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NFL expands ‘Rooney Rule’ to include coordinator positions, could introduce incentives for hiring minority coaches

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Related: Bill Belichick pleased with virtual workouts as Patriots kick off their rookie program

NFL: AUG 02 Patriots Training Camp Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The so-called “Rooney Rule” was first introduced by the NFL in 2003 in order to level the playing field for minority coaches or executives looking to earn high-ranking positions in pro football. The basic idea, which has been expanded since, is that teams would have to interview at least one minority candidate for vacancies atop their coaching staffs and football operations departments. This stipulation, in turn, led to an increase in such hires.

Whereas only three persons of color were hired as head coaches in the 10 years before the rule was originally implemented, for example, 10 were given the same opportunities in the decade between 2003 and 2013. Recently, however, the power of the “Rooney Rule” seems to have started to wane: only three of the past 20 vacancies have been filled by minority candidates, and only one of five over the course of this year’s offseason.

“Clearly we are not where we want to be on this level. We have a lot of work that’s gone into not only the Rooney Rule but our policies overall. It’s clear we need to change. [...] We have already begun discussing those changes, what stages we can take next to determine better outcomes,” league commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged during a media session in the week leading up to the Super Bowl earlier this year.

How those plans and potential changes would ultimately look like was anybody’s guess at that time, but the league first modifications were reported by NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero on Monday:

The NFL is immediately instituting changes to the Rooney Rule, requiring clubs interview at least two external minority candidates for head coach openings and one minority candidate for any coordinator job. [...] Teams must interview one external minority candidate for senior football ops/GM jobs, too. And clubs and the league office must now include minorities and/or female applicants for senior-level positions, including club president. All effective after virtual league meeting tomorrow.

From the New England Patriots’ perspective, those changes could become relevant in case the team is trying to fill its two most prominent vacancies at the moment: the team has not had an official defensive coordinator since Matt Patricia’s departure following the 2017 season, and has also lost director of college scouting Monti Ossenfort to the Tennessee Titans. Both positions should qualify for the newly adapted “Rooney Rule”.

The league is apparently also voting on two resolutions that would make it easier for minority candidates to get hired to head coaching/senior positions — and possibly incentivize teams for doing so. According to NFL Network’s Jim Trotter, those proposals look as follows:

The first would remove the longstanding anti-tampering barrier that permits clubs to block assistant coaches from interviewing for coordinator positions with other clubs, even though having coordinator experience is typically the final and most significant step in becoming a head coach. The other would incentivize the hiring of minorities as head coaches or primary football executives by rewarding teams with improved draft slots [...]

The first proposed resolution is pretty straight-forward and would also include changes to the overall process of hiring coaches or blocking them from interviews: teams would be prohibited from denying an assistant coach the opportunity to interview for coordinator positions classified as “bona fide” — i.e. leading an offense, defense, or special teams unit — between the end of the regular season and the beginning of March.

The second proposal of incentivizing minority hires, meanwhile, is more controversial.

Basically, it would allow teams to improve their draft position if minority head coaches or top executives were hired: hiring a person of color as head coach would result in a six-position move-up in the third round of the following offseason’s draft, hiring one as general in a 10-spot jump. Furthermore, fourth-round picks would climb five spots one offseason later if either a coach or GM hired under those circumstances would still be with the team.

On top of it all, a compensation system for coaches or executives leaving would also be introduced: if a person of color left a team for a head coaching or general manager position elsewhere, his/her former team would receive a third-round compensatory pick. If a minority assistant coach became a coordinator with another team, his previous one would receive a fifth-round compensatory selection.