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Rooney Rule to be strengthened by NFL owners

Redskins head coach Ron Rivera holds up a

Redskins head coach Ron Rivera holds up a helmet during a news conference at the team's training facility in Ashburn, Va. on Jan. 2. Credit: AP/Alex Brandon

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said during his Super Bowl news conference that he would seek changes to improve the league’s record on diversity hiring, and NFL owners may enact some important measures to address that issue.

The owners will convene via a video teleconference on Tuesday and are expected to modify the Rooney Rule to require more interviews of minority candidates for head coaching and offensive and defensive coordinator positions.

A club in the interview process must interview at least:

- Two external minority candidates for head coaching positions.

- One external minority candidate for any of the three coordinator positions.

- One external minority candidate for the senior football operations/GM position.

- Club and league office must interview minorities and/or female candidates for senior level positions.

The Rooney Rule, named after late Steelers owner Dan Rooney, was adopted in 2003 and has led to some improvement in the league’s diversity hiring. But in recent years, minority hires have diminished; this year, only one of the five head coaching vacancies was filled by a minority candidate: Ron Rivera of the Redskins, who is of Hispanic descent.

Owners had been scheduled to meet outside Los Angeles after their regular March meetings in Florida were postponed because of the COVID-19 outbreak, but the meeting was changed to a virtual format. Goodell will brief owners on the status of training facility reopenings, which are scheduled to begin Tuesday. The Giants and Jets are among about 10 teams unable to get back to their practice sites because of continuing state or local restrictions on businesses restarting. All team facilities were shut down in late March, and teams must adhere to a t set of health and safety guidelines to reopen.

No coaches or players are permitted to return under the first phase of reopenings, and the NFL plans to keep them away until all teams can get back into their buildings. The NFL is restricting coach and player access so that there won’t be a competitive advantage for teams that might be able to return sooner because their respective state and/or local ordinances would allow them.

In addition to the Rooney Rule enhancements, owners will review and possibly adopt a series of other initiatives to improve diversity hiring. Currently, there are two African-American general managers and four minority coaches among the league’s 32 teams.  The proposed addition would reward a team hiring a minority head coach by moving up its third-round pick six spots. If a team hires a minority general manager, it would move up 10 spots. And if a coach and general manager were hired by the same team, it would move up 16 spots.

The proposal has received mixed reviews; Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, who is African-American, isn’t in favor of it.

“I think sometimes you can do the wrong thing while trying to do the right thing,” Lynn said Friday on CBS Sports Radio. “I think this is out of desperation, this is something that we’re throwing out there, but it is what it is. You can’t make people hire someone they don’t what to hire for whatever reason.”

Goodell is expected to comment on the proposed rule on Tuesday.

The owners are expected to have a separate meeting later this month to discuss rules proposals. One item that won’t be on that agenda: the continuation of the controversial replay challenge system involving pass interference penalties and non-calls.

The league is set to adopt two relatively minor rules changes — one that prevents teams from manipulating the game clock by committing multiple dead-ball fouls while the clock is running and the other to expand defenseless player protections rules to punt and kickoff returners. But the replay challenge system for pass interference, which was adopted in 2019 on a one-year basis, will not be put up for a vote.

Last year, there were sharp disagreements about the effectiveness of the challenge system, which was adopted after a controversial non-call of what should have been an obvious interference call marred the end of the 2018 Saints-Rams NFC Championship Game. There were 101 stoppages for instant replay review related to interference, with only 24 overturning the on-field ruling.

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