The NFL on Wednesday moved to strengthen the Rooney Rule, requiring that teams interview a minority candidate from outside their organizations or candidates from a league-approved list.
In place since 2003 for head coaches and expanded in 2009 to include general manager jobs and equivalent front-office positions, the rule -- named after former Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, the onetime head of the league's diversity committee -- mandates that an NFL team must interview at least one minority candidate for these jobs.
Under the revised Rooney Rule, owners seeking to interview candidates from outside their organizations will be able to pick from the NFL's career development advisory panel list as well as a list of black assistant coaches who should be considered to move up each hiring cycle that is compiled by the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which helps oversee compliance of the rule.
Fritz Pollard Alliance chairman John Wooten said there will be many strong candidates from which to choose.
"It's a commingling of both of the lists, so it's not all minority," Wooten said. "What we've done is brought the best together ... so it comes out on one list. And that's what will be given to all the clubs. It will make it easier for them to interview the best people."
Since the rule's inception, it has had an underlying flaw: the potential for sham interviews. Teams could comply with the letter of the rule by merely interviewing a coach of color, even if the candidate clearly lacked the body of work to be seriously considered for a head-coaching position in the NFL.
There will now be more uniformity to the process. The hope is that, with the additional scrutiny, teams would interview in-house candidates who have the credentials to warrant serious consideration.
The Fritz Pollard Alliance had expressed concern to the NFL over the Oakland Raiders' hiring of coach Jon Gruden. Raiders owner Mark Davis was determined to complete a deal with Gruden, who had led the team from 1998 through 2001 and was serving as an ESPN analyst. Although the NFL ultimately ruled that Oakland complied with the rule, the situation reinforced widespread perception -- especially among black league officials and coaches -- that the rule needed an addendum.
The NFL got it right with the new policy, Wooten said.
"What we've done, I'm talking about the league and all of us working together, has strengthened the Rooney Rule, and it needed to be strengthened," Wooten said. "Any rule that you don't adjust, that you don't update when it needs to be updated, people will find a way to circumvent it."
Wooten praised commissioner Roger Goodell and Troy Vincent, the league's executive vice president of football operations, for recognizing that it was time to act in an attempt strengthen the rule.
"I don't like talking about what happened last year and I'm not going to get into that, but I'll just say we presented them with some things that we felt would eliminate that from happening again," Wooten said, alluding to the Raiders-Gruden situation. "We just wanted to make sure that it didn't happen again, and we feel this will accomplish that. The last thing I said to the commissioner was 'This represents what we were trying to do when we first put this (the rule) together all those years ago.' That's how good I feel about this."