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Monday's NFL: League makes adjustments to Rooney Rule to aid minority hiring

Associated Press

Palm Beach, Fla. — To ensure more opportunities for diverse candidates, the NFL has added requirements on the hiring of offensive assistant coaches, and women in general.

The moves announced Monday at the owners meeting include adjustments to the Rooney Rule adopted in 2003 and amended frequently in attempts to enhance opportunities for people of color and women for nearly all league and team jobs.

Pittsburgh Steelers football head coach Mike Tomlin, second left, arrives to speak to journalists at a coaches press availability during the NFL owner's meeting, Monday, March 28, 2022, at The Breakers resort in Palm Beach, Fla.

Beginning this season, all 32 clubs must employ a female or a member of an ethnic or racial minority to serve as an offensive assistant coach. The person will receive a one-year contract and work closely with the head coach and offensive staff to gain experience.

In recent years, head coaