The league has issued what amounts to a memorandum for its guidelines for interviewing head coaching candidates. The guidelines come from recommendations by the league's Committee on Workplace Diversity and are aimed at making sure that minority candidates are given a fair and equal shot when it comes to the search for a new coach.
Last December, the committee recommended "all NFL clubs hiring head coaches interview, as one element of the hiring process, one or more minority applicants for that position." In subsequent conference calls last December with owners and senior club executives, and at the NFL meeting last March, the committee reviewed that policy, and it received broad acceptance from the member clubs.
The memorandum said the only exception to this requirement is where a team has a pre-existing contractual commitment with a member of its coaching staff to make him the head coach and this agreement was on file with the league at the time it was entered into.
It also stipulates that teams can no longer conduct phone-only interviews, they must have a fully defined job description, and owners must be directly involved in the interviewing and selection process.
This is a touchy subject and was confronted by the league on three fronts last off-season with Dallas, Detroit and San Francisco.
With the Cowboys, team owner Jerry Jones hired Bill Parcells, but Dennis Green did get a telephone interview beforehand. The Lions did not speak with any minorities before they hired Steve Mariucci, who was no longer with the 49ers, and were fined $200,000. The 49ers surprised the football community by hiring Dennis Erickson, who publicly had never been mentioned as a candidate.
The Cowboys were not fined, but Jones was criticized for violating the spirit of hiring policy practices that were in place at the time.
"We're not doing this with the idea to satisfy a complaint or look good," Dan Rooney, who owns the Pittsburgh Steelers and chairs the committee, told The New York Times. "This is the right thing to do and we want it to work. We're not saying, 'This is the guy you have to hire,' but the relationship has to be there."
Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has laid down the law for teams who are out of step.
"(The) clubs that conduct inconsistent with procedural or substantive initiatives relating to equal employment opportunity may be treated as conduct detrimental under the NFL Constitution and Bylaws and subject to discipline by the commissioner," said Tagliabue. "Such conduct will subject the violating club and responsible executives to appropriate discipline. Prior to any such finding being made or any discipline imposed, reasonable notice and an opportunity for the affected club or executive to have a hearing will be afforded."
The Times said the memorandum was dated Dec. 1, but it was not made public until a few days later. Rooney said the guidelines are "the most comprehensive in the history of professional sports."
Tagliabue already has stated that the next team that violates the guidelines faces a $500,000 fine. The league also has issued a calendar containing key dates in the near future to assist clubs in planning their hiring process.
Only time will tell if this is a step forward.