Rooney Rule

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The Rooney Rule requires National Football League teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs. It is sometimes cited as an example of affirmative action, though there is no quota or preference given to minorities in the hiring of candidates.[1][2] It was established in 2003.[3]

History and origin

The rule is named after Dan Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the chairman of the league's diversity committee, and indirectly the Rooney family in general, due to the Steelers' long history of giving African Americans opportunities to serve in team leadership roles.

It was created as a reaction to the 2002 firings of head coaches Tony Dungy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dennis Green of the Minnesota Vikings, at a time when Dungy had a winning record and Green had just had his first losing season in ten years. Shortly afterwards, U.S. civil rights attorneys Cyrus Mehri and Johnnie Cochran released a study showing that black head coaches, despite winning a higher percentage of games, were less likely to be hired and more likely to be fired than their white counterparts. Former NFL players Kellen Winslow and John Wooten then put together a self-described “affinity group” of minority scouts, coaches, and front-office personnel, to advocate for the rule's creation.[4]

Its purpose was to ensure that minority coaches, especially African Americans, would be considered for high-level coaching positions. Until 1979, Fritz Pollard was the only minority head coach in NFL history (which was during the league's early years in the 1920s) and by the time the rule was implemented, only Tom Flores, Art Shell, Dennis Green, Ray Rhodes, Tony Dungy, and Herman Edwards had ever held head coaching jobs (Only Dungy and Edwards were actively head coaching at the time of the rule's implementation, though Shell and Green would later return to head coaching). Dungy in particular had struggled for years before getting a head coaching job; he was often promoted as a head coaching candidate by Chuck Noll when Dungy was an assistant under Noll in the 1980s with the Steelers, but he would not become a head coach until 1996 when he took over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.


Since the Rooney Rule was established, several NFL franchises have hired African American head coaches, including the Steelers themselves, who hired Mike Tomlin before their 2007 season[5] (The Steelers, however, had already interviewed Ron Rivera who is a Hispanic minority to fulfill the requirement before interviewing Tomlin, and Rooney himself contends that Tomlin's hiring did not result from the Rule).[6] At the start of the 2006 season, the overall percentage of African American coaches had jumped to 22%, up from 6% prior to the Rooney Rule.[7]


The rule does not apply if an assistant coach has language in his contract guaranteeing him the head coaching job in case of an opening.[8] For example, this was the case when Mike Martz took over as head coach of the St. Louis Rams before the 2000 season. Also, the requirement does not apply if the assistant coach taking over the head position is a minority, as was the case with Mike Singletary and the San Francisco 49ers in late 2008.[9]

As of June 15, 2009, Rooney Rule requirements now apply to all searches for senior football operations positions within the NFL, regardless of a team's title for that position. It now also includes all ethnic minorities, not just African-Americans.

Currently, 5 of the 32 head coaches in the NFL are African-American, with 1 additional head coach who is Hispanic. Recently, legal scholars have advocated for extending the Rooney Rule to college football, where the number of minority head coaches hovers around 6%,[10] which is significantly lower than the 12.4% of the total US population which is African-American.

Detroit Lions case, 2003

In 2003, the NFL fined the Detroit Lions $200,000 for failure to interview African-American candidates for the team's vacant head coaching job. After Marty Mornhinweg was fired, the Lions immediately hired former San Francisco 49ers head coach Steve Mariucci to replace him without interviewing any other candidates. The Lions claimed they attempted to interview other candidates but that the African-American candidates withdrew from interviews, believing Mariucci's hiring was inevitable.[11]

2012 controversial non-hirings and possible rule revision

In the wake of no minority hirings to fill eight head coaching and seven general management vacancies following the conclusion of the 2012 NFL regular season, NFL Executive Vice president of Human Resources Robert Gulliver stated, "While there has been full compliance with the interview requirements of the Rooney Rule and we wish the new head coaches and general managers much success, the hiring results this year have been unexpected and reflect a disappointing lack of diversity."[12] Analysts have pointed the lack of interview offers for Baltimore Ravens' Offensive Coordinator Jim Caldwell, who, as head coach, led the Indianapolis Colts to a 14-2 2009 season along with winning the 2009 American Football Conference title before losing in Super Bowl XLIV, as evidence that the rule needs revision.[13] Some sports analysts have called upon the NFL to modify the Rooney Rule by requiring NFL teams to interview a minority candidate outside their respective organizations, and extending the rule to include interviews for offensive and defensive coordinators.[14]

