Rooney Rule proposal involving draft picks doesn't get at heart of NFL's diversity problem – team owners

Dan WetzelColumnist
Yahoo Sports

NFL team owners think NFL team owners are not hiring enough minorities as general managers, head coaches and even assistant coaches. 

NFL team owners think this is such a failure by NFL team owners that the NFL team owners are scheduled to vote next week on a resolution that will incentivize NFL team owners to hire more minorities via a bizarre system that is designed to reward teams with improved draft positions and even compensatory picks (although in some cases, it could actually add hurdles to minority hirings).

Essentially, NFL team owners are saying that NFL team owners are so prejudiced that the only way NFL team owners won’t be prejudiced is if they are given a competitive advantage to be less prejudiced. 

Here’s an idea for NFL team owners concerned that NFL team owners can’t hire qualified minorities without a carrot: start hiring qualified minorities. 

Solve this yourself. There are only 32 of you (Green Bay is owned as a collective but it operates the same way). If this is an institutional failure then, well, guess who owns the institution? You.

The solution isn’t in this ladder game of third-round draft picks. 

It’s in the mirror. 

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has been candid about the league's drop in number of minority head coaches and general managers. “Clearly, we are not where we want to be,” Goodell said earlier this year. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has been candid about the league's drop in number of minority head coaches and general managers. “Clearly, we are not where we want to be,” Goodell said earlier this year. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)

The reward isn’t even that great and comes with all sorts of unintended consequences. It may do more harm than good to the chances of minority coaches moving up. 

According to Jim Trotter at NFL.com, it goes like this: 

  • If a team hires a minority head coach, that team, in the draft preceding the coach’s second season, would move up six spots from where it is slotted to pick in the third round. A team would jump 10 spots under the same scenario for hiring a person of color as its primary football executive, a position commonly known as general manager.

  • If a team were to fill both positions with diverse candidates in the same year, that club could jump 16 spots — six for the coach, 10 for the GM — and potentially move from the top of the third round to the middle of the second round. Another incentive: a team’s fourth-round pick would climb five spots in the draft preceding the coach’s or GM’s third year if he is still with the team. 

  • If a minority assistant left to become a coordinator elsewhere, his former club would receive a fifth-round compensatory pick. And if a person of color leaves to become a head coach or general manager, his previous team would receive a third-round compensatory pick.

  • Any team that hires a person of color as its quarterbacks coach would receive a compensatory pick at the end of the fourth round if it retains that employee beyond one season. 

How is it fair to teams that have hired good people to begin with and are blessed with stability?

Why is a bumbling franchise that is hiring a new coach every couple years given an advantage over, say, Pittsburgh, which picked the right one, Mike Tomlin, 13 years ago and hasn’t wavered? Those struggling teams already have the advantage of getting first dibs at players in the draft itself.

Are the Steelers better off firing Tomlin? Of course not. Should Kansas City be punished for keeping Andy Reid? How about New England, where Bill Belichick essentially does three jobs — general manager, head coach and defensive coordinator. To game the system, should the Pats officially hire a minority GM so they can move up 10 spots in the third round even if he is just a figurehead? Who does that help?

Hiring the right coach is worth way more than six spots in the third round of the draft anyway. Belichick is worth about 10 first-rounders. 

Any team owner who would make the decision on who to hire at such a critical position (or keeping the wrong guy in the job an extra season) based on six slots in a future third round has such little understanding of how the NFL works that the poor guy who got the job is essentially doomed. If nothing else, it is an incredible window into their mindset that they think this is even worthy of a vote.

The incentives aren’t even very incentive. This is window dressing.

The Dolphins' Brian Flores is one of four people of color working as a head coach in the NFL. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
The Dolphins' Brian Flores is one of four people of color working as a head coach in the NFL. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Then there is the matter of compensatory picks to a team who has a person of color leave the franchise to take over somewhere else. This makes no sense. This isn’t an incentive to a minority coach getting hired. This is a disincentive. 

The team doing the hiring is giving an opponent, often a rival, a compensatory pick. Would the Denver Broncos take current Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy if it means the Chiefs get another third-rounder they can use to defeat them? Under this system, hiring a white assistant instead would keep a third-round pick from Kansas City.

If Bieniemy turns out to be a great head coach, he’d be more than worth it. The Broncos, however, would be making the hire in spite of this proposal, not because of it. 

Perhaps rather than invent this convoluted reward/punishment system, NFL team owners set up a better system where they can meet prospective employees. 

Hiring often comes down to comfort level, whether the person doing the hiring realizes it. Maybe part of the owners meetings is an extra day or two where the team owners have to stick around and meet any minority assistant coach or front-office staffer who wants to come and interact with them. Brief meetings. Cocktail hour. Whatever.

Presumably, the chance to actually meet and talk to some of these candidates who don’t look like them would increase that comfort level. 

This would require teams to allow other franchise owners to chat up their employees, but this happens in all sorts of industries. Maybe then someone such as 34-year-old New England assistant Jerod Mayo becomes more than just a great former player and is seen as a sharp young coach ahead of his age, the way Sean McVay was.

If NFL team owners are so convinced that NFL team owners aren’t capable of hiring minorities, then NFL team owners should be eager to give up an extra day or two.

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