If all goes as planned, Bill Parcells will replace Sean Payton, his disciple in Dallas, as the New Orleans Saints head coach once Payton begins serving his one-year suspension for his involvement in the Saints' "pay-for-performance" scandal. Parcells has already told multiple media outlets that he would seriously consider the position if asked, and as long as the Big Tuna is all in, it's a great move for a team that had best be prepared for more body blows in the form of player suspensions very soon.
"If [Payton] says to me, 'Bill, I need you to do this,'" Parcells told Newsday on March 28, "that's what friends are supposed to be for."
However, there's one complication to this happy ending -- if the Saints wish to hire Parcells, they must first comply with the Rooney Rule, put into effect by the NFL in 2003 and named after Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, which requires that any team looking to hire a new head coach must interview at least one minority candidate before making a final decision, unless the team hired from within. The Steelers got a great head coach in Mike Tomlin out of that sense of diversity, but in cases where another coach is seen as a lead-pipe lock before such terms are met, the Rooney Rule can be a real scam.
According to former New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs head coach Herm Edwards, that's precisely what the Saints are making of it.
"It makes it a little bit of a scam now," Edwards told ESPN, where he's now an analyst. "That's the shame of it all. Sean Payton opening his mouth like he did, he really reflects that this thing is going to become a sham if Bill Parcells takes this job. Because if you do decide to interview a minority, you're going to go with Bill Parcells. You've already said, 'This is our coach.' That's the shame of it all. It puts [NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell] in another bind."
Payton "opened his mouth" here:
Herm's right of course, but the Rooney Rule has opened itself up to similar scams since its inception. In 2003, former Lions team president Matt Millen (no, we still can't write that without laughing) was fined $200,000 by the league after five minority candidates refused to interview for a job Millen had already promised to Steve Mariucci. Millen probably could have gone with the "Hey, who the hell would want to work for me, anyway?" gambit, but that didn't enter his mind.
And after Tony Dungy turned the Seattle Seahawks down for the job of team president in 2010, owner Paul Allen and then-CEO Tod Leiweke went after then-USC head coach Pete Carroll with a rather impressive offer, just as Carroll was quite ready to jump off the Titanic in SoCal. Problem was, they hadn't interviewed a minority candidate, as Dungy never interviewed and he wasn't offered the head coach position.
So, in an embarrassing charade, Lieweke interviewed current Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier in Minnesota while the deal for Carroll was being hammered out. To meet the NFL's demands, the Seahawks had to assure the Fritz Pollard Alliance that Carroll would not have full control of the team, which was one thing that led to the hire of GM John Schneider. The Schneider acquisition was actually a great one, and Carroll has far exceeded the expectations of most familiar with his NFL history, but the circumstances surrounding those hires were sketchy at best. Though I know from personal experience that the people involved on Seattle's side are good and intelligent executives who try to do their best for the most part ... well, it was what it was.
It's hard to blame the teams, either -- the Rooney Rule is set up in such a way that teams are guaranteed to look fishy when they have their eye on a guy who doesn't meet the criteria. In the majority of cases, token interviews must be done as a matter of course.
In the Saints' case, league spokesman Greg Aiello told NFL.com that Payton could circumvent the Rooney Rule if he hired someone on the current staff to replace him -- offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo are the prime candidates there -- but that the rule would have to apply if the Saints went off the reservation.
Put simply, there must be a better way to implement the Rooney Rule without making minority coaches feel like token interviews. The current process only benefits those candidates who are hired, and leaves everyone else scrambling to make things look right. Men of dignity and expertise -- men like Leslie Frazier -- should not have to stoop so low just to get ahead.