By Jim Trotter
January 12, 2010

The discussion about the effectiveness and relevance of the Rooney Rule -- and whether Washington and Seattle drove armored trucks through its plate-glass window -- has been entertaining and enlightening the past two weeks.

The rule, which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate before hiring a head coach or general manager, was adopted in 2003 with the hope of seeing more African-Americans hired as head coaches. Until six years ago, there had only been five in the league's modern history. Former commissioner Paul Tagliabue was hopeful that by expanding the search, owners would come across qualified minority candidates who might have been overlooked otherwise.

Yet Washington hired Bruce Allen within 48 hours of firing GM Vinny Cerrato. It also named Mike Shanahan, who had been linked to the club for months, head coach within two days of Jim Zorn's ouster. The Seahawks were only slightly less disingenuous; they waited three whole days before hiring Pete Carroll to replace the fired Jim Mora.

But give Seattle credit: At least it waited until after Mora was gone to fulfill the Rooney Rule requirement. Washington reportedly "interviewed" assistant coach Jerry Gray before telling Zorn he would be fired at the end of the season.

Commissioner Roger Goodell told the media last weekend that both franchises complied with the Rooney Rule. I wasn't there, so I have no idea if he said it with a straight face. But even if the teams followed the rule in a letter-of-the-law sense, they clearly violated the spirit of the rule. That got me wondering: Is the Rooney Rule still relevant or necessary?

Since the rule's adoption, seven African-American head coaches have been hired: Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati, Lovie Smith in Chicago, Romeo Crennel in Cleveland, Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh, Jim Caldwell in Indianapolis, Raheem Morris in Tampa Bay, and Mike Singletary in San Francisco. They follow in the footsteps of modern-era predecessors ArtShell, Denny Green, Tony Dungy, Ray Rhodes and Herm Edwards.

"I would hope we're at the point where the Rooney Rule is not necessary," said Dungy, the former Colts coach and current NBC analyst. "But even if we are, there still some good things, some benefits that come from it. The biggest thing it has done, to me, is slow down the process and encourage people to look at a broad spectrum and interview a lot of different guys. That helps everyone. It helps the person who ended up getting the job, and it helps the person who was looking."

Dungy acknowledges there always will be franchises that clumsily side-step the rule or brazenly stiff-arm it, adding: "It's hard to legislate practice."

I am conflicted by the Rooney. The intent of it is good, but the execution is flawed. Perhaps the league could require a mandatory blackout on hirings for one week after a coach or general manager is fired. But that isn't going to stop "sham" interviews. And truthfully, if an owner knows he wants to hire an established, big-name coach, why should he have to sit through "interviews" that have no chance of changing his mind.

For the most part, the rule's biggest impact has been with organizations whose owners aren't known for spending extravagantly on head coaches, or with franchises that are in some form of financial crisis. For instance: Lewis went to the Bengals, Smith to the Bears and Tomlin to the Steelers. None of those organizations has a reputation for breaking a bank for its coaches.

Morris got his job with the Bucs, you could argue, because ownership was facing financial hardships. It still owed at least $20 million to coach Jon Gruden and the aforementioned Allen after firing them, and its outside investments, particularly in a European soccer team, reportedly was a financial drain on the Glazer family. Singletary received his break only after working half a season as the interim coach, following the firing of Mike Nolan.

Says Dungy: "Those frugal people, a lot of times, are old-time football people, so maybe the two go hand in hand. Maybe it's not that they're being frugal but thinking about football, as opposed to slash and dash. What's going to give me the best value? If I take the time to explore, maybe I will find someone who is really, really good. Maybe I could make a more informed decision. That was part of [Dan] Rooney's experience when he hired Mike [Tomlin]."

And therein lies the rub. The league can legislate as much as it wants, but franchises will always find a way to get around the rules -- particularly if Goodell isn't going to take as forceful a stance as Tagliabue did. Tagliabue once fined the Lions $200,000 for violating the Rooney Rule before hiring Steve Mariucci and threatened stiffer penalties if there were another offense.

Maybe the Redskins and the Seahawks were in compliance technically, but the Gray interview was a sham -- even if team, league and Fritz Pollard Alliance officials say otherwise. The Fritz Pollard Alliance was founded to promote the advancement of minority coaches and executives, and chairman John Wooten, whom I respect, says everything was on the up-and-up in both cases. Sorry, but there is too much circumstantial evidence to the contrary.

"I realize that the rule is not for everybody," Dungy says. "But it does help people that are truly looking and searching. If you have a closed mind and you decide before the process starts that this is the only guy I want, or I'm going to hire one of these two guys, then the rules that you have in place don't matter. But if you have an open mind and you say, 'Yeah, I really like Mike Shanahan and I think I'm going to hire him, but I'm going to interview some people and I'm going to hire the best person -- I think it's Mike Shanahan -- but I'm going to interview three or four people and figure it out,' then the rule helps you. I think it helped Dan Rooney because I don't think he went in with the thought process of hiring Mike Tomlin. Is the rule outdated? I don't know. But slowing down the process is good."

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