January 10, 2010
Red flag on Roger Goodell. He blew the call.
The NFL commissioner says neither the Washington Redskins nor the Seattle Seahawks violated the Rooney Rule, requiring teams to interview non-white candidates for head coach and front-office vacancies. "I can assure you they have complied with the rule …" he told the Associated Press over the weekend. " … They've been in compliance."
I don't need to go under the replay camera hood to overturn that call. The Redskins may have complied with the letter of the rule by interviewing assistant coach Jerry Gray before Mike Shanahan signed his contract to become the team's new head coach. But they talked with him before firing head coach Jim Zorn, then hired Shanahan almost before Zorn had finished shaking hands on the way out.
Over the weekend, the Seahawks scrambled to talk with Minnesota Vikings assistant Leslie Frazier after it was clear the true object of their desire was USC coach Pete Carroll. (Whom they reportedly pursued before firing first-year head coach Jim Mora.)
Both teams should be smacked upside the head with $250,000 fines for thinking the rest of us are stupid. (In 2003 the Detroit Lions were fined $200,000 for violating the rule in hiring Steve Mariucci. … You see how that worked out for them.) If Seattle CEO Tod Leiweke can't lock down Carroll during their tete-a-tete on Sunday, do you honestly think they'll turn around and offer the job to Frazier, apparently the only other candidate they deemed worthy ("wink") of interviewing? Or will they proceed to talk with other candidates?
Like me, NBC analyst (and former Indianapolis Colts head coach) Tony Dungy believes Goodell is offsides on this one. "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," Dungy (pictured with Lovie Smith after Super Bowl XLI in 2007) told the AP.
I tweeted my view on Saturday and got a firestorm of responses, running the range from "You go!" to "You racist!" (I also suggested money from the fines should be used for programs that would develop and expose more non-white coaches to the people and processes who make key NFL decisions, similar to the camps hosted by the late former San Francisco 49ers had coach Bill Walsh. One enraged tweeter asked if I wanted to hang a "No whites allowed" sign outside camp. Haha!)
In truth the Redskins and Seahawks not only spit on the Rooney Rule, I'm not convinced the objects of their affection are the best coaches available. Sure, Shanahan and Carroll have A-list credentials. But how do the teams know they hired the best coach for them when they didn't bring in at least a handful of equally capable candidates before making a decision? It was as if it was last call and the teams grabbed for the prettiest girl left at the bar.
And black coaches aren't the only ones passed over. "The idea of the rule is to slow down the process and get teams to do their homework and investigate a lot of candidates, not just minority candidates," Dungy also told AP. "You went through the process, and in doing that sometimes you uncover people."
Instead the Redskins and Seahawks did zero work. My 15-year-old son could have come up with the names of Shanahan and Carroll. They went for the most high-profile guys available, guys who would give their moribund franchise, if nothing else, instant buzz and at least some for-the-moment credibility.
But did they get the best coach?
The Redskins may have overlooked the next Rex Ryan or John Harbaugh, neophyte head coaches who are now in the playoffs. As well as the next Jim Caldwell or Mike Tomlin, neophyte black head coaches; one has won a Super Bowl and the other coached perhaps the best team this season.
The Rooney Rule, when followed by the letter and the spirit, not only allows non-white candidates the opportunity to perhaps surprise a team during the interview process (as Tomlin did) but also affords them valuable exposure and experience.
It also gives white candidates – guys who may not be the prettiest, most obvious girl at the bar – a chance to prove they deserve a shot, as well.
When the Rooney Rule works, when it's respected, everybody wins.
When it's not, there should be consequences.
Too bad Goodell missed the call. I'm just throwing the red flag.
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