While NFL amends Rooney Rule, incentivization plan rightly put on back burner

(Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

NFL owners approved amendments to the Rooney Rule on Tuesday in an attempt to improve and promote diversity in coaching and front-office hires, but the option to incentivize such moves were only tabled.

Per multiple reports in recent weeks, owners began considering the idea that teams who made minority hires at the head coach or general manager positions would see their third-round draft picks bumped up by six or 10 spots. Other compensation would be available for teams who made minority hires at other assistant coaching positions. 

The proposal being tabled meant that it was not voted upon and will be reconsidered at a later, unconfirmed date.

“There was a great deal of support,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said (h/t ESPN). “But there were also some suggestions, amendments, and thoughts that we may want to go back and talk to others, including the Fritz Pollard Alliance, and try to strengthen it and try to make sure it does what we were originally intending, which is to reward teams and coaches for developing minority coaches that can go on to be head coaches in this league.”

Such an idea though is experiencing its fair share of criticism.

The NFL incentivizing or bribing teams to hire minority candidates is quite an indictment on the current structure and hierarchy of the league. And naturally, it’s not going to sit well with a lot of people. 

At the end of the day, a coach or front-office member should be hired based on merit and for the most part, minority candidates have not gotten a fair chance. 

It’s created a sizable elephant in the room for the NFL which only grew after a study from the Global Sport Institute at Arizona State University along with the Paul Robeson Research Center for Innovative Academic & Athletic Prowess at the University of Central Florida College of Business was made public by The Undefeated’s Martenzie Johnson following the 2019 season. 

The study disclosed that most head-coaching hires come from promoting offensive coordinators — roughly 40% since 2009. Ninety-one percent of the NFL’s offensive coordinators have been white since then.

It was also revealed that 14% of white coaches who were fired were hired as head coaches again the following season compared to just 7% of minority coaches.

While the incentivization plan was put on the back burner, the changes to the Rooney Rule approved by the league and its owners are as follows:

  • Teams must interview at least two minority candidates from outside their organization for any head-coaching vacancy and at least one from outside the organization for any offensive, defensive, or special-teams coordinator vacancy.
  • Teams must interview minority and/or female candidates for front-office positions such as team president, senior executives in communications, finance, human resources, and football operations.
  • Each team must establish a minority coaching fellowship program, providing full-time positions for either one or two years to provide training in NFL coaching.

It’s an important step to introduce a semblance of equality when it comes to the hiring of coaches and front-office members within NFL organizations — a concept that the league has failed to grasp for much of its history. 

Since 2000, just 23 of the 139 men to coach an NFL game have been minority coaches, according to ESPN Stats and Info. 

Currently, there are four minority head coaches and two general managers in a league in which approximately 70% of its players are black.