There is an unavoidable circular debate about the Rooney Rule.
The rule was made to increase opportunities for minority coaches. Each team has to interview a minority candidate for head coach and general manager openings. Then we have a situation like the Oakland Raiders encountered, and it’s clear the rule is flawed at best and the spirit of it isn’t always followed.
The Raiders want Jon Gruden to be their head coach. That has been widely reported, and Gruden finally admitted that’s what’s going on. The Raiders having a singular focus on Gruden makes sense. Gruden was very good in his first stint with the Raiders. He won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He has been the white whale of NFL coaching openings for years. While it’s fair to wonder if Gruden is a bit overrated, especially considering his final six Buccaneers seasons and his time away from coaching, reasonable minds should be able to agree that if the Raiders (who, for what its worth, have a long history of hiring minorities to key positions) want to hire Gruden without interviewing anyone else, that’s reasonable. He’s more than qualified (and Steve Corkran of RaidersSnakepit.com reported that Gruden will be named Raiders coach next Tuesday, according to a team source).
But that makes the Rooney Rule a problem. Whoever the Raiders were to interview would and should feel like he’s being used so the team can check off the Rooney Rule box, move on and hire Gruden. The Las Vegas Review-Journal and others said the Raiders interviewed two minority candidates for the job according to John Wooten, chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance. Wooten didn’t identify the candidates, though NFL reporter Adam Caplan said tight ends coach Bobby Johnson was interviewed. The other candidate hasn’t been reported. The NFL said the Raiders have complied with the Rooney Rule.
“We believe the Rooney Rule was complied with,” NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said, via Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. “Minorities candidates were interviewed. We’ll see what decision they make.”
Let’s assume Gruden still gets the job. Nothing Johnson, or any other candidate, could do was going to change that. In essence, that makes the Rooney Rule a farce. However, others would argue that it’s better for Johnson to interview, get some exposure and gain that experience, than to never be interviewed at all. There can be legitimate arguments for both sides of the debate. The rule is sometimes a sham, when teams know exactly which qualified candidate they want as the Raiders did with Gruden. It doesn’t seem like it would be better if the rule didn’t exist, though. The rule and its implementation will never be perfect, and the debate will never be settled.
What we do know is the NFL has cleared the way for the Raiders to hire Gruden. No interview the Raiders were going to conduct this week was going to change their minds on that.
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