Recently, Pete Carroll left the USC Trojans to coach at the Seattle Seahawks. Seattle had hired Jim Mora one year earlier and seemingly fired him solely to make room for Pete Carroll. There was just one slight mogul in their slalom towards getting the coach of their dreams. The Rooney Rule:
Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier was one of several candidates interviewed for the vacant position, league officials told La Canfora, putting the Seahawks in compliance with all regulations for their coaching search. Interviewing Frazier allowed Seattle to satisfy the Rooney Rule, in which teams have to interview at least one minority candidate for the job.
That paragraph doesn't fully emphasize the timing of the situation. The Seahawks had essentially decided to hire Carroll. They just had to do two things to make it happen.
1) Fire their current coach
2) Interview some minority. Any minority.
Following those two steps, they were able to hire the coach they wanted and avoid any fines. But what were they trying to avoid? And isn't this just a big sham? After the jump, let's take a look a look at the Rooney Rule and its effect.
Reading that paragraph now, it doesn't paint the full chronological picture. It talks in the past tense. At the time that story was posted, the interview was in the future tense. It actually read as follows:
Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier will interview for the vacant Seattle head coaching job with Seahawks’ officials Saturday in Minneapolis, a source with knowledge of the meeting told NFL.com's Steve Wyche. Frazier would allow Seattle to satisfy the Rooney Rule, in which teams have to interview at least one minority candidate for the job.
So, essentially, they chose Carroll and then went back for their compliance. Why even bother? Because you can get huge fines. For example, when the Lions hired Steve Mariucci, Matt Millen failed to interview somebody with skin color darker than peach. The Lions got fined 200K and Matt Millen continued to develop the reputation for brutal stupidity:
DETROIT -- The NFL served notice Friday that it is taking its commitment to diversity seriously, fining Detroit Lions president Matt Millen $200,000 for not interviewing any minority candidates before hiring coach Steve Mariucci.
Commissioner Paul Tagliabue sent a letter to Millen informing him of the fine, the first levied under the league's diversity program.
After coach Marty Mornhinweg was fired by the Lions in January, Mariucci was the only person interviewed for the job. The team said five minority candidates turned down interviews because it appeared inevitable Mariucci would be hired.
"While certain of the difficulties that you encountered in seeking to schedule interviews with minority candidates were beyond your control, you did not take sufficient steps to satisfy the commitment that you had made," Tagliabue wrote.
The commissioner told NFL teams in May that future failures to interview minority candidates for a head coaching opening could lead to fines of $500,000 or higher as "conduct detrimental" to the NFL.
According to a footnote in the NYU law review article linked here, this episode is the only time that the NFL really expounded upon what the Rooney Rule is. Apparently, teams have to "take sufficient steps" to interview a minority head coach. The advocates for the Rooney Rule were happy with the fine back in 2003:
At the time of Mariucci's hiring in February, Rooney and Gene Upshaw, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, criticized the Lions for failing to follow that new policy.
"The Detroit Lions gave mere lip service to the agreed-upon minority hiring process, treating it almost as if a nuisance to their hiring of Steve Mariucci," Upshaw said at the time. "The minority candidates were never given a fair chance to interview. In this case, the Lions' position is indefensible."
So what the Lions did was "mere lip service." But isn't that no different than what happened here? So where is the Seahawks $500,000 fine? The Lions didn't take "significant steps," but can it really be said that the Seahawks did? Did the Seahawks really make a good faith attempt to interview Leslie Frazier or any other minority candidate? Though the Lions and Seahawks situations looked somewhat similar, Commissioner Goodall came out in the Sehawks defense:
"I was very confident that Leslie Frazier believed he had a very good opportunity of that job as recently as last Saturday, and I'm convinced in speaking with that club that that's the case," Goodell told ESPN Radio. "I think the Rooney Rule has been terrific for the NFL, and I think it's been terrific for advancement of our personnel. We'll continue to enforce it aggressively."
