The head of the group formed to promote minority hiring at all levels of the NFL said yesterday he believes that the Miami Dolphins acted improperly by hiring Randy Mueller as their general manager Monday without interviewing any minority candidates.
"We were very, very disappointed," said John Wooten, the chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, named for the NFL's first black head coach. "What they've done is insulted us and insulted the [league's] diversity committee with these kinds of shenanigans. What we're saying to the commissioner and to the NFL is, 'Put some teeth in these guidelines.' If I sound like I'm [mad], it's because I am."
The group has expressed its satisfaction with the gains the league has made in minority hiring among head coaches since the NFL, under the threat of litigation, instituted a rule requiring each team with a head coaching vacancy to interview at least one minority candidate. The group has asked the league to expand the rule -- known as the "Rooney Rule" in honor of Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, the head of the NFL's workplace diversity committee -- to cover key front-office positions.
But the group didn't push the issue after the league indicated that it would encourage clubs to follow the guideline in front-office hiring, even without the threat of the penalties that apply to ignoring the rule in coaching searches. NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue fined Detroit Lions President Matt Millen $200,000 for failing to interview any minority candidates before hiring Steve Mariucci as the team's head coach in 2003.
"All we expect is fair play," Wooten said. "It's a very simple guideline. We're not knocking Randy Mueller. It's the same thing we said about Mariucci. We were just told that they were going to follow these guidelines, and you get angry when you see it going back to the same old mentality of people not following a fair process."
Miami's position is that it hired Mueller based on information gathered when searching for a GM following the 2003 season, when the Dolphins interviewed several minority candidates.
"The guidelines that the diversity committee formulated [regarding hiring for front-office positions] are guidelines," said Greg Aiello, the NFL's vice president of public relations. "They are recommendations. They are not mandatory. Our understanding is that the Dolphins conducted a search for this position a little over a year ago, a search that included interviewing minority candidates, and they were working off of that search. They didn't conduct a new search. That's their position, and we don't really have an opinion to express about it."
Dolphins spokesman Harvey Greene declined to comment. Rooney was not available to comment. He has said in the past that the committee would consider expanding the interviewing rule to include key front-office jobs.
Vikings' Smith Suspended
The league suspended Minnesota Vikings running back Onterrio Smith for the 2005 season for a violation of the NFL's substance-abuse policy. . . .
Former Steelers lineman Terry Long, 45, who was indicted this year on federal fraud and arson charges stemming from a chicken-processing business he owned, has died, according to the Allegheny County (Pa.) Coroner's office. No cause of death was announced. . . .
The Cleveland Browns signed tackle Marcus Spears to a one-year contract. . . . The St. Louis Rams released tackle Kyle Turley.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.