Jon Gruden’s hiring has turned into a flashpoint for the Rooney Rule between the NFL and the Fitz Pollard Alliance. The Oakland Raiders pursued Gruden with so such a myopic focus after their season ended that they tripped up over their laces and challenged the spirit of the NFL’s rule that mandates all teams interview a minority candidate for every general manager or head coaching vacancy.
According to the NFL Network, the Raiders interviewed USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin and their former tight end coach Bobby Johnson (he was fired by the Raiders last week) as part of a dog and pony show to comply with the 15-year Rooney Rule. As a result, the NFL decided against penalizing the Raiders with a $200,000 fine. However, the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which was formed during the same calendar year as the Rooney Rule’s inception to advocate for minority coaches and front office personnel during the hiring process, disagreed with the NFL’s assessment.
Full statement from Fritz Pollard Alliance, which says Mark Davis “failed to fulfill his obligation” to the Rooney Rule “and should step forward and acknowledge he violated the Rule.” #Raiders pic.twitter.com/uOOL0vnWoe
— Matt Kawahara (@matthewkawahara) January 19, 2018
The Fritz Pollard Alliance’s point isn’t without merit. It was Raiders owner Mark Davis who disclosed during Gruden’s introductory press conference that he offered Gruden the job in principle after meeting with him before a Monday Night game on Christmas Day between the Raiders and Philadelphia Eagles.
On the other hand, while the Rooney Rule was adopted in the name of fairness for all candidates, one could argue this situation is unique for several reasons. The Raiders have been at the forefront of equality in the NFL hiring process.
They hired Tom Flores as the first Latino head coach in NFL history, hired the first African-American head coach in NFL history and Amy Trask became the NFL’s first female CEO. And at least, the Raiders reached out to Tee Martin. His interview may mean nothing in the short-term, but if Gruden doesn’t pan out, the Raiders have a history of filling their head coaching vacancies with USC offensive coordinators
Gruden’s hiring was also one of the rare instances of an NFL team making a hiring without scheduling serious interviews with any candidates so it makes sense that Oakland would skirt the Rooney Rule as well.
However, rules are rules and Davis admitted to having agreed on hiring Gruden during an informal conversation. If the NFL and the Fritz Pollard Alliance want to get teams to treat Rooney Rule compliance with more reverence and avoid future embarrassments, perhaps they should consider increasing the fine from $200,000.
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