The NFL’s failing affirmative action policy

New York Giants’ defensive coordinator Perry Fewell is interviewing for the head coaching position of the Tennessee Titans.  This is the fourth team Fewell has interviewed with this offseason, having missed the cut with the Browns, Panthers, and Broncos as well.  His consideration makes sense: Fewell was an interim coach for the Buffalo Bills for seven games, and his current job is a feeder position for head coaches (at least three current NFL head coaches are former Giants defensive coordinators).

But two words pop up in almost every single story about Fewell’s interviews: “Rooney Rule.”  The rule tells NFL teams that they are required to interview minority candidates for coaching vacancies, even if they have no intention of hiring them.  Fewell is black, so he allows teams to check that box.

The rule is a double edged sword at best.  Candidates who undergo the mandatory, just-for-show interviews over a number of years  may start to generate legitimate buzz as a head coaching candidate as they get to put their accomplishments on display.  But in any industry, job seekers who interview for any and every possible opening start to earn a reputation.  Similarly, Fewell’s 0-for-3 so far in the 2011 offseason – and the possibility of going 0-for-4, since the Titans already have a favored candidate – could earn him the label of an NFL coaching bridesmaid – someone good enough to interview, but not good enough to hire.  Since several of the teams were just using him to keep up appearances, most of those interviews were unnecessary.

Fewell will most likely be a head coach in the NFL.  If he does a good job with the Giants defense again next year, he’ll certainly deserve his shot.  What he won’t ever deserve is being treated like a token so that the NFL can pay lip service to diversity.


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