When it comes to black head coaches, NFL isn't fulfilling Dr. King's 'dream"

Dec 31, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions head coach Jim Caldwell looks on from the sideline during the second quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Terence Moore

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When the NFL created the Rooney Rule in 2003, I’ll give league officials the benefit of the doubt by saying they had good intentions. Well, let’s fast forward to now, and the rule has become a joke.

The rule is named after former Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, who was in charge of the NFL Diversity Committee back then. The rule requires each team to interview at least one minority candidate for its openings at head coach or general manager.

So, here were are, 16 years after the rule started, with another Martin Luther King Jr., Day upon us, and the rule is far from making the spirit of the late Civil Rights leader proud.

Christian Crittenden was among those covering the Georgia State basketball team for The Signal this spring in Nashville during the NCAA Tournament. Christian Crittenden photo

When teams fire their head coach, they generally know who they want to hire, and it’s rarely an African-American. For instance, after the 2017 season, the Detroit Lions ousted Jim Caldwell. He had the highest winning percentage during the regular season of any coach in Lions history, but his teams collapsed during the playoffs.

If that was the reason for pushing Caldwell out the door of Ford Field, that’s fine, but consider this: Lions general manager Bob Quinn worked for the New England Patriots for more than a decade before taking the Detroit job. It became the worst-kept secret in sports that then-Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia would become the next Lions head coach. However, because of the Rooney Rule, some African-American or another minority had to visit Detroit, sit in a room and go through an interview when he had no chance of getting the job.

Interviews are a chance for you to show others your qualifications along the way to trying to impress your way into job. More often than not for minorities in search of NFL head coaching and general manager positions, those attempts are in vain.

The Lions aren’t the only NFL team that has interviewed minority candidates mostly for show, and they won’t be the last, unless this rule is seriously changed or just killed.

Recently fired Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks is African-American, and he was the defensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers before he agreed to go west. While he was with Carolina, the Lions put in a request to interview him, but he declined.

What happened?

“(The Lions) didn’t tell me at all, but it was one of those things that you know just from history, the New England connection (involving Patricia) and what not," Wilks told reporters in a teleconference before the team's matchup with Detroit this season. "So I wasn’t in the process of just trying to take an interview, so I figured they were going that route, and once again, I think they got a great guy in Matt Patricia."

Wilks was fired after just one year with the Cardinals. He was among the five black coaches fired this season in the NFL out of eight overall.

After backlash from Wilks’ firing in particular, the NFL recently “tightened” up the Rooney Rule and made some revisions.

  1. Clubs must interview at least one diverse candidate from the Career Development Advisory Panel list or a diverse candidate not currently employed by the club.

  2. Clubs must continue best-practice recommendations of considering multiple diverse candidates.

  3. Clubs must maintain complete records (of the interviews) and furnish (them) to the league upon the Commissioner's request.

  4. If a final decision-maker is involved in the beginning, he/she must be involved through the conclusion of the process.

Will these rules really make a difference?

Who knows? When it comes to giving minority candidates a fair shot at one of these top jobs, the ultimate decision is up to NFL owners and general managers. And if they won’t do what the spirit of the rule and of Dr. King tells them to do, then the rule should be punted away.

Dr. King once said a man should be judged, not by the color of his skin, but the content of his character.

Are you listening, NFL?

Christian Crittenden is a junior at Georgia State University majoring in journalism and minoring in marketing. He is a staff writer for The Signal, where he is the women’s basketball beat writer. When he isn’t working or writing, he’s playing basketball and football. @chris_critt