The NFL has told a diversity group that it will look for ways to strengthen its policy to encourage teams to interview minority candidates for key front-office positions, according to one of the group's leaders. But the league has no plans to enforce the policy with the threat of a hefty fine like the one imposed if a club fails to interview a minority candidate for a head-coaching vacancy.
Leaders of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, the group formed to promote minority hiring at all levels of the NFL, called for the league to extend its interviewing rule -- fines and all -- to front-ofice jobs after being dissatisfied with the process by which the Miami Dolphins hired Randy Mueller as general manager in June.
The league continues to refuse to extend the rule to cover interviews for front-office jobs. But John Wooten, the chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, said he is convinced after discussing the issue with Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney in recent weeks that meaningful changes will be made.
"I think we're going to be okay," Wooten said. "I have great faith in Dan Rooney and the commissioner."
Wooten reacted angrily when the Dolphins hired Mueller without interviewing a minority candidate this year. Dolphins officials said they based their hiring on the research they had done a year before, when they did interview minority candidates.
"We'll come up with something," Wooten said. "It has to have teeth. It has to be enforceable. To me, what happened in Miami is embarrassing to the league. I understand they can't do it publicly. But as I said to [Rooney], we've got too many people working too hard to make this work to have one or two teams doing these shenanigans. Other teams did it the right way. It's not that difficult to do it the right way. There are plenty of qualified people out there for these jobs."
Rooney, the head of the NFL's workplace diversity committee, said he has "had conversations" about the hiring process in Miami but declined to comment when asked whether Wooten's complaints about the Dolphins had merit.
"We're not going to have the same policy we have with coaches," Rooney said. "It's just a different situation. We are encouraging teams. We call them and tell them they should interview minority candidates. . . . We're doing a lot of things, and we may do other things. But we're not going to implement the same system we have with coaches, where there's a fine involved."
The Fritz Pollard Alliance -- named for the NFL's first black coach, who was inducted posthumously into the Pro Football Hall of Fame over the weekend -- has expressed satisfaction with the progress made in minority hiring among coaches since the interviewing policy, commonly known as the "Rooney Rule," was enacted by acclamation of the league's team owners in December 2002 under the threat of litigation.
NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue fined Detroit Lions President Matt Millen $200,000 in 2003 for failing to interview a minority candidate before hiring Steve Mariucci as the club's head coach. Tagliabue threatened larger fines for future violations.
Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, a member of the diversity committee, has expressed support in the past for the Fritz Pollard Alliance's efforts to have the interviewing rule extended to key front-office positions, like general manager and team president. But Rooney has said the situations are different because clubs often hire from within or from the local business community for front-office jobs rather than looking to employees of other teams, as they regularly do in head-coaching searches.
When the Fritz Pollard Alliance pressed in the past to have the interviewing rule cover front-office jobs, the NFL said it would encourage teams with front-office vacancies to interview minority candidates but would not enforce the policy with fines.
"I don't see that it has to have the same type of fine as the coaches' rule has [but] there probably should be a penalty," Wooten said, suggesting that offending teams perhaps could be docked practice time, as is the case when clubs violate the league's rules governing the length and intensity of offseason workouts by players.
Wooten says he doesn't mind owners hiring family members for key front-office jobs with their teams but believes that the searches should be inclusive when those positions are opened to other candidates.
Vikings Agree With First-Rounder James
The Minnesota Vikings agreed to a contract Monday with the second of their two first-round draft choices, defensive end Erasmus James.
The Vikings and James's representatives faced a dilemma because the players drafted immediately before and after James are unsigned. But the two sides pressed forward in negotiations anyway, and agreed to a seven-year contract that voids to five seasons and is worth $9.8 million, including $7.37 million in bonuses. James was the 18th player selected in April. The Vikings previously signed their other first-round pick, wide receiver Troy Williamson, the draft's seventh overall choice. . . .
Cornerback Ty Law participated in parts of an afternoon practice Monday with the New York Jets after signing a contract, passing a physical and working out for club officials. The Jets gave Law jersey No. 24, which became available when the team released cornerback Ray Mickens to clear salary-cap space needed to sign Law, and made plans to start him at the cornerback spot opposite David Barrett. Second-year pro Derrick Strait likely takes over for Mickens as the Jets' No. 3 cornerback.
Law's contract is a one-year deal worth $3.5 million, with no signing bonus. But it is filled with incentives and options and could end up being worth as much as approximately $50 million over seven seasons. . . .
Tailback Brian Westbrook refused to speak to reporters Monday after participating in the Philadelphia Eagles' practice. Westbrook remains in a contract dispute with the club but ended his week-long holdout and reported Sunday night to the Eagles' camp. He faced a Monday deadline to report or lose being credited with a season toward his free-agent status.
Staley Undergoes Knee Surgery
Steelers tailback Duce Staley underwent surgery Monday to have cartilage repaired in his right knee. He is to be sidelined about a month, leaving the Steelers hopeful but not certain that he will be available for the start of the regular season. . . .
Dolphins tailback Ricky Williams didn't have much room to run and rushed for only eight yards on five carries in Monday night's loss to the Chicago Bears in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio. It was Williams's preseason return to the NFL after his one-season retirement.
Gus Frerotte took the early lead in the Dolphins' starting-quarterback competition by completing 11 of 17 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown playing in relief of A.J. Feeley, who was under near-constant pressure playing behind Miami's less-than-overwhelming offensive line and connected on four of seven throws for 35 yards. Frerotte is scheduled to start Saturday's exhibition game at Jacksonville.
Chicago quarterback Rex Grossman, returning from the knee injury that caused him to miss most of last season, completed five of 12 passes for 77 yards and emerged unscathed. . . .
San Francisco 49ers Coach Mike Nolan is to announce Wednesday whether rookie quarterback Alex Smith will start the club's preseason opener Saturday against the Oakland Raiders. Smith, the top overall selection in this year's draft, is vying with Tim Rattay for the 49ers' starting job. . . .
Cleveland released veteran offensive tackle Marcus Spears.