The stick approach worked, but only initially and only for a while. During a meeting of NFL owners on May 19 the NFL looks to be on the verge of adding a carrot to the formula as well.
During what Commissioner Roger Goodell described as a two-hour meeting, the NFL made some changes in its approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion through an expansion of the Rooney Rule.
"The diversity and inclusion (issues) represent something we've been focusing on for the last four or five months intensely working with the Fritz Pollard Alliance and other outside groups," said Goodell. "We feel that the package of steps and initiatives the ownership fully supported today all will contribute to making progress in this area. But I would say most importantly that our work is not done. We continue to focus on a number of other initiatives and we expect to continue to do that until we've gotten greater success in this area."
Steelers President Art Rooney II is the chairman of the NFL's Workplace Diversity Committee and the son of the author of the Rooney Rule, and he outlined the accomplishments coming out of this most recent gathering of team owners.
"There are three things in particular that we got done today that are very important," said Rooney. "No. 1, we are going to ask all clubs to develop a diversity and inclusion plan over the next year that really impact all levels of hiring at the league and club levels; No. 2, we approved a series of enhancements to the Rooney Rule that will require two minority candidates to be interviewed for a head coaching position, one minority candidate to be interviewed for any coordinator position, and one minority candidate to be interviewed for any senior football or GM position, and for other senior level positions around the league and the clubs, there must be an interview for a minority or a female candidate; and finally No. 3, we passed a resolution that is aimed at increasing mobility throughout the league."
The first two items mentioned by Rooney largely are self-explanatory, but the third strikes at an issue that directly impacts the ascension of minority candidates through the ranks where they can get themselves into a position to be considered for a head coaching job, a coordinator job, a general manager job, etc. Because when it comes time for a team to hire a head coach, the candidates typically come from a pool of coaches who are coordinators; for a general manager position, the pool largely consists of people who have experience as directors of college scouting or pro personnel or some similar responsibilities. Teams now won't be able to prevent, as an example, a linebackers coach leaving for a job with another team as a coordinator.
"We had developed over the years a number of impediments through contract language and titles and other ways that clubs have, in their own interests, tried to keep their coaches on their staffs," said Rooney. "That's an understandable aim but it did have the impact, we think, of reducing the level of mobility we'd like to see across the league for coaching positions. We approved a resolution that we think will simplify the interview process for people to be able to develop and advance through the ranks as coaches.
"We did table one resolution that has to do with incentives for hiring that we're going to take an additional look at and get more input on," Rooney continued. "But the major steps we took are significant and we think will help us develop further in the minority hiring area and the minority opportunity areas where we feel we need to do better."
In the early days of the Rooney Rule, teams that were non-compliant faced fines from the NFL. As an example, in 2003 the Detroit Lions were fined $200,000 for not interviewing a minority candidate when they fired Marty Mornhinweg and hired Steve Mariucci. Teams quickly learned ways to avoid that kind of penalty, and there haven't been subsequent examples of punishments handed down by the league even though there are currently only three minority head coaches in the NFL.
The league's possible answer has been to devise a series of incentives to get teams to follow the spirit of the Rooney Rule instead of simply finding ways to satisfy the letter of it.
Some examples of possible incentives (as reported on May 18 by Peter King) include:
•Teams hiring a minority for a GM job will have their third-round draft position improved by 10 spots in the draft in the following year.
• Teams hiring a minority as head coach will have their third-round draft position improved by six spots in the draft in the following year.
• If the coach or GM is still employed entering the third season after their hire, the team's fourth-round selection would be improved by five spots in that year's draft.
• A team hiring a minority as quarterback coach would receive a fourth-round compensatory pick in the following year's draft.
• The team losing an employee to be a minority head coach or GM would receive a third-round compensatory pick, and a team losing a minority coach who moved on to be a coordinator would get a fifth-round compensatory pick, in the following year's draft.
That resolution was tabled, but Goodell wanted to make sure it was understood what it being tabled actually meant.
"You're assuming we didn't have the support for it, but in fact we table resolutions frequently because the discussion leads to other ideas that actually could make it even more effective," said Goodell. "Between Art and I and some of the other members of the committee I've talked to, virtually with every club there was a great deal of support but there's also some suggestions, amendments, and thoughts where we might want to go back and talk to others including the Fritz Pollard Alliance and try to strengthen it. And try to make sure it does what we were originally intending, which is to reward teams and head coaches for developing minority coaches who can go on to be head coaches in this league. That's the intent. It was a very positive reaction and one I believe will lead to an additional initiative that we'll be able to implement."
If the initiative package is ratified by ownership in a subsequent meeting of the owners, and the next meeting is scheduled for the near future, the resolution wouldn't go into effect until the end of the calendar year.
"We felt like when the Rooney Rule first passed, we did achieve some changes and we did see an increase in minority hiring for a period of time," said Rooney. "It's hard to explain why that changed over the last few years. Some have speculated it has something to do with the lack of minority coaches on the offensive side of the ball, and we've talked about that and have been looking at ways to make sure we're developing minority coaches on the offensive side. That's one piece of the puzzle we think we need to address and has been part of the discussion here. It's hard to say there's one problem. It's a question of developing coaches at all levels, and some of the things we've tried to do here today will help us address that."
Added Goodell, "I think the Rooney Rule is still effective. The intent of that rule when we adopted it was to make sure we were considering a diverse slate of candidates for coaching positions, and in fact it's being expanded and it's continuing to address not just coaching but also executives. It's clear the Rooney Rule has had an effect nationwide and globally where many industries have adopted it. As you continue to make progress, you have to keep evolving and you have to keep looking for additional steps and additional initiatives that address specific issues that you may be facing at that specific time."