In 2003, the NFL had three minority head coaches: future Pro Football Hall of Famer Tony Dungy, Herman Edwards and Marvin Lewis.
In the 12 previous seasons, there had been six. Total.
Considering that the majority of the players in the league 16 years ago were minorities, that imbalance was enormous. And disturbing.
Paul Tagliabue, then the NFL commissioner, put together a committee that established the "Rooney Rule," which requires all teams with coaching and front office vacancies to interview minority candidates. The rule, long overdue, was named for the late Dan Rooney, then president of the Pittsburgh Steelers and head of that committee.
Rooney, one of the league's most enlightened and free-thinking owners, recognized that opportunities for minority coaching candidates were far too limited throughout the NFL — even in searches for assistant coaches.
"Like the commissioner, he understood there was a gap that needed to be addressed immediately," says Art Rooney II, Dan's son and now Steelers president. "We needed to make major steps in the area of minority hirings, and it needed to be done in a manner that was clear to all franchises, and completely transparent."
When initiated, the Rooney Rule was a trendsetter for professional sports organizations. Quickly, there was a more steady stream of minority candidates getting interviewed, and by 2006, there were seven minority head coaches.
"I thought it was going to be difficult to implement the rule right way and that there would be a disconnect with what Dan had in mind, and how to execute it," says Dungy. "Dan was one of most up-front people you would ever meet and his idea was if it would cause people to slow the process down and investigate more thoroughly, then they would do a good job. And people who deserve an opportunity — whether minorities or not — will automatically come to the top.