The NFL’s Rooney Rule needs to be revised

Antonio Valle-Lobjois, Sports Editor

Since 2003, the Rooney Rule has been the National Football League’s (NFL) effort to increase the hiring of head coaches and general managers (GM) of color. Despite the Rooney Rule, today there are only five head coaches and seven GM’s of color out of 32 NFL teams. If this is the NFL’s way of saying that the Rooney Rule is effective, in my opinion this is totally false.

According to NFL Operations, the Rooney Rule does not guarantee that a diverse candidate gets hired. The rule says, “Clubs must conduct an in-person interview with at least one external minority candidate for any GM or head coaching position.” The problem with the Rooney Rule is it does not guarantee diversification of employees, it only guarantees candidates of color an interview. 

After the 2020 season ended, there were seven head coach vacancies and out of the seven hired, only two were coaches of color. These coaches were David Culley of the Houston Texans and Robert Saleh of the New York Jets. 

Even though there are a few head coaches of color who have been hired in these positions, I personally believe that it is not enough to just require consideration for candidates of color. Most candidates of color who receive interviews for these NFL positions are not being looked at seriously as potential hires, proven by the few who actually receive the positions. 

After the 2021 season ended, Culley, head coach of the Houston Texans was fired after one season with the team, and Brian Flores, head coach of the Miami Dolphins was also fired. 

Flores, a long time coach on the New England Patriots staff and a head coach for the Dolphins for two years recently filed a class action lawsuit against the NFL, New York Giants, Denver Broncos, and Miami Dolphins. The suit stems from text messages that he received from New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick that showed that the Giants already planned to hire Brian Daboll, a white candidate, as head coach before they interviewed any candidates of color like Flores.  

Flores then released a public statement to the media that said, “God has gifted me with a special talent to coach the game of football…My sincere hope is that by standing up against systemic racism in the NFL, others will join me to ensure that positive change is made for generations to come.” 

In my time as an NFL fan, I have always questioned the head coach hiring process. I know the NFL is the only league in the United States to have a rule strictly based on including minorities in the hiring process. I believe that the NFL needs to look at leagues such as the National Basketball Association (NBA) who have been the most progressive league when it comes to including people of color, as well as participation of social justice movements. 

“I feel like anybody would think it was unfair and then you add the historic issues that a coach like Flores as an African-American coach has faced, it is really understandable that he would react that way. It surprised me that Flores was fired from Miami,” said Sports History Professor at California Lutheran University Christopher Kimball. 

Since Flores made these allegations towards the NFL, he ended up not receiving any head coach interviews and instead was hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers as a senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach. The Steelers are one of the five teams in the NFL to have a minority head coach. 

Flores has served as representation of other minority employees in the league that feel they are having chances taken away from them. It is my hope that others are empowered by him to speak out as I’m sure he is not the only person who feels like this. 

As of 2021, the NFL changed the Rooney Rule in regards to the hiring process. Instead of one minority candidate being interviewed for a head coaching job, the number moved up to two. The Rooney Rule was extended to apply to coordinator positions as well. 

I am glad the NFL has taken some steps to fix the Rooney Rule, but this is just the beginning. Regardless of race, sex, and gender, everyone should be given equal opportunity. The Rooney Rule needs to change even more to better guarantee diversity among hiring rather than the performative consideration it has offered candidates of color in the past.