Rooney’s NFL rule explained: how does it work and why is it important?


Rooney’s rule, introduced in 2003, requires NFL teams to even interview minority candidates for head coach and football operations senior manager positions. He is often cited as an example of positive action.

The rule is named after Dan Rooneyowner Pittsburgh Steelers and chairman of the league’s diversity committee, and indirectly to the Rooney family as a whole due to the Steelers’ long history of providing African Americans with opportunities to serve the team in important positions. Before 1979 Fritz Pollard was the only minority head coach in NFL history.

The rule was introduced to ensure that minority coaches, especially African Americans, were offered high-level coaching positions. Dangy struggled for years before being given the head coach position; he was often nominated as a candidate for head coach Chuck Knoll when Dungy was Knoll’s assistant in the 1980s with the Steelers but didn’t become head coach until 1996 when he took over Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Since the Rooney Rule was introduced, several NFL balls have hired African-American coaches, including the Steelers, who have hired Mike Tomlin before his 2007 season. At the start of the 2006 season, the overall percentage of African American coaches increased to 22% from 6% before the introduction of the Rooney Rule. Despite this, the rule’s effectiveness remains a matter of debate, with no team claiming the rule helped hire a minority coach.

Lack of diversity in the NFL for coaches

There is currently some controversy over the former head coach of the Miami Dolphins. Brian Flowers just bombshelled and sued the NFL for lack of diversity, racial discrimination, dishonest recruitment practices, and other issues.

In the 58-page lawsuit, Flores alleges that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross tried to encourage him to deliberately skip games shortly after he was hired in 2019. Flores also claimed that giants interviewed him last month about the head coaching vacancy for no reason other than to comply with Rooney’s NFL rule that requires teams to interview minority candidates for their public positions.

Given the impact of systemic racism on all elements of society, it is not surprising that NFL coaches, analysts, and academics, including media researchers, sports studies, sociologists, sports management, and behavioral science, point to systemic racism as one of the main reasons for the lack of league of black or Hispanic coaches.


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