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The hiring of Todd Bowles exposes a previously unknown Rooney Rule loophole

Mike Florio and Chris Simms dive into an unexpected shortcoming in the Rooney Rule that came to light after Bruce Arians' sudden departure as Buccaneers head coach.

In 2009, the Buccaneers fired Jon Gruden and promptly installed Raheem Morris without conducting a full search. The move complied with the Rooney Rule as written at the time, because the rule required only one minority interview. If a team were instantly hiring a minority head coach, it necessarily complied with the requirements of the rule.

In 2022, a different Rooney Rule applies. Now, the rule requires two interviews of external minority candidates. Thus, even though the Buccaneers have elevated a Black assistant coach to the position of head coach, the process technically violates the terms of the Rooney Rule, since the Buccaneers should have connected a search that included at least two external minority interviews.

But there’s a twist, one that previously hadn’t been revealed in nearly 20 years of the Rooney Rule. According to the NFL, the Rooney Rule doesn’t apply after March 1, because coaching staffs essentially become locked on March 1. The Buccaneers couldn’t conduct a search consisting of assistant coaches from other teams, because after March 1 teams are no longer required to allow assistant coaches to interview for head-coaching jobs. Thus, the Buccaneers were able to make a hire without interviewing at least two external minority candidates.

The reaction to the utilization of this loophole surely would have been much different if Arians had been replaced by a white assistant coach. Quite possibly, the loophole would have been quickly closed if that had happened.

Perhaps it should be closed anyway. What if Cowboys owner Jerry Jones now decides to court Sean Payton? Jones could fire Mike McCarthy and replace him with Payton without conducting a single interview. Alternatively, Jones could do it after March 1, 2023.

Or Jones could fire McCarthy today and elevate defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.

We now know, thanks to the Arians-Bowles baton handoff, what the rule is for post-March 1 vacancies. Here’s what it should be. If the head coach leaves after March 1, he can be replaced by any current member of the staff on an interim basis. Then, after the upcoming season, a full search must occur. If, alternatively, a non-interim hire is going to be made before the upcoming season, the search must fully comply with the Rooney Rule, even if current assistant coaches from other teams are off limits.

If Jerry Jones or anyone else ever uses that loophole to hire a non-minority head coach, that loophole will immediately be drowned in cement.