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NFL bolsters Rooney Rule for hiring head coaches and GMs

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell answers questions during a

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell answers questions during a season ticket member fan forum before practice at the Cleveland Browns' training camp facility in Berea, Ohio, on Aug. 17, 2017. Credit: AP/Tony Dejak

NFL owners took several noteworthy steps Tuesday to promote diversity hiring at all levels of the league but stopped short of adopting a controversial plan that would have rewarded teams hiring minority head coaches and general managers by improving their draft positioning.

The league bolstered the Rooney Rule by requiring teams to interview at least two outside minority candidates for head coaching positions and one minority candidate for the lead front-office executive spot. League owners also adopted a measure that would prohibit teams from blocking position coaches from seeking coordinator positions with other clubs. And all teams and the NFL office must now come up with a diversity inclusion plan over the next year in a bid to expand minority hiring.

“We feel like the package of steps and initiatives will contribute to making progress in this area,” commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday afternoon after a two-hour videoconference with league owners. “Our work is not done. We continue to focus on another number of initiatives, and we expect to continue to do that until we’ve gotten greater success in this area.”

“We made some important decisions and some changes to our policies that I think will serve us well,” said Steelers president Art Rooney, son of the late Dan Rooney, who introduced the Rooney Rule in 2003.

Art Rooney said the owners tabled a resolution that would adjust draft choice compensation for teams that hire minority head coaches or GMs. Under the proposed plan, a team hiring a minority head coach would have its third-round pick move up six spots. A team hiring a minority GM would move up 10 spots. And if a minority coach and GM were hired by the same team, the draft choice would improve by 16 picks.

Goodell said tabling the measure doesn’t mean it won’t be reconsidered later.

“We table resolutions frequently because the discussion leads to other ideas that can make it even more effective,” he said. “There was a great deal of support [for the plan], but there were suggestions that we may want to talk to others and try and strengthen it and try and reward teams for developing minority coaches that can go on to be head coaches in the league.”

Only one of the five coaching vacancies in 2020 went to a minority candidate, and there are currently four minority head coaches and two minority general managers.

“We’re not satisfied with where we are,” Goodell said. “We know we can and should do better. There’s no single solution to this. It’s a matter of a number of initiatives that will lead to better results.”

Said NFL executive vice president of operations Troy Vincent: “This fight has been going on for a long, long time. This has been a fight for decades, to get mobility that has disproportionately affected people of color. The facts are we have a broken system and we’re looking to change the direction where we’ve been going, and that’s south. Not a gradual south, but a direct south.”

Owners were also briefed on the status of the league’s plans to reopen facilities and eventually bring back players and coaches currently shut out because of the coronavirus pandemic. Currently, teams can reopen their training sites on a limited basis if state and/or local regulations allow it. But for now, players and coaches cannot report to their facilities; only when all facilities can be opened will the coaches and players return. Among the approximately 10 teams that have yet to reopen are the Giants and Jets, both of whom train in New Jersey, which continues to have restrictions in place for many businesses.

“We’re not putting dates on the calendar at this point,” Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, said of a potential return for players and coaches. “We feel there are important steps that need to occur with testing, test availability and testing reliability and how to manage exposure. When we and the NFL Players Association feel like we’re at a point where we’re satisfied with the science, we’ll move forward. We’re moving as fast as the data takes it.”

Sills said the league continues to develop plans in the event players test positive for COVID-19.

“We fully expect we will have positive cases arise,” he said. “Our challenge is to identify it as quickly as possible and prevent the spread to any other participants. We have to remain flexible and adaptable.”

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