NFL sets minority hiring records

More minorities than ever are playing leading roles in the National Football League. The Packers' hiring of Ted Thompson as general manager, however, raised a few eyebrows around the league, according to the Washington Post.

While teams in the market for a head coach must interview a minority under the so-called Rooney Rule, no such rule exists for general manager. The league, however, sent a memo to teams encouraging them to interview minorities for front-office openings. The Packers did not interview a minority — or anyone else — before hiring Thompson.

"I called Dan (Rooney) and asked him about it," Packers president Bob Harlan said in a story published by the Washington Post. "We had a (minority) candidate in the building but I felt like I didn't want to promote someone over Mike (Sherman) who had worked under him before."

Harlan was alluding to Reggie McKenzie, the Packers' director of player personnel.

The rule is named for Rooney, chairman of the NFL's workplace diversity committee and owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Under the Rooney Rule, the Detroit Lions were fined $200,000 for hiring Steve Mariucci as head coach without interviewing a minority first. Colts coach Tony Dungy, who is black, wants similar penalties for teams that fail to interview a minority for front-office jobs.

"If it's good for the coaches, why not all areas?" Dungy said.

Under Ron Wolf, the Packers' top three coaching positions for one season were handled by minorities: Ray Rhodes as head coach, Sherm Lewis as offensive coordinator and Emmitt Thomas as defensive coordinator.

The 2004 season ended with six minority head coaches, including Cleveland Browns interim coach Terry Robiske. Six likely will be the number for 2005, with Cleveland expected to hire Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel as its new head coach after the Super Bowl. Crennel is black.

According to the Post, there were 173 minority assistant coaches last season, including 14 coordinators. Both numbers were records, as were the six head coaches. Dungy attributes the improvement to the Rooney Rule.

"The rule was never intended to get a quota of minority coaches, but to make people slow the process down and look at more candidates," Dungy said. "I think in most cases, that's exactly what we've seen happen. And when you interview, you may not get that job this time, but if you impress the owner, he might tell another owner who has a vacancy, and he might call, too."

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