The Fritz Pollard Alliance is calling on the NFL to investigate whether the Oakland Raiders violated the “Rooney Rule” when they hired Jon Gruden as coach.
Fritz Pollard Alliance counsel Cyrus Mehri and N. Jeremi Duru issued a statement Wednesday expressing concern that Raiders owner Mark Davis came to an agreement with Gruden before the team interviewed any minority candidates.
Davis said 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. Davis fired Jack Del Rio a week later and the team officially hired Gruden on Jan. 6.
Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said Tuesday he interviewed two minority candidates before Gruden’s hiring was announced. Those candidates were Oakland tight ends coach Bobby Johnson and USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin.
Before Gruden’s hiring was official, Fritz Pollard Alliance chairman John Wooten told ESPN he trusted that Davis and McKenzie had followed the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate as part of an open process. Wooten, reached Wednesday night, referred questions to Mehri.
“Let’s get to the facts,” Mehri told ESPN. “If the facts end the way they seem to be right now, then I have full confidence the league will take appropriate action because they care about the Rooney Rule being a success as well. The facts matter. Fairness matters. Fairness means fairness to Mark Davis and having a fair process, but also fairness as far as guys being able to compete with an open process and not a closed process.”
Davis said he had been pursuing Gruden since taking ownership of the team from his late father, Hall of Famer Al Davis, 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,” 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.”
Mehri lauded Al Davis as a pioneer in promoting opportunities for women and minorities. The elder Davis made Tom Flores the first Latino head coach in NFL history. He made Art Shell the first African-American head coach in the modern era. He hired Amy Trask as a top executive and was still owner when McKenzie became one of the few African-American GMs.
“I have always felt a team can have a front-runner and minority candidates can compete against a front-runner, and sometimes they get selected,” Mehri said, noting that Mike Tomlin and Tony Dungy were not front-runners before getting hired. “But if there is a closed process and those minority candidates were going through the motions and had no idea there was already an agreement, that is not fair to them and it is not fair to the next guy coming up through the ranks.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.