Did the Oakland Raiders violate the NFL’s affirmative action policy when they hired longtime coach and commentator Jon Gruden last week?
That’s what the league "will look into," said NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy Thursday, as the league investigates whether Oakland violated what’s known as the "Rooney Rule," which requires teams to interview at least one "minority" coaching candidate before filling the position.
On Wednesday, the Fritz Pollard Alliance, a nonprofit that promotes "diversity and equality of job opportunity in the coaching, front office and scouting staffs" in the NFL, asked the league to look into the matter.
Counsel Cyrus Mehri and N. Jeremi Duru expressed concern that raiders owner Mark Davis reached an agreement with Gruden before interviewing a minority candidate.
The day prior, Davis said he and Gruden reached an agreement on Christmas Eve. One week later the owner fired head coach Jack Del Rio. The problem, as far as the Rooney Rule is concerned, is that Oakland may have come to an agreement with a white coach, Gruden, before interviewing any minority coaches in good faith.
General Manager Reggie McKenzie said that he interviewed two minority candidates before Gruden’s hiring was announced on January 6 — Raiders tight ends coach Bobby Johnson and University of Southern California offensive coordinator Tee Martin.
But as Mehri told ESPN, "If in December, Gruden and Davis reach an agreement — not necessarily a written, contractual agreement, but a verbal agreement — that Gruden was going to coach for the Raiders, and then after that they do these interviews with minority coaches, that would be a violation of the Rooney Rule."
The NFL has punished teams for violating the Rooney Rule. In 2003, Detroit Lions then-general manager Matt Millen was fined $200,000 for hiring head coach Steve Mariucci before interviewing a black candidate.
The rule, named after former Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, was created in reaction to the firings of two black coaches in 2002, Tony Dungy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dennis Green of the Minnesota Vikings.