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Friday, August 15th, 2014

Rooney Rule or Ruse? Black Coaches Getting Ignored For Top Jobs

Ray Horton, Arizona Cardinals’ defensive coordinator.

Andy Reid, whose Philadelphia Eagles missed the playoffs five of his last seven seasons as head coach, was fired a week ago and hired by Kansas City four days later. Four days.

Oregon coach Chip Kelly, whose team won the Fiesta Bowl over Kansas State this weekend, was flown to two NFL teams for interviews before deciding Sunday he would stay in college. NFL coordinators, such as Josh McDaniels, who bombed in two years as head coach of the Denver Broncos, Tom Clements (Green Bay), Bruce Arians (Indianapolis), Mike McCory (Denver), Todd Haley (Pittsburgh), Mike Zimmer (Cincinnati), Jay Gruden (Bengals) and Ken Whisenhunt, who was fired by Arizona, are widely consider among the top candidates to fill the five remaining NFL head-coaching vacancies.

They all have one thing in common: They are not black.

In 2002, the NFL adopted the so-called Rooney Rule, which made it a requirement that teams with head-coach openings interview at least one minority candidate. At the time, there were just two black head coaches in the league.

Today, 11 years later, there are three.

Progress, right?

While the spirit of the Rooney Rule promotes fairness, the actual decision-making still closely resembles the closed-door policies of decades gone by.

Consider Lovie Smith. His Chicago Bears went 10-6 and he was fired. He had as much success and recent woes as Reid did in Philadelphia, but Smith still has no job offer, while Reid is putting together his staff with the Chiefs. In fact, Smith interviewed with Buffalo, but the Bills hired Syracuse’s Doug Marrone to fill its vacancy. Seriously.

Which raises a question: Is the Rooney Rule a ruse or helpful? Proponents say it is important because at least minority candidates are getting to experience interviews and face-to-face exposure to NFL executives that can only help. And that is true.

But decision-makers, who are not black, still have to make the hires, and the numbers do not bear out that a change of note has been made.

The University of Iowa, in fact, conducted a study that said the Rooney Rule has been ineffective.

John Solow, an economics professor in the UI’s Tippie College of Business, is co-author of the paper, “Moving On Up: The Rooney Rule and Minority Hiring in the NFL.” His work examined every NFL hire to head coach from 1970 to 2008. He wrote: “If the league introduced African-American coaches into the front of the pipeline instead of at the end, more of those coaches would have the experience teams are looking for and be more likely to be hired as head coaches.”

This is the same idealistic, unrealistic position that resonated around the league decades ago: hire black coaches at entry-level positions and promote them up the ranks to coordinators. Problem is, in a league where 85 per cent of the players are black, many are not getting promoted to coordinators. And those who do get there have a tough time advancing beyond that point.

Take Ray Horton, a 19-year NFL assistant who is the defensive coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals, the team that fired Whisenhunt. Horton interviewed with three teams over two recent days — Buffalo, Cleveland and the Cardinals, who should know him well enough to make a decision.

Horton is unique in this way: He wears cornrows. He told USA TODAY Sports: “I think I had three outstanding interviews. I did not give anyone a reason not to hire me.”

And yet, there are no second interviews scheduled for Horton, 52.

“The (study) results suggest that race is not an important factor in promotion decisions for head coaches,” Solow said in his paper. “However, experience, age and performance as an offensive or defensive coordinator are significant factors for NFL teams.”

Really?

Why is it, then, that college coach Chip Kelly was wined and dined by two NFL teams? His Oregon squad was beaten by Stanford, which is coached by David Shaw, who is black and whose team just won the Rose Bowl, making him 22-4 in his two years in Palo Alto. Shaw — 40, smart, talented, successful — has not been mentioned by anyone as a young coach who is NFL-ready. But Kelly is?

And consider that Shaw went through the late and legendary coach Bill Walsh’s minority coaching internship in the NFL and spent eight years as an NFL assistant, and it would seem reasonable that he would at least get an interview. You think?

“You can’t force someone to hire someone based on race,” Shaw said to the San Jose Mercury News last month. He was speaking about minority hiring in the Pac 10, but it applies to the NFL, too. “We have to train and cultivate young candidates so that they understand that, and then we have to make them accessible to the decision-makers.”

Kevin Sumlin, twice a finalist for NCAA coach of the year, is accessible. He took over at Texas A&M and is doing stellar work. First, he elevated Houston to relevance. This year, his Aggies beat Alabama, which plays for the national championship tonight; went 6-2 in the ferocious SEC; produced a system that wrought the first freshman Heisman Trophy winner in Johnny Manziel; and his team blasted perennial power Oklahoma in a BCS Bowl game.

Instead of that pedigree garnering some NFL attention, Penn State’s Bill O’Brien was flown around to interview for jobs. Guess who is the black coach of the two.

