The Fritz Pollard Alliance has altered its stance regarding the compliance of the Oakland Raiders with the Rooney Rule.
After downplaying concerns last week over the Raiders’ potentially side-stepping the Rooney Rule amid reports that Jon Gruden was expected to get the team’s vacant head coaching job, The Fritz Pollard Alliance offered the following statement on Wednesday:
“We are deeply concerned by reports that the Oakland Raiders’ owner, Mark Davis, came to an agreement with Jon Gruden about him becoming the Raiders’ next head coach before interviewing any candidates of color. If so, the Club violated the Rooney Rule, which was instituted by the NFL in 2003 and requires teams to interview at least one candidate of color for open head coaching and general manager positions.
“As soon as we learned of the reports, we formally requested that the NFL thoroughly investigate the matter to conclusively determine whether the Rooney Rule was violated — and if it was violated, to impose an appropriate punishment.”
The Fritz Pollard Alliance has promoted equal opportunities for minorities in NFL hiring since its founding in 2003.
Davis said on Tuesday after introducing Gruden as the team’s new coach that he believed Gruden was “all-in” to take the job during a meeting on Christmas Eve. The Raiders fired Jack Del Rio a week later and the team officially hired Gruden on Saturday.
Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said Tuesday that he interviewed two minority candidates prior to Gruden’s hiring. Those candidates were Oakland tight ends coach Bobby Johnson and USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin.
Davis also said he had been pursuing Gruden since taking ownership of the team from his late father, Al, six years ago.
“For someone to say for six years, ‘When you are done broadcasting, we would love for you to compete here for a job as the head coach of the Raiders,’ that is not a violation of the Rooney Rule,” Fritz Pollard Alliance counsel Cyrus Mehri told ESPN on Wednesday night. “If in December, Gruden says to Davis, ‘Hey, I am going to come out of the broadcast booth and I’m ready to coach again,’ that is not a violation of the Rooney Rule.
“But 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.”
Fritz Pollard Alliance chairman John Wooten sang a different tune last week when talking to ESPN.
“I would trust the judgment and integrity of Mark Davis and Reggie McKenzie to the point that they have already spoken to minority candidates who could be available veteran coaches, just like Jon Gruden is a veteran ex-coach,” Wooten said.
Wooten noted the Raiders’ history under late owner Al Davis and Mark Davis in hiring minority candidates, including making Art Shell the first African-American head coach in modern NFL history in 1989. Shell returned for a second stint with the team in 2006.
Tom Flores was the first Hispanic coach to win a Super Bowl, while the Raiders also hired Hue Jackson as coach in 2011 and currently employs McKenzie.
Gruden left the broadcast booth at ESPN to return to the franchise where he spent his first four seasons as a head coach. He posted a 38-26 regular-season record (40-28 overall) from 1998-2001 and guided the team to a pair of playoff berths, including appearances in the AFC Championship Game in his last two seasons.
Known for his feisty sideline demeanor, Gruden admitted he has some “unfinished” business with the Raiders. His final game with Oakland was among the most controversial losses in NFL history, when the Raiders lost to the New England Patriots on the infamous Tom Brady “Tuck Rule” non-fumble call.
Gruden was traded to Tampa Bay in 2003 and proceeded to guide the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl championship in his first season. Overall, he is 95-81 in 11 regular seasons and 100-85 including the postseason.
Gruden succeeded Del Rio, who was fired following a season-ending loss to the Los Angeles Chargers that capped a disappointing 6-10 campaign for the Raiders.