Colts owner Jim Irsay’s decision to step down from the current coaching staff to become interim head coach is technically in line with the Rooney Rule, but only because the Rooney Rule does not apply in such situations. (For now.) If that were to happen, Irsay wouldn’t be able to simply hand over the reins to Jeff Saturday without going through a fair and inclusive process first.
During Monday night’s press conference for Saturday, Irsay was asked about the perception caused by bringing in a white interim coach who has no college or NFL coaching experience. Irsei dismissed the question, somewhat turning the tables on those who asked the question.
“There is no problem or perception, except that some of you guys are creating a problem or perception,” Irsey said. “But you need hits, so you have to do it. I understand. I would do the same. I also majored in television journalism. So, I mean, look, this is something that will always be a lot created and a lot of words said. You know and you know and I don’t know guys have you ever been prosecuted? Have your editors ever brought you in and said, “Well, you wrote that. Everything was wrong. You’re fired.’ We will be held accountable, that’s for sure. So that was — it’s that we follow the Rooney rule down to the T and, you know, I’m really looking forward to the interview process at the end of the season.”
Jim, this strongly different types of liability for reporters to be held accountable for their mistakes (and we are liable, whether it be directly those who pay us, or our audience, or the media that covers the media, or social media), and business owners who must be held accountable for their mistakes. non-compliance with fair and proper recruitment practices. Irsei broke the spirit of Rooney’s rule by hiring Saturday. Period. For him, and for the league as a whole, liability will potentially lie in upcoming or subsequent litigation against the league’s long and horrific history of diversity in head coaching.
Perception is reality. The perception and reality is that NFL owners collectively have done a terrible job of accounting for diversity when it comes to developing and hiring head coaches, even though the vast majority of NFL players are black.
On a case-by-case basis, the owner who is hiring can put together a verbal salad that plausibly (or, in Irsei’s case, implausibly) justifies the decision. Meanwhile, the trend continues. The evidence is hiding in plain sight, and it has been for years.
This is one of the reasons the NFL is working so hard to ensure that Brian Flores’ lawsuit is not heard in open court and that it goes to the league’s internal secret, rigged kangaroo court, also known as arbitration. This is how Irsay and all other NFL owners end up avoiding full and fair liability.
So yes, journalists are responsible for our mistakes. And no, NFL owners are never truly liable for business decisions that violate state and federal laws. Until that is the case, neither the perception nor the reality that contributed to Monday’s Saturday shenanigans will change.