Rooney Rule or Rooney Ruse? You decide.

About Curtis Bunn

Curtis Bunn is a best-selling novelist and national award-winning sports journalist who has worked at The Washington Times, NY Newsday, The New York Daily News and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Comments

  1. Res ipsa loquitor. Translation: the thing speaks for itself.

    The Rooney Rule was, like similar other "efforts" to rectify intentional decades-long exclusion, was intended to feel good in the short term, but whose long-term results would yield little or no advancement. Two (2) Black head coaches among 32 NFL is NOT advancement. It may very well be a statement.

    I see nothing wrong with the 85% of Black NFL players standing up and standing firm against this little arrangement.

    • Nick Wheeler says:

      So could I make the arguement that it should be manditory for more white players to be added to teams? there are 3 black NFL HC currently. was 5 and number is going down over past couple years bc like their white co-coaches have messed up and been fired. For smith most people can understand what happend. if you want to say this would never happen to a white coach look up what happend to marty schottenheimer after making the playoffs. I don't feel teams should be forced to hire anyone based on race or any reason, nor should they be against it. In most cases I don't think its about race, its about the sheer number of white coaches in any level of football vs the success they have. Cards DC is amazing, but he lead a team that was horrible. Now they have him so they brought in someone with little HC experience but an offensive mind. Next year more black coaches WILL be hired, and i still don't think everyone will be happy.

  2. If Black players can play the game, they certainly can better understand the game and most definitely coach the game…Call a spade a spade, raw racism.

  3. There should be a rule in place to make sure some white running backs, receivers, DL, etc get a chance to play in the NFL, or a tleast get considered.

    • That rule already exists (at least the unwritten version). It's called the Tebow Rule.

    • Well if you don't have the physical agility, endurance and strength to put up against other teams with matching qualities, you loose every game. That might be genetics fault!

    • ISn't that the kind of thinking that started the very problem that the Rooney rule is addressing?

    • Sir- that's why they have the NFL combine to determine the best players for a team; and if white players are stronger and faster etc……then so be it. No combine for NFL coaches. Just saying – lots of white NFL coaches get the second chance at head coaching jobs- more so than blacks. Example: Da Bears hired Marc Trestman- Really! He's been out of the NFL for a number of years and coached north of the border for 5 yrs. If he was that good-why now and not before. C' Mon.

    • Nick Wheeler says:

      But if you aren't the best coach then you will lose all the same right? Coaches like Lovie should have been hired, but this year was the offensive hiring, which not alot of black canidates had offensive backgrounds.

  4. Chicago was stupid to fire Lovie Smith and the other NFL teams are stupid to not hire him.

  5. Yes Andy Reid was hired by KC Chiefs in four days. If you are saying they did not consider seriously any African American candidates for the head coaching job I would point out that 2 of the last 3 Head Coaches were African American. They also had Art Shell as a Head Coach. They may have had more African American Head Coaches than any other NFL team. While I am sure your intent of your story line overall has merit, using the KC Chiefs as an example does not hold water.

    • Citing the Chiefs is no more improper than citing the Steelers. No NFL team ever even *considered* hiring an African American coach unless and until pressure was applied. If concsiousness wasn't raised, you wouldn't even have Art Shell to "boast" about.
      The bigger picture is that African American head coaches are once again virtually non-existent. If Black running backs, DBs and WRs (the people who make the game a success) were as scarce as Black head coaches, people would want to know why.

    • Nick Wheeler says:

      I think you need to get united and become a coach and lead a revolution for black coaches. the proof is alot of blacks don't coach. After retirement how many black players come back to coach, a little bit. Whites a lot. all the way down to the high school levels. Being athletes is something that white men can not compete with but why not say maybe just maybe whites become great coaches from seing the game from the sideline and different. Nothing to do with smarts, just different angles and such of seeing the game. Its the same as the arguement of black vs white qb. Its not that a black qb can't be as sucessful or smart in the pocket (rg3) but they just don't take the time to wait and they use their athletic ability to escape. The white qb has to learn and study harder or else he will get his neck snapped because he can't escape.

  6. Nick Wheeler says:

    Two years compared to four comparing shaw to kelly. Kelly won way more during that time. He beat kelly one time and now he is better. I agree he deserves a shot sometime, same for Kevin Sumlin (Tex A&M) but it isn't something that happens overnight. If I made this same arguement for why a white coach should be hired over the black coach you would point out the same things. So don't act like this isn't true. Complain in 2-3 years if he hasn't had a nibble or even been interviewed.

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  1. [...] season for it to sink in. Three black former NFL coaches say the league needs to rethink its Rooney Rule for promoting minority hiring after 15 top vacancies were all filled by white candidates since the [...]

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