What is the Rooney Rule? Dan Rooney’s Influence on NFL Coaching

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The Rooney Rule - image by visier.com

The Rooney Rule has had a considerable impact on the NFL, when one considers that two Super Bowl-winning coaches out of three seasons have been minority coaches. Without such a rule, these coaches might not have been hired to their positions, and the outcomes of those seasons might have been different.

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The Rooney Rule – image by iowalum.com

History of the Rooney Rule

The Rooney Rule is named after Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney and was established in 2003. With an eye towards balancing minority candidates with other hires, the rule mandates that all coaching searches interview at least one minority candidate. As of now, there are almost four times as many African American head coaches in the NFL than there were prior to the rule.

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Dan Rooney – image by wbur.com

This rule applies only when a team conducts a search for a head coach. If a team decides to hire internally, they do not have to consider minority candidates. One example might be an interim head coach being promoted to head coach. A real-life example was Mike Martz’s promotion to head coach of the St. Louis Rams, as he was already on Dick Vermeil’s staff as offensive co-ordinator.

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A real-life example was Mike Martz – image by sbnation.com

African American Head Coaches in the NFL

Thus far, the Rooney Rule has seen the hire of Mike Tomlin, who coincidentally coaches for Rooney’s Steelers, and won a Super Bowl in his second year. Tony Dungy, who had already been a head coach, was hired by the Colts when the rule was first instituted. He won the Super Bowl in 2006.

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Mike Tomlin becomes winningest African American head coach – image by usatoday.com

Chicago’s Lovie Smith was the first African American to coach in the Super Bowl, opposite Dungy and the Colts. Technically, Smith was the first African American to coach in the Super Bowl, as the Bears defeated the Saints for the NFC Championship just hours before the Colts defeated the Patriots for the AFC Championship.

Disadvantages of the Rooney Rule

One disadvantage is that not every team will follow the rule. The Detroit Lions hired Steve Mariucci without interviewing a minority candidate and were fined $200, 000 by the NFL. While the fine might seem steep, it might seem small when a team has their sights set on a specific coach, who might not be a minority candidate.

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The Detroit Lions hired Steve Mariucci without interviewing a minority candidate – image by thetimesherald.com

Another disadvantage is that a team could hire internally to deliberately avoid the rule. While doing so would possibly mean settling for a lesser coach, it is still a viable way to avoid the rule. Still, the Rooney Rule has extended to apply to senior football operations positions and some talk has surrounded the expansion into NCAA.

 

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