This week, NFL owners will virtually gather to vote on proposed rule changes for the 2020 season. The most-discussed of those changes revolves around the Rooney Rule; after an offseason that saw only one minority candidate win a head coaching job out of five possible positions, the league clearly believes the current iteration of the Rooney Rule is not working as it's supposed to.
Thus, the proposed rule changes introduce an incentive system to hiring minority candidates for both head coach and general manager positions. A team's third-round draft pick is improved if they hire a minority HC or GM in the offseason leading up to the draft, and is additionally improved if a team has kept its minority coach or GM for a certain number of seasons. Teams would also receive a compensatory pick if they hire a minority candidate as a QB coach or if another team hires away one of their minority staff members as a coordinator. Previously, the Rooney Rule only required a team interview at least one minority candidate in searches for head coaches and senior management positions.
A system that changes a team's draft position based off a hiring process was always bound to create controversy. ESPN's Louis Riddick has been one of the more outspoken media personalities against the rule change. As a black candidate who has interviewed for the Giants and 49ers' general manager positions over the last few years (and been passed on in favor of Dave Gettleman and John Lynch, respectively) Riddick's viewpoint holds more water than your standard talking head. He explained to Peter King in the latter's weekly FMIA column why he has problems with this new incentive-based system:
"I understand what the diversity committee is trying to do,” Riddick said. “Their intention is honest and real. I know they spent a lot of time trying to think of how to get people into these positions. But the bottom line remains the same: Owners can hire who they want to hire. When I interviewed with the New York Giants, I felt it was a fair process. But if these policies are implemented, the first day I walk into the building, I know people with that organization would wonder: Did he get this job because he’s the best man for the job, or did he get it at least in part because it gives us a big break in the draft? On the first day of the job, that team would be undermining its own hire by injecting doubt in the minds of the people who work in the building. Is that how you really want a GM to start off his career?- Louis Riddick to Peter King
That is, at its core, the biggest issue with the proposed rule changes. If everyone knows teams benefit in a concrete manner by hiring minority candidates, it doesn't matter how qualified a potential hire might be-- there will always be a nagging concern in the back of everyone's mind, including the candidate himself, that draft position was as much of a factor as their resume.
The NFL does definitely have a diversity issue when it comes to positions of power on the football team. Over the last two seasons, 12 head coaching positions opened up across the league, and only two of the hires were minority candidates. Teams are adhering to the Rooney Rule as it is and interviewing these minority candidates, but rarely hiring them. But incentivizing hires with draft picks doesn't seem like the right solution. It doesn't mean teams will suddenly hire a huge influx of minority QB coaches to acquire a fourth-round comp pick, but when a new coach or GM is hired, they need to unite the entire building behind their vision. Injecting doubt about the motivation behind that hire, as Riddick puts it, is quite detrimental to that end. That will affect any and all minority coaching hires, regardless of their position and qualifications.
There is no easy answer when it comes to institutional diversity problems. This is a solution that would work towards solving that issue, but comes along with too many ripple effects to be as effective as planned.