NFL enhances Rooney Rule, tables incentive idea

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NFL owners approved new measures Tuesday aimed at improving diversity in coach and front-office hiring, but they stopped short of approving a resolution that would have rewarded minority hiring with draft-pick compensation.

NFL Network reported last week that the owners were considering a proposal that would have improved teams’ third-round draft picks by six or 10 spots if they hired a minority candidate for vacant GM or head-coaching openings, as well as other compensation for hiring minority candidates for such positions as quarterbacks coach. But on Tuesday’s conference call — which took the place of the league’s annual in-person May owners meeting — the resolutions involving draft-pick compensation were tabled, meaning no vote was taken and the proposals could be considered at a later date.

NFL rules stipulate that 24 of 32 teams must vote to approve a resolution in order for it to go into effect. The tabling of the draft-pick resolution often indicates that it did not have enough support to pass at this time, but NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said that was not the case this time.

“There was a great deal of support,” Goodell said. “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.”

The owners did, however, approve several new measures they hope will improve what they acknowledge has become an unacceptable record of minority hiring in positions of team leadership.

Among them:

• Teams will now be required to interview at least two candidates from outside their organization for any vacant head-coaching job and at least one minority candidate from outside their organization for any vacant offensive, defensive or special-teams coordinator job. Previously, the Rooney Rule had required teams to interview only one minority candidate for head coach and none for coordinator.

• The NFL changed its anti-tampering policy to relax the rules that have allowed teams to deny assistant coaches and executives the opportunity to interview for jobs with other organizations. The resolution approved Tuesday, according to the NFL, establishes a system “that prohibits a club from denying (1) an assistant coach the opportunity to interview with a new team for a bona fide Offensive Coordinator, Defensive Coordinator or Special Teams Coordinator position and (2) a non-high-level/non-secondary football executive from interviewing for a bona fide Assistant General Manager position.” It requires every team to submit an organizational flow chart with descriptions of each coach’s specific responsibilities and stipulates that any dispute over the definition of “bona fide” in these cases will be resolved by the commissioner.

• The Rooney Rule is expanded to apply to a number of executive positions. Teams and the league office are now required to interview “minorities and/or female applicants” for positions such as team president and “senior executives in communications, finance, human resources, legal, football operations, sales, marketing, sponsorship, information technology and security positions.”

• Each of the 32 NFL teams will establish a minority coaching fellowship program. The coaching fellowships are to be full-time positions, one or two years in length, to “provide NFL Legends, minority and female participants with hands-on training in NFL coaching.” The idea is to establish a larger pool of qualified candidates in the pipeline from which head-coaching candidates are ultimately drawn.

Currently, the NFL has four minority head coaches and two minority general managers. Brian Flores of the Dolphins was the only minority candidate among the eight head coaches hired after the 2018 season. Washington’s Ron Rivera, who’d been fired a couple of months earlier by the Carolina Panthers, was the only minority candidate among the five new head coaches hired this offseason. The NFL’s workplace diversity committee, according to a source, decided this offseason that it needed to propose “something bold” to address the ongoing issue, hence the now-tabled proposal to award draft picks as incentive for minority hiring. The league hopes the changes instituted Tuesday lead to longer-term solutions.

“We believe these new policies demonstrate the NFL Owners’ commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in the NFL,” Steelers owner and committee chairman Art Rooney II said in the league’s news release. “The development of young coaches and young executives is a key to our future. These steps will assure coaching and football personnel are afforded a fair and equitable opportunity to advance throughout our football operations.”

Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who hasn’t received an NFL head-coaching offer despite interviewing for positions in each of the past two years, spoke with reporters Tuesday.

He addressed the Rooney Rule and the proposed changes that were tabled concerning draft picks and minority hires, saying: “As a coach, you always want to be judged based upon your own merit.”

Bieniemy also applauded the rule change that allows assistants to have an opportunity to interview for coordinator openings.

“That’s huge across the board regardless of skin color,” he said. “It doesn’t make a difference. Now you get the opportunity to interview the best football coach for that particular position. With all this discussion being brought to the table it just opened up different doors for many different people … I am happy that was passed so those guys can have an opportunity.”



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