top of page

The Rooney Rule’s Intentions and the Sham It Has Become in the NFL

Updated: Jul 21, 2022

Dan Rooney, the former Pittsburgh Steelers' owner, proposed a rule where NFL clubs must interview at least one minority for their head coaching job and other open positions. However, this process has become a laughingstock and an embarrassment in the NFL.

The Rooney Rule was instituted with great intentions to include diversity among coaches and front office personnel in the National Football League (NFL) when it was introduced in 2002-2003 following the controversial firings of head coaches Tony Dungy and the late Dennis Green. Dungy was the Buccaneers head coach, and Green was the Minnesota Vikings head coach. It is supposed to institute affirmative action. However, only three head coaches are minorities. Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers is African-American, Robert Saleh of the New York Jets is Lebanese, and Ron Rivera of the newly named Washington Commanders is Latino. Minority coaches make up a whopping 0.09% rate of head coaches in the NFL. Clearly, the rule has good intentions, but it is not working

Affirmative action refers to a set of policies and practices within a government or organization seeking to include particular groups based on their gender, race, sexuality, creed or nationality in areas in which they are underrepresented such as education and employment. Currently in the NFL, minority head coaches make up . Allegations are arising that former head coaches were asked to lose games, and if they did, they would be paid a salary bonus by the club’s owner.

As reported by ESPN, the NFL Network, The Athletic, and other sources, former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores was “interviewed” by the New York Giants after the club made its decision to hire former Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Technically, the Giants adhered to the Rooney Rule, but the story gets worse.

Brian Flores was an assistant under Bill Belichick, the New England Patriots’ head coach. Coach Belichick sent Mr. Flores a congratulatory text about receiving the head coaching job with the Giants. Mr. Flores responded, saying he did not receive the job. Coach Belichick said something along the lines of “oops, my bad.”

Now, Kevin Seifert of ESPN reports Brian Flores has filed a class action lawsuit against the NFL and its teams this week, accusing them of sham interviews, incentivizing losses and pressure to improperly recruit players. An example is Hue Jackson during his tenure with the Cleveland Browns. Browns’ owner Mr. Haslam allegedly told Coach Jackson for every game he lost, he would pay him an extra $100,000. Brian Flores was offered monetary awards by Dolphins owner Stephen Ross for the same action. Brian Flores was fired after two seasons at the helm, and he did not have a losing season.

Another example is an African-American coach being interviewed by the Denver Broncos, and there are accusations that team president John Elway walked in, conducted a quick interview, and left. The Broncos conducted the interview to meet the Rooney Rule requirement. Late Thursday evening, the Jacksonville Jaguars announced they hired former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson. One can wonder if there were any “sham” interviews conducted by their owner Jeffrey Lurie.

Alex Patterson is a 3L at Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan. He played football for seventeen years as an offensive and defensive lineman. He graduated from Lindenwood University-Belleville in 2018 with a Bachelor's in Sports Management. He can be followed on Twitter @alpatt71.

bottom of page