The NFL has now concluded the regular season. Several teams who did not make the playoffs or were at the bottom of their division try to change course by embracing a new vision for success. This means that less successful head coaches are often on the chopping block. At the end of the 2019 season, there were several firings, but what caused the most significant uproar is that not one new head coach was black.
Created in 2003 and named after the famed Pittsburg Steelers owner Dan Rooney, the Rooney Rule stipulates that team ownership must interview at least one person of color when filling head coach or general manager positions. Black players have dominated the NFL since the 1970s, yet it was not until Art Shell was hired by the Raiders in 1989 that there was a black head coach in the NFL. In the ensuing years, critics claim that few black or minority coaches are hired. They also add that those hired have shorter tenures even if they have professional success – Tony Dungy was fired in 2002 despite success with the Buccaneers before winning the Superbowl with the Colts, and Dennis Green had a high winning percentage before he was fired by the Vikings that same year.
Is the rule a joke?
The NFL had eight openings last year in 2018, with Brian Flores hired by the Dolphins as the only minority. The 2019 season left four coaches out of work, with only the well-established Ron Rivera (who is of Puerto Rican descent) hired in Washington, DC. The lack of minority hires has left many media and football professionals to grumble about the apparent lack of interest in black coaches. To their point: While there have been about eight minority head coaches working in recent years, there are now four minority head coaches in the NFL.
An issue outside of football
Businesses are entitled to hire the candidates they wish, but large companies like Amazon and Facebook have created their version of the Rooney Rule. Businesses understand that diversity can be a strength in the workplace, but the overall numbers of women and minorities in top positions at companies are trending down rather than up.
NFL owners and business leaders can institute change by reemphasizing the importance of interviewing minorities and women for leadership positions. In doing so, they may like what they see. It also reflects well on ownership when employees see minority and women candidates considered for these positions. This will make the hiring practice more meaningful for all involved.