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NFL needs stronger Rooney Rule
If people were not idiots, we would not need the Rooney Rule. This is 2013, after all. We have elected and re-elected a black president for no reason other than a majority of Americans believed he was most qualified to lead them.
So the idea that the National Football League would have to mandate that every team consider a minority when choosing a head coach or general manager to lead them feels like some sort of joke. This is a copycat league, where every good idea is stolen and where next year we probably will have 10 teams running a variation of The Pistol and searching for Colin Kaepernick 2.0 on draft day simply because San Francisco is in the Super Bowl.
Yet as I talked to Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, arguably the best GM in the league at the moment, what struck me was how little copycat-ing he has provoked.
“When I first became a GM, I was on a radio show with John Thompson, and he made the statement, ‘Now that you have become a GM, other young African Americans can aspire to do that,’ ” Newsome said. “So, at that point, you go, ‘Yeah, now that I have done it, somebody else can get a chance to do it.’ ”
So it is telling that Newsome’s success has not swung open as many doors as predicted, or maybe more accurately that those doors have not stayed open. How can any owner not look at what Newsome has done and realize the best guy for their jobs is not always the one who is known or in the good old boys club or — as ridiculous as this is to type — white?
Why? Well, because people are idiots, even in 2013 and even though we have a black president. So we do need the Rooney Rule and, after an embarrassing “whiteout” this offseason, where eight coaches and seven general managers were hired and none were minorities, it absolutely has to be expanded.
This is not about affirmative action, though people will argue it is because those two words get people irrationally fired up. There is no quota. It is not anybody saying 70 percent of NFL coaches have to be black because that is the player breakdown. This is about sports being the equal-opportunity playground we love to say it is. But the reality is the NFL numbers do not back this post-racial narrative we love to sell. We say that everything is all good and everybody is getting an equal shot, but that is a lie.
“Well,” Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said when I asked if he was surprised we were still talking about minorities being underrepresented in coaching roles, “realistically, no. … Obviously, we thought at this point we’d be beyond that, but we’re not.”
The Rooney Rule, for those who do not remember its genesis 10 years ago, was supposed to get us to a point where we were not talking about it. It required a minority candidate be at least interviewed for every head-coaching and general-manager opening. It was a response to an obvious problem and the threat of lawsuits. The idea was simple: Get minority candidates in front of owners so they at least have a chance at jobs for which they were consistently being overlooked. It worked for a while with success stories like Steelers coach Mike Tomlin most often cited.
So why, a decade later, does the rule seem to have lost whatever juice it had? Why is the league whiter than ever? Why does a glass ceiling for minorities remain?
The problem is in part that minority coaches often get stuck in the “coaching ghetto” of wide receivers and running backs. Both are important roles, but the way to a coaching job is often through offensive coordinator, and the way to offensive coordinator jobs is by coaching quarterbacks. Minorities still are woefully underrepresented there. This is why the NFL is looking at broadening the Rooney Rule.
“I think it is going to have to be expanded,” Caldwell said. “Any position in this league, I think it should be one of equality, and that is what the guys are looking at, making sure those mechanisms are in place.”
Caldwell is a good argument that this thing is broken. This is a guy with NFL head coaching experience, who if Pierre Garcon makes that catch over the middle or Hank Baskett fields an onside kick, has a Super Bowl W on his resume and he was answering questions at the Super Bowl about whether being a play caller makes him a stronger head coaching candidate.
I used to believe Caldwell was downgraded because Peyton Manning actually ran the offense in Indianapolis. But the quarterback was every bit as involved this year in Denver, and Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy got the San Diego job. Nor is the retread argument in play with Caldwell because Andy Reid had another job in Kansas City like 10 seconds after being laid off by Philadelphia for what was a complete and abject failure in achieving any of the objectives he was hired to do. Rex Ryan somehow remains employed and Caldwell cannot get a call from a team? Really?
Did you interview anywhere, I asked him.
“No,” he said.
Did you hear from any teams at all?
“No, ma’am, I did not,” he said.
He says he does not ask himself why, is not angry and is not concerning himself whether this turn — as a play caller — will “bolster his resume” enough for teams to look at him when vacancies come about next season.
“I take it for what it is,” Caldwell said. “It’s not that I’m not concerned. I’m concerned, more for people that have never had a chance. I’ve had an opportunity, a couple of opportunities. I was a head coach in college, and I was a head coach in the NFL. This is more for someone else. There are a lot of young football coaches out there that are minorities, that are very, very talented individuals that just have not gotten an opportunity to show what they can do not just as a head coach but also as coordinators.”
Of the 32 offensive play callers in the league right now, only two are black.
“Where we had come from, we had made some gains, and this year was not a very good cycle for it to happen,” Newsome said. “That don’t mean next year it won’t change. So you know what? As it is with our football team, it is with diversity. You can’t become complacent. You have to continue to work with it to make it better. But you can’t say the process is all wrong either.”
If people were not idiots, you would not need a process.
But they are. So you do.