Should CFL Consider Rooney Rule?

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NOVEMBER 1985: Portrait of Willie Wood formerly of the Super Bowl I Champion Green Bay Packers who was the first African American head coach in profession football of the modern era posed in November 1985. (Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images)

The Canadian Football League has 9 head coaches and none of them happen to be black.

This not a good look for an outfit who has long prided itself a champion of diversity.

History of Inclusivity

The stories of black quarterbacks starring in this league long before they ever got a fair shake in the NFL has been told ad nauseam. Chuck Ealey, Warren Moon, and Condredge Holloway all piled up Grey Cup rings before Doug Williams became the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl in early 1988.

Willie Wood broke the colour barrier as the CFL’s first black head coach in 1980 with the Toronto Argonauts, 9 years before Los Angeles Raiders owner Al Davis made Art Shell the modern NFL’s first black sideline boss. Roy Shivers and Danny Barrett teamed up as the first black General Manager-Head Coach duo in pro football when they took over a re-build of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2000.

The CFL has roots in promoting diversity at all levels. So why hasn’t it translated to more head coaches all this time later?

Big Name Coaches Hired over Fresh Faces

The CFL has become an attractive stop for head coaches with NFL experience. Marc Trestman (Toronto Argonauts), June Jones (Hamilton Tiger-Cats), and Mike Sherman (Montreal Alouettes) have all brought their NFL credentials to Canada. Record revenues propelled by a rich TV contract from TSN and new stadiums around the league have combined with stagnant player salaries to make this league not only a viable enterprise but one with extra cash to shell out for star coaches.

The Tiger-Cats even brought up old NFL on FOX TV star Jerry Glanville to help run the defense. This has real benefits for the CFL but there’s collateral damage too and not just at the expense of player salaries.

It’s turned the head coaching fraternity into an old boys network again which is precisely what got both the CFL and NFL into trouble with this issue in the first place. The CFL has gone back to recycling head coaches again. This time they just so happen to be NFL retreads instead of old three-down generals.

Rooney Rule Produces Mixed Results

The NFL had a serious Public Relations nightmare brewing in the early part of the new millennium. By 2002 Civil rights attorneys were outraged that only 6 black head coaches had ever been hired by the NFL and just 2 (Herman Edwards, New York Jets and Tony Dungy, Indianapolis Colts) at the time.

In a league where more than two-thirds of the onfield talent is made up of visible minorities, this was a lawsuit waiting to happen and then-Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney knew it. Affirmative action would be required to start bringing the numbers into balance and make black athletes and assistant coaches feel like they had something to strive for in a game with a history of blatant racism.

The “Rooney Rule” was launched in 2003. It stipulates that no NFL team is allowed to hire a new head coach without confirming with the league office that it has interviewed at least one minority candidate. The early returns were fantastic. The number of black head coaches nearly quadrupled and within 4 years a super bowl would be played by 2 teams who were both coached by men who happened to be black (Dungy, Colts and Lovie Smith, Chicago Bears).

But since then, the numbers haven’t really changed much at all. Things are better than they were but still not where they should be.

CFL Does Have Black Management

While there are no black head coaches working the sideline entering the 2018 season, it should be pointed out that 2 of the 9 General Managers around the league are a visible minority and that should count for something. The man who usually sits above the head coach on the pecking order usually has some say with ownership over who gets hired to be the head coach and that’s a step in the right direction.

There doesn’t appear to be much appetite for any affirmative action in this league when it comes to coaches, at least not yet.

Ironic that a brand wearing “Diversity Is Strength” T-shirts and using a minimum quota for Canadian players would shy away from such measures as pushing for at least one black head coach and maybe even a Canadian quarterback or two but that’s world the CFL finds itself in.

It might not be time for a new quota yet but if things don’t change soon, the league might not have a choice. And that’s a road nobody in the CFL front office ever wants to go down.

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