclamation in December 2002 under the threat of litigation by Mehri and late attorney Johnnie Cochran. At the time, there were two African American head coaches in the league. There were six this season (not counting Buffalo Bills interim coach Perry Fewell), down from a single-season high of seven in 2006.
There are now five African American general managers of teams league-wide, and Wooten and Mehri pointed out that five of the six Super Bowl clubs over the previous three seasons had either an African American head coach or GM.
Said Wooten: “These people that are hollering, I don’t understand what the hollering is about. You’re not trying to tell people who to hire. . . . When we look at the Rooney Rule, we’re grateful and thankful. Before that, we had no way to go to these owners and get it done, and now we do.”