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Brian Flores debacle proves Rooney Rule isn’t being enforced critically

By: Jay Ashdown


And then there was one. Mike Tomlin is the only remaining Black coach in the National Football League (NFL) after the firings of Brian Flores and David Culley, coupled with the fact that coaches like Byron Leftwich, Eric Bieniemy, Todd Bowles, Jerod Mayo, Leslie Frazier, Raheem Morris and so many others haven’t been hired to be a head coach. The NFL has long had questions and criticism surrounding a lack of diversity in coaching in the league, and the Rooney Rule, implemented in 2003, has not provided the boost over the last twenty years that many had originally hoped.

The question now is, what is the issue? Is the Rooney Rule not effective on its own? Or is the NFL simply not enforcing the rule hard enough to prevent teams from performing “sham interviews”?

While many people are criticizing the Rooney Rule as “ineffective,” the fact of the matter is that at the start of the 2006 season, the overall percentage of black coaches had jumped to 22%, a 6% increase from pre–Rooney Rule statistics. In the next twelve seasons under the rule, the NFL added fourteen non-white head coaches, including guys like the aforementioned Tomlin, Bowles, and Frazier as well as other coaches like Lovie Smith and Jim Caldwell.

So what’s the problem? Why are we in this spot now, with only one Black coach in the NFL, and two Black coaches being fired this past offseason under questionable circumstances?

The answer is simple: the NFL’s Rooney Rule is not ineffective by any means — it’s simply the same as any other rule or law that exists. If a law or rule is not enforced by the governing body, it isn’t a law or a rule at all. Loopholes exist to simply meet the requirements of the Rooney Rule without actually giving any legitimate consideration to Black coaches.

The rule states that every team is required to interview at least two external minority candidates for an open head coaching position and at least one external minority candidate for a coordinator position, as well. With this in mind, what prevents teams from bringing in minority coaches for interviews with the sole intention of just checking a box?

Many fans believe that the Rooney Rule is pointless because it doesn’t make a significant difference, but this belief is not an indictment on the rule itself; rather, it is an indictment on the mentality of NFL owners and how they operate their teams.

Take Tampa Bay, for example. The Buccaneers are coming off a Super Bowl Championship last season, as well as a stellar 13–4 record this season before they lost in the postseason to the L.A. Rams, who are playing in the Super Bowl next weekend. The Bucs had one of the best offenses in football, and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich is a big part of that unit's success. The defense — which stole the show, only allowing nine points to Patrick Mahomes in last year’s Super Bowl win — is led by Todd Bowles, the last coach to ever see any sort of success with the abysmal New York Jets, one of the NFL’s most notoriously dysfunctional franchises.

Neither of these men are getting a head coaching job this offseason, barring a last-minute hire by either the Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins or New Orleans Saints. It’s hard to believe that none of the teams with head coaching vacancies this offseason didn’t hire either of these guys.

When Brian Flores came forward with texts from Bill Belichick that gave cause to believe the New York Giants had intentions of hiring Brian Daboll before they ever interviewed Flores, I was not surprised in the slightest. The issue brought up by Flores is nothing against Brian Daboll, who is regarded as one of the NFL’s better offensive play callers and who has a professional relationship with new general manager Joe Schoen. The issue is that it’s plausible to believe the Giants performed the interview with Flores after knowing Daboll was their guy, with the intention of doing it to appease the Rooney Rule.

It doesn’t end with the Giants: Flores also shared that the Denver Broncos interview he had in 2019 felt like a sham to him, because he alleged that Broncos president John Elway showed up to the meeting hungover. While there’s no definitive proof to suggest that was true, it is yet another layer to this onion that is currently tainting the reputation of the NFL and its owners.

What’s the solution to this problem? It’s quite easy as a concept, but it will likely prove much harder to execute. The NFL needs to find a way to enforce the Rooney Rule in a way that prevents teams from performing sham interviews solely to fill the requirements. Another idea could be to incentivize teams to hire minority coaches by potentially giving them additional compensatory draft picks as well.

There’s no easy way to fix this issue, but everybody knows by now that this is an issue that needs to be fixed as soon as possible. While there may be no perfect solution to this problem, the NFL needs to address it before it gets even worse. The current outlook of the situation is ugly, but Brian Flores deserves credit for his bravery; he is, after all, putting his future in the league on the line.

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