On a perfect March day in Arizona, 28 NFL general managers lined up for the annual GM photo at the owners meetings. Sixteen sat in the front. Twelve stood in the back. Most wore sports coats with no tie. A couple GMs were in polo shirts. One was black.
In case you didn’t know, the NFL has always had a problem when it comes to hiring minorities for top jobs. This year the league is poised to go into its 100th anniversary season with Dolphins GM Chris Grier as the lone black man in his position across the league.
A new job came open Wednesday when the Jets fired Mike Maccagnan. In all likelihood, it won’t be filled by a minority candidate.
Joe Douglas, the Eagles’ VP of player personnel, is widely considered to be the frontrunner for the gig, and he would be well-deserving of the job considering what he’s done in recent drafts with so few picks. Our Albert Breer wondered aloud whether a deal with the next GM was already done considering the timing Maccagnan’s dismissal, three weeks after the draft.
Former Browns GM Joe Banner wrote on Twitter “no way Jets do this if they haven’t lined up [a] replacement. Can’t do immediately, need to comply with Rooney Rule.”
Ah, yes, that pesky Rooney Rule. Perhaps inadvertently—and this is no shade to him—Banner highlighted how NFL teams routinely make a sham of the requirement that teams interview at least one minority when a head coaching or top front-office job comes open.
A candidate for the Jets GM job should be wary, for any number of reasons, as Chase Stuart laid out this week. But minority candidates should be especially cautious regarding a job that could very well already be filled, and a process in which they would be used solely to check a box.
Considering that, I propose that no minority candidate accept an interview opportunity that the Jets extend. Such refusals would shine a light on how teams have long made a mockery of the Rooney Rule and would push the NFL to actually enforce it.
“Multiple minority people in the scouting community that say this is going to be sham interviews all over again,” NFL Network’s Steve Wyche said. “… Nobody thinks this is gonna be a process, once again, that is going to be taken seriously.”
What’s understood doesn’t have to be explained, but for the sake of my Twitter mentions and email inbox, I suppose I will. The fact that only one team—Detroit in 2003—has ever been fined for not complying with the Rooney Rule is not proof that every team since its institution that year has complied.
Oakland, a proud franchise that was once at the forefront of high-ranking diversity, has more or less skirted the Rooney Rule in its most recent coach and GM hirings. There were no penalties, but the NFL strengthened the rule in December in a tacit admission of the failures by individual clubs.
But what’s always said when jobs come open, and what must be acknowledged, is that so often minority candidates know they’re entering a sham interview but feel compelled to anyway. There are only 32 general manager jobs and 32 head-coaching jobs. It’s the pinnacle of the profession. Turn one down in a given hiring cycle and you may never get another chance. Plus, candidates gain valuable experience going through the process.
This situation, though, is different. The Jets are a mess, and it appears that whoever takes the job will have comply with the head coach’s wishes in this arranged marriage. Additionally, there’s no guarantee of the direction the franchise will take once owner Woody Johnson returns from his foray into international diplomacy as ambassador to the U.K.
We are weeks removed from the draft and deep into OTAs. In two months, training camp will start. You, the candidate, have been situated in your current role for at least the past four months. All you have to say when the Jets come asking is, “I’m happy in my established position and I’m looking forward to helping my current team win a world championship.” If you’ve had an interview or interviews before, what does it matter that “Candidate, NYJ 2019” isn’t on your résumé? If this would be your first crack at it, you know what the deal is and already have a built-in out.
If you’re a potential minority candidate not currently with a team, it might be tougher to turn down the opportunity to interview. Once the Jets run out of their top minority picks who are already drawing checks, they may turn to you. The allure of having your name back in the mix for a news cycle would be strong, but by saying no, you could be part of a bigger movement.
Make no mistake—this would be a protest. It would require minorities in the scouting community to band together and abstain from potentially the biggest job interview of their life. And it’s a shame that the onus is on them to effect fundamental change when the NFL and its teams have failed for two decades with the rule and many more before that.
There may be no better time than now—a dysfunctional franchise looking to check a box on a position where you’d need to be in lockstep with a coach you didn’t choose. Would this unfairly punish the Jets, who’d be in line to lose a draft pick and fined a six-figure sum for failing to fulfill the rule’s obligations? Perhaps. After all, this franchise isn’t responsible for the years of mockery-making.
But if there’s going to be change—real change—then some team has to take the fall. Some candidate with GM interviews in his past can’t add to the list. Some candidate looking for his shot has to hold off until the next time. Your risk today will, hopefully, be someone’s future reward.
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