NEW YORK — For the third time in the past 18 months, the NFL has approved changes to enhance and strengthen the Rooney Rule for minority head coach and general manager candidates.
The changes come following the fall owners meetings held in New York on Tuesday and Wednesday as the league tries to increase diversity at the highest levels of coaching and team personnel. Wednesday evening, CBS Sports obtained a league memo notifying clubs of the changes, including the potential for coaches to interview for vacant head coaching positions with two weeks remaining in the regular season.
One of the biggest changes relates to GM and coordinator roles. Last year, the league went from one external minority candidate interview for an open head coaching position to two. Beginning this year, that has been expanded to cover any vacant GM or coordinator role with a team.
And considering how much virtual interview platforms were used last year due to the pandemic, the league now requires teams must also conduct an in-person interview with at least one external minority candidate for any GM or head coaching interview.
Following the 2020 NFL regular season, two of the seven head coaching vacancies were filled by minorities (Robert Saleh and David Culley) while three men of color (Terry Fontenot, Brad Holmes and Martin Mayhew) were hired for GM jobs among the seven available.
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"We were happy with some of the results. Obviously overall the league is still not pleased with the fact that we only have five minority head coaches with 32 clubs," Jonathan Beane, NFL Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, told CBS Sports by phone Wednesday night. "We know that we can do a better job with head coaches and general managers. But on the other side what we also realize is the change to mobility policy, the virtual interviews, the enhancements to the Rooney Rule, the fact that the clubs have had this commitment where we went from three heads of DEI when I joined the organization in September 2020, we now have 14. We're seeing a groundswell of commitment from that perspective. So we want to find a way to keep that momentum going.
"We have to do more because we clearly haven't gotten to a place where we have to have more opportunity for a lot of these great [coaches]. The pipeline is great. The pipeline of coaching talent is great. The pipeline of minority coaching talent is great. But still the opportunity to interview for these roles is still not where we want it to be and certainly not for hires. And we just want to continue to do the things we can to change our policies to provide more opportunity. That's the key.
"At the end of the day a club is going to make a decision on who they would like to hire in all of their key roles. That is a club decision; it is not a league decision. However, what the DEI committee and the league wants to focus on are what are the things that we can do to ensure that you're seeing all the great talent that's out there and considering it."
The NFL has tinkered with the Rooney Rule several times since the embarrassing hiring cycle following the 2019 regular season when just one of five coaching vacancies was filled by a person of color.
In May 2020, the league changed the Rooney Rule to require teams to interview at least two external minority candidates for a head coaching job and at least one external minority candidate for a coordinator job.
In November, after tabling and reworking a proposal from the spring, team owners approved a proposal that would reward teams who developed minority talent who went on to be GMs or head coaches elsewhere. If a team lost a minority executive or coach to another team to be a GM or head coach, that team would receive a third-round compensatory pick for two years. If a team lost both a coach and personnel member, they'd receive a third-round compensatory pick for three years.
Beane says the requirement for an external, in-person interview wasn't created because any team violated the spirit of the Rooney Rule last year. In fact, he and the league believe the virtual interviews provided more opportunities for all candidates regardless of color.
"We saw it as an opportunity to have access because in the past they would interview a lot fewer candidates for head coach, general manager and coordinator positions," Beane says. "We saw the number of candidates being interviewed going up, and we also saw the diversity of candidates going up as well. This will be interesting. We're always looking to make sure that we can make the process as fair and equitable as possible. We're always coming up with new ways to do that. We want to keep an eye on this and make sure that the spirit of the rule is always being followed."
The league will also track all interviews for GM, head coach and coordinator positions, as well as whether those interviews took place in person or virtually. Teams will be required to submit that information within three days of the interview to the league office.
These recommendations were made in consultation with the Fritz Pollard Alliance, and they were presented to ownership by the league's Workplace Diversity Committee. Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II chairs that committee, which also seats John Mara (Giants), Kim Pegula (Bills), George McCaskey (Bears), Arthur Blank (Falcons), Javier Loya (Texans minority owner) and Michael Bidwill (Cardinals).
"I think it's a solid step forward. That's our goal," Beane says. "We just want to constantly be moving in a place to provide more access and opportunities and hopefully more hires, in particular with diverse candidates, because we have such a strong pipeline. And so we're going to continue to move in that direction. We still have a lot of work to do. There's still a lot of work. I don't think this is going to solve all the challenges that we have. But we're moving in a really good direction."