Let's be clear and let's be honest. The Rooney Rule doesn't work, it's never worked and it never will work as constructed today.
In full transparency, I don't have a clue about the NFL and what really happens behind closed doors. I'm an outsider looking in which exactly is why you should read the rest of this. Great ideas and concepts are often birthed from unlikely sources.
As an African American HR tech executive, it's not that I'm against the Rooney Rule; I love the premise of it, but the NFL needs a major pivot. The diverse hiring issue in the NFL is much more systemic and pervasive than just head coaching hiring. It’s about deepening the talent pool and the developmental opportunities for minority coaches. My solution, however, is much more inclusive than that and includes all coaches. Even the ones already a step ahead because of the “good ole boy” systems. The fact that teams were chomping at the bit to interview Flores a legit worth minority head coaching candidate in hopes that their efforts wouldn’t be seen as skating the rules made him even more of a mockery and scape goat. However in that sense the Rooney rule has merit in giving minority coaches increased opportunity at a last minute “Hail Mary”. What it hasn’t increased and the key to real equity is transparency. Transparency + Opportunity + Development = Succession and success for everyone.
Here's the big picture of my fully inclusive merit based hiring and coaching development process. Don't start thinking logistics yet. Just hear me out.
- The NFL sets up a next gen hiring and coaching development squad hereinafter referred to as "The H Team"
- NFL teams submit position/hiring requirements and their preferred candidates directly to “The H Team”. Teams do NOT have to submit a diverse candidate.
- “The H Team” based on the hiring requirements submits to the NFL team the candidates from their pool that match best based on merit but also submits at least one diverse candidate that fits the requirements.
- The “The H Team” scores the team’s candidates and their candidates in the exact same way and keeps record of the overall merit based fit score for each candidate.
- Teams interview theirs and “The H Team’s” candidates not knowing which candidate is coming in. This gives every candidate a true equal chance (I know it’s a logistical nightmare and won’t be completely a secret who’s coming in or going to (neutral locations maybe) but it’s worth a try)
- Teams must submit detailed decision reports on final candidates to aid in the development and growth areas of candidates not awarded the job and even those that are.
- “The H Team” reviews contract details and collects metrics and info in firing decisions to alleviate lawsuits.
- Annual hiring and score reports made available to all teams. Transparency people!
Just think about the collective people data “The H Team” would be able to generate to truly identify where the gaps are, where the talent pool is too small, and where coaches of all levels including diverse coaches need development to move up through the ranks.
Here’s the details:
Step 1 - The NFL sets up a kick-butt well-funded and diverse coach/GM/Coordinator/Director hiring squad “The H Team” and full out coaching development program. This squad does one thing: gather data, prospects, etc on every coaching candidate inside and outside the NFL. They manage the developmental initiatives and make hiring recommendations for every open position at a certain level.
Any candidate who wants to be considered for a position can anonymously submit themselves to the pool. “The H Team” team would interview, score and track merit based data on all levels of positions in the NFL on a continuous basis. This would require continuous feedback and performance data from all teams to be submitted back to “The H Team”. This group works for the NFL and thus the owners, so I'm sure they can sort out the ins and outs that protect their interests to make this a success.
Step 2 - Teams submit the core essentials/requirements of the position being hired – offensive minded, QB developer, defensive minded, etc. This will allow true merit-based assessments and scoring by “The H Team” in making its suggestions.
Step 3 - Teams get to submit three candidates for interviews. “The H Team” will then submit three candidates, and where there is overlap, those candidates get a little "GOLD Star" (Come on, we have to leave some wiggle room for the billionaires to manipulate scoringJ). “The H Team” must submit at least one diverse candidate for every position, only if that candidate meets the minimum score threshold. Not every candidate will match everything but the merit based match must meet a weighted score of sorts like 75%. If teams submit candidates that don't meet the minimum score threshold, they must document their reasoning for wanting to interview that candidate (Transparency people). Only one candidate submitted by the team based on their own criteria that falls outside of the score range can continue in the interview process.
Step 4 - Teams are given the packets of four candidates and get to eliminate one they don’t want to interview with cause. “The H Team” gets the final say and can add another interviewee if they deem it necessary. Could be because of diversity or it could be because up and coming coaches need the opportunity to go through the process to perfect their pitch and learn what it's like so they become more prepared down the road.
Step 5 - Teams won't know which of the candidates are coming in for the interview or whom they are flying to meet (think neutral location) so each person will get a more true benefit of the doubt. Teams will already have completed research on every candidate and should be prepared for whomever they meet. (I know this is a pie in the sky step).
Step 6 - “The H Team” reviews conditions of contracts and will thus review those contracts when a coach is fired to give a seal of approval for cause or not cause. This isn't because owners can't hire or fire whomever they wish, it just alleviates a lot of the suing that's inevitably going to come down the line and helps build the massive data factory this system will generate while also impacting hiring and personnel development for years to come. Candidates will have a clearer picture of what it takes to get an offer, keep their job and can begin to take a little more control of their pathways.
Step 7 – “The H Team” works with the teams and candidates to give a true assessment of why they didn’t get the position and where their areas of growth are. Each year NFL teams submit performance data and “The H Team” manages a version of the scoring process to get continuous data inputs from across the league to help identify potentials and develop coaches at all levels. This data will be a big part of the developmental and mentoring programs to continue to groom candidates for the future. This is a more inclusive solution that’s focused on growth, development and upward mobility of all coaches. “The H Team” will also focus on recruiting and grooming coaches of color across all ranks including players after their careers end or certain college players “The H Team” believe should be sought after and added to the program. This program is open to all coaches of course but gives coaches of color an NFL backed “good ole boy system” just a more modern open and transparent network to present their merit and develop skills and ultimately continue advancing.
I can’t convince a team or owner of who they should hire but the goal of this is to present to them ready candidates that have the merit, uncover diamonds in the rough and bring greater transparency to the entire process. And if you really want to improve diverse hiring more quickly tie a little draft compensation or sorts in somehow…
In reality there are no quick fixes. It takes time, and yes, some coaches will always get the benefit of the doubt. That's life. There are multiple ways to get to the top. The goal is to outline a plan that doesn't require one to start there…
And oh, by the way, some of these concepts could easily be adopted for HR hiring practices in large corporations.