Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Relax, Tony Dungy. Not EVERYONE is a racist.

Tony Dungy thought it necessary earlier this week to lament the process through which this offseason's coaching vacancies have been filled. His specific qualm was with the faux interviews he believed were conducted with Jerry Gray (by the Redskins) and Leslie Frazier (by the Seahawks). Dungy's argument is that both positions were, for all intents and purposes, already filled by Mike Shanahan and Pete Carroll, respectively.

Dungy's quote:
“That is not what the Rooney Rule is supposed to be, (that) you make up your mind and then interview a candidate for it anyway just to satisfy the rule.”
I understand what he means by this. Dungy means that the "Rooney Rule" was instituted with the intention of getting more teams to interview and subsequently hire black head coaches (technically the rule is "minority" head coaches, but I haven't seen many Asian-Americans arguing about their under-representation among NFL coaches). And there's validity in both the intention and the execution. Football has long been perceived as having an "old boys" network, where the same coaches were re-hashed through several teams without opening the door to new candidates, a system that puts minority coaches at a distinct disadvantage. Forcing teams to interview minority candidates means you're forcing the door open, and any industry benefits from expanding its pool of potential employees.

But the situations in Washington and Seattle are exactly what the Rooney Rule demands. The Rooney Rule was never meant to force owners to hire minority candidates, nor to force owners to hire anyone other than who they thought was the best man for the job (let's not go into the concept of lady coaches). The idea is to simply push forward the names of legitimate, viable minority candidates, so that they're considered with their non-minority peers. The rule ensures that guys like Gray, Frazier, and Perry Fewell get the same chances as guys like Jim Haslett, Jim Fassell, and Marty Mornhinweg.

And let's not so quickly dismiss the progress that the NFL has made in this regard. Just in the past two years, four African-American head coaches have been hired, with relative success: Mike Tomlin, Jim Caldwell, Mike Singletary, and Raheem Morris. And those of you who've been paying attention to my subtleties have probably noticed that I like what Perry Fewell was able to do with a bad situation in Buffalo. I wouldn't be surprised at all if Fewell were awarded a head coaching gig in the next three years.

I'm not saying that Tony Dungy is completely without basis for calling on the NFL to keep a watchful eye on teams' compliance with this rule. But calling out teams that follow the letter of the law is irresponsible, and borders on slander. It's the right of every owner to hire whoever they think is the best coach. Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has been friends with Mike Shanahan for a decade. Do we really think that any other candidate, minority or otherwise, stood a chance? If John Fox would've been given only a sham interview, why are we mad that Jerry Gray got the same treatment? It's all about getting in the door.

I was never crazy about the Rooney Rule for various reasons (mostly because it's named after the Steelers' owner, and I loathe the Steelers). I don't like the idea of the league directing a team's coaching search. But even in the most unfavorable situations, it does what it's intended to do, which is get interviews for minority candidates. With how well so many teams have done with minority head coaches (Caldwell, Tomlin, and Lovie Smith to name a few), I'd say the proof is in the pudding for anyone slow to embrace the rule. Teams unwilling to open their doors to the best possible candidate will be left behind with lesser coaches, poorer records, and disgruntled fans.

As my good friend Derek likes to say, "The market will take care of it."

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