The NFL might have tabled voting on one element of the league’s Rooney Rule to improve the hiring of minorities into key franchise roles, but another employment resolution was passed that should have a significant impact on the coaching landscape.
The league announced on Tuesday that NFL teams are no longer able to block assistant coaches from interviewing for coordinator jobs with other teams. This rule applies to each team’s three coordinator spots (offensive, defensive and special teams) and a true assistant general manager position in a front office.
In the past, any team seeking to hire another club’s coach for a coordinator or AGM position could have its interview request denied. That stipulation of the NFL’s Anti-Tampering Policy is now gone.
The rule applies to high-level coaching and front-office positions. So as long as there is no dispute that the new team is offering a “bona fide” position (which is subject to review and approval by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell), there are no obstacles for a coach or scout to pursue career growth with another franchise.
The league believes this will, in part, help promote a wider swath of candidates to interview for high-level jobs. And that likely means that more minority candidates will be considered for those positions.
There was discussion of implementing a system that rewarded teams with additional draft picks for hiring minority candidates, but voting on that resolution was tabled — likely because it lacked strong support. Other elements passed, including the requirement to interview more minorities for each coordinator position.
“We believe these new policies demonstrate the NFL owners’ commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in the NFL," said Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II, who also is chairman of the league’s workplace diversity committee. “The development of young coaches and young executives is a key to our future. These steps will assure coaching and football personnel are afforded a fair and equitable opportunity to advance throughout our football operations.
“We also have taken important steps to ensure that our front offices, which represent our clubs in so many different ways, come to reflect the true diversity of our fans and our country.”
The resolution was submitted to the league’s team owners prior to Tuesday’s virtual meeting by the workplace diversity committee and the competition committee, chaired by the Atlanta Falcons’ Rich McKay.
Examples of teams blocking assistants in the past
The Carolina Panthers and Cleveland Browns reportedly blocked some assistants who were still under contract from taking outside interviews in January. More than a year ago, Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur was blocked from interviewing his brother, Mike, by the San Francisco 49ers for a job in Green Bay.
Teams couldn’t prevent assistants from interviewing for head-coaching vacancies. But assistant-to-assistant positions were considered lateral moves. So before this new resolution passed, an assistant QBs coach wanting to interview for a vacant offensive coordinator wasn’t necessarily able to if his current team wanted to prevent a promotion.
Part of the reason this rule was initially in place was to prevent teams seeking interviews from inventing phony, nominal titles — think “assistant head coach” or “associate head coach” — as a way of stealing quality coaches and not actually allowing them for true career advancement. The league has found a way to circumvent that by restricting it to the three coordinator spots.
The competitive gamesmanship that came from teams blocking assistant coaching jobs was a major strategic ploy invoked almost every offseason. Now that element of the hiring cycle has been removed, and the hope is that it leads to more candidates — and a more diverse group — being considered for higher-profile positions.
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