The decision of Colts owner Jim Irsay to go outside the current coaching staff for an interim head coach technically complies with the Rooney Rule, but only because the Rooney Rule doesn’t apply in those situations. (Yet.) If it did, Irsay wouldn’t have been able to just hand the reins to Jeff Saturday, without first going through a fair and inclusive process.
During Monday night’s press conference introducing Saturday, Irsay was asked about the perception created by bringing in a white interim coach who has no college or NFL coaching experience. Irsay deflected the question, in part by turning the tables on those asking the question.
“There is no problem or perception, except some of you guys make a problem or perception,” Irsay said. “But you need hits, so you’ve got to do it. I understand. I’d do the same thing. I was a broadcast journalism major, too. So, I mean, look, it’s something where there’s always going to be a lot created and a lot of words said. You know, and, you know, and I don’t know, are you guys ever held accountable? Do your editors ever bring you in and say, ‘Well, you wrote that stuff. It was all wrong. You’re fired.’ We get held accountable, that’s for sure. So but it was — it’s something that we’re following the Rooney Rule to a ‘T’, and, you know, I really look forward to the interview process at the end of the season.”
Jim, it’s a vastly different kind of accountability for reporters to be held accountable for their errors (and we are, whether directly by those who pay us or by our audiences or by media that covers the media or by social media) and for business owners to be held accountable for failing to engage and fair and appropriate hiring practices. Irsay violated the spirit of the Rooney Rule in hiring Saturday. Period. For him, and for the league at large, the accountability potentially will come within the confines of the pending, or subsequent, litigation attacking the league’s long and abysmal history of diversity in the filling of head-coaching jobs.
Perception is reality. The perception, and the reality, is that the NFL’s owners collectively have done a horrible job of embracing diversity when it comes to developing and hiring head coaches, even though the vast majority of NFL players are Black.
In every specific case, the owner who makes the hire can fashion a word salad that will plausibly (or, in Irsay’s case, implausibly) justify the decision. Meanwhile, the trend continues. The evidence is hiding in plain sight, and it has been for years.
It’s one of the reasons why the NFL is working so hard to keep the Brian Flores lawsuit out of open court, and to shift it to the league’s in-house secret, rigged, kangaroo court, otherwise known as arbitration. That’s how Irsay and all other NFL owners eventually avoid full and fair accountability.
So, yes, reporters are held accountable for our mistakes. And, no, NFL owners are never held truly accountable for business decisions that violate state and federal law. Until they are, neither the perception nor the reality that contributed to Monday’s Saturday shenanigans will change.