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 top front-office jobs after being dissatisfied with the process by which the Miami Dolphins hired Randy Mueller as their 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 have great faith in Dan Rooney and the commissioner," Wooten said during a telephone interview last week.
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 did last year, when they interviewed 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. . . . 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."
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 by phone recently. "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."
The Fritz Pollard Alliance -- named for the NFL's first black coach, who was inducted posthumously into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last 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 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.
Rooney has said the situation is different for front-office jobs because clubs often hire from within or from the local business community 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 do all it could to persuade each team with a key front-office vacancy to voluntarily interview at least one minority candidate.
"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, citing the model of clubs being docked practice time when they violate the league's rules governing the length and intensity of offseason workouts by players.