Let's be honest here. Leslie Frazier and everybody else who had access to the internet or a TV knew Leslie Frazier did not stand a chance. Leslie Frazier might be the greatest assistant coach in the NFL today, it wouldn't matter. The Seahawks fired their head coach SOLELY to bring Carroll in, there was no chance any other coach was getting hired, independent of their skin color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, disability, or any other protected class the NFL might have its eye on. That opening existed only because Carroll would take it.
The only seeming difference is that Leslie Frazier decided to help the Seahawks out with the sham interview. In the Lions case, they contacted five separate coaches who would have satisfied the rule and all five turned them down. I can only assume, because they knew the fix was in.
These two instances are not the only times involving sham minority interviews. The NYU article from above further illustrates the tokenism situation:
In this sense, the Rooney Rule may result in a series of sham interviews scheduled solely to satisfy its requirements. These interviews not only commit team resources inefficiently but, more importantly,
they demean the candidates themselves. In forcing teams that have essentially already selected their new head coaches to conduct these interviews, the NFL seems to support—and perhaps mandate—the demeaning phenomenon of tokenism. Instead of being taken seriously, these token candidates are "likely to become future pawns, cast out in front of the media as legitimate possibilities" when in reality they are merely "compliance candidates."
For example, the same year that Millen was fined for violating the Rooney Rule, the Dallas Cowboys were in hot pursuit of head coach Bill Parcells, a Caucasian with a legendary track record of success. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, well aware of the Rule, apparently complied by interviewing African American candidate Dennis Green over the phone for a half hour. And in 2004, the Miami Dolphins delayed hiring Nick Saban, a Caucasian, as head coach when someone in the organization recognized that the team would be fined if it did not first interview a minority candidate.
So, it would seem based off of this limited analysis, that the Rooney Rule is useless, creates a series of sham interviews to avoid giant fines, and just makes minorities feel like tokens.
Of course, the counter argument here is that these are just a few well known examples. In many other cases, genuine interviews were given. The evidence seems to be positive as apparently now 22% of all NFL coaches (7) are minorities. This is the highest amount ever. However, that does bring up the question of correlation and causation. The number of minority coaches might be the highest ever for reasons independent of the Rooney Rule. Perhaps the amount of minority assistant coaches has increased substantially such that more minority head coaches would emerge from the pool. Perhaps the amount of NCAA minority coaches has...ok, I'm just gonna stop there on that one, because we know that's a crock (but a question for another post).
Taking it one step further, we have to take a look at how NFL head coaches are hired. The pure capitalist argument is that the Rooney Rule is not needed, because NFL executives would hire the head coaches with the greatest merit. The pure capitalist argument would say that NFL executives would completely ignore skin color as it is irrelevant to coaching merit.
However, it is not as if there is a purely capitalist job search. It's not as if jobs are merely placed on Craigslist. It's a networking thing. That's how the same names and faces seemed to get opportunities over and over and over again. Like Pete Carroll getting the job without any need for an interview, even though he's failed as a NFL coach twice already. If the jobs are filled based on a professional network and the network doesn't necessarily have a lot of minority faces then the Rooney Rule is helpful if only to get more minority faces into that network.
Show of hands. How many people had never heard of Leslie Frazier before reading that NFL.com story? I'll be honest enough to raise my hand on that one. Now, I'm not a NFL executive. Most NFL executives probably knew of Leslie Frazier beforehand. However, the concept is still the same. Just getting interviews (even if it is essentially a sham) gets your name out there. Gets people thinking.
The NYU article called it Unconscious Bias. People are biased against hiring minority coaches, not because they actually are biased against minority coaches, but because when they look up to hire somebody, they don't have a lot of minority coaches hanging around with them. I am not in a NFL executive's office. I don't know the breakdown of ethnicity amongst assistant coaches. So, I cannot necessarily pass judgment regarding the argument that there is an Unconscious Bias amongst NFL executives. I'll leave that for you guys to decide.
Do we need the Rooney Rule? Does it just create sham interviews? Does it merely punish honesty? Please provide your thoughts in the comments.