ALAMEDA, Calif. — The NFL has concluded that the Oakland Raiders did not violate the Rooney Rule in the hiring of Jon Gruden as head coach after an investigation of the process.
As such, the Raiders will not face any discipline.
Neither Raiders owner Mark Davis nor general manager Reggie McKenzie responded for comment.
The Fritz Pollard Alliance, which promotes diversity in NFL coaching, front office and scouting jobs and whose chairman, John Wooten, initially said he believed the Raiders complied with the Rooney Rule, disagreed with the NFL’s findings in a strongly worded statement.
“We believe the facts overwhelmingly point in the other direction,” the release read. “In his enthusiasm to hire Jon Gruden, Raiders’ owner Mark Davis failed to fulfill his obligation under the Rule and should step forward and acknowledge he violated the Rule.
“The NFL broke ground when it created the Rooney Rule, but it made the wrong call in refusing to penalize Mark Davis in this instance. Davis crossed the line, and we are disappointed in the League’s decision. The Rooney Rule and all of the League’s equal opportunity efforts need to be strengthened. We have called for meetings with the League to ensure that a process like this never happens again.”
The Rooney Rule was installed in 2003 and ensures that a minority candidate interviews for every head coach and GM job in the NFL.
McKenzie, who is one of two black NFL general managers, said in last week’s media conference to introduce Gruden that Oakland had satisfied the rule by interviewing then-Raiders tight end coach Bobby Johnson, who is a head coach in this weekend’s college Shrine Game, and USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin.
Those interviews, according to Davis, occurred before Gruden signed his contract with Oakland, which should satisfy the rule.
But following the Gruden presser, Davis said he had been pursuing Gruden ever since taking over the team in the wake of his father Al Davis’ death in 2011 and imagined Gruden, the Raiders coach from 1998 through 2001 before being traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and McKenzie running the football side of the franchise for him.
Davis also saying he believed Gruden, who has called Monday Night Football games for ESPN since 2009, was “all in” to return to Oakland prior to the Raiders game in Philadelphia on Christmas night, while acknowledging he would not have fired Jack Del Rio, who still had three years and $15 million remaining on his contract, had Gruden not come back to the Raiders is what has the Pollard Alliance upset.
Even if the interviews with Johnson and Martin occurred before Gruden signed his contract.
“We do not doubt that Reggie McKenzie earnestly interviewed Tee Martin, but Mark Davis’ singular focus on Jon Gruden meant that McKenzie was interviewing Martin for second place,” the Pollard Alliance statement continued. “The Rooney Rule was never meant to prompt consideration of a candidate of color in the event that a white candidate, who faced no competition, declined an offer. It was meant to give candidates of color an opportunity to compete for the first offer.
“Although Tee Martin is an outstanding coach and may one day be a superb NFL head coach, he has not to date been a serious contender for any NFL head coach position. The only candidate the Club interviewed who was on anyone’s prospective head coach list – minority or non-minority – was Gruden.”
The Raiders have traditionally been at the forefront of diversity and initiatives in the NFL, from having black and white teammates room together in camp and on the road in the 1960s, to a Raiders exhibition in Las Vegas against the Houston Oilers in 1964 nearly being cancelled because of a segregated hotel, to drafting a black quarterback in the first round in Eldridge Dickey in 1968, to Tom Flores being the first minority coach and Jim Plunkett the first minority quarterback to win a Super Bowl in 1981 before doing it again three years later, to Art Shell being the first black coach in the NFL’s modern era in 1989 to Amy Trask being the first female CEO of an NFL franchise in 1997 to McKenzie being hired in 2012, to Del Rio coming in 2015.
“The Raiders have always stood for diversity and rights,” Mark Davis told ESPN.com in 2016, when he had Civil Rights icon Tommie Smith light the Al Davis Torch prior to Oakland’s game against the Houston Texans in Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca.
“My youth, being able to be around the Raiders and football, I never saw color. Every year there were new players [on the roster], players from the South, some from the Deep South, others from the North — all over the country. I got to see and hear all different viewpoints on life, all coming together for a common cause, a goal to win games…this is how I grew up, seeing this.”