Outside the NFL

In association football (soccer), players' representatives have been campaigning for a similar practise in England. Gordon Taylor, Chief Executive of the PFA (the players' trade union) said in September 2014 the sport "has a "hidden resistance" preventing black managers getting jobs", pointing out that "you see so many black players on the pitch, yet we have two black managers out of 92".[15] Garth Crooks, a prominent black former player, was especially scathing of the failure of the Football League (a large association of clubs below the top-tier Premier League) to pursue the matter, suggesting the league lacked courage.[16]

Outside sports

Some companies outside of sports, such as Pinterest and Facebook, have put similar rules in place for their hiring processes.[17][18]

List of minority NFL head coaches


W Wins
L Losses
Interim head coach only
Active head coach

Note: List is correct through January 8, 2016.

Head coach Teams Years Regular Season Playoffs Best Results
W L T Win% W L Win%
Pollard, FritzFritz Pollard Akron Pros, Hammond Pros 1921, 1925 8 4 .667 0 0 0
Flores, TomTom Flores Oakland/LA Raiders, Seattle Seahawks 1979–1987, 1992–1994 97 87 .527 8 3 .727 Won Super Bowl XV and Super Bowl XVIII
Shell, ArtArt Shell Los Angeles Raiders 1989–1994, 2006 56 52 .518 2 3 .400 1990–1991 AFC Championship Game
Green, DennisDennis Green Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals 1992–2001, 2004–2006 113 94 .546 4 8 .333 1998 and 2000 NFC Championship Game
Rhodes, RayRay Rhodes Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers 1995–1998, 1999 37 42 .468 1 2 .333 1995 NFC Divisional Game
Dungy, TonyTony Dungy Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts 1996–2001, 2002–2008 139 69 .668 9 10 .474 Super Bowl XLI Champion
Edwards, HermanHerman Edwards New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs 2001–2005, 2006–2008 54 74 .422 2 4 .333 2002, 2004 AFC Divisional Game
Rooney Rule Instituted, 2003
Lewis, MarvinMarvin Lewis Cincinnati Bengals 2003— 112 92 2 .549 0 6 .000 1st in AFC North, Lost all AFC Wild-Card games played
Smith, LovieLovie Smith Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2004–2012, 2014–2015 89 87 0 .506 3 3 .500 Won 2006 NFC Championship, Lost Super Bowl XLI
Robiskie, TerryTerry Robiskie Washington Redskins*, Cleveland Browns* 2000, 2004 2 7 0 .222 3rd AFC North (with Cleveland)
Crennel, RomeoRomeo Crennel Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs 2005–2008, 2011–2012 28 55 0 .337 2nd AFC North (with Cleveland)
Tomlin, MikeMike Tomlin Pittsburgh Steelers 2007– 92 52 0 .639 5 3 .667 Won Super Bowl XLIII Lost Super Bowl XLV
Thomas, EmmittEmmitt Thomas Atlanta Falcons* 2007 1 2 0 .333 4th NFC South
Singletary, MikeMike Singletary San Francisco 49ers 2008–2010 18 22 0 .462 2nd NFC West
Caldwell, JimJim Caldwell Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions 2009–2011, 2014- 44 36 0 .550 2 2 .500 2009 AFC Champion, Lost Super Bowl XLIV
Morris, RaheemRaheem Morris Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2009–2011 17 31 0 .354 3rd NFC South
Fewell, PerryPerry Fewell Buffalo Bills* 2009 3 4 0 .429 4th AFC East
Frazier, LeslieLeslie Frazier Minnesota Vikings 2010–2013 21 32 1 .382 0 1 .000 2nd NFC North
Studesville, EricEric Studesville Denver Broncos* 2010 1 3 0 .250 4th AFC West
Rivera, RonRon Rivera Carolina Panthers 2011– 47 32 1 .596 1 2 .333 2015 NFC Wild Card Game
Bowles, ToddTodd Bowles New York Jets 2015– 12 7 .632 2nd AFC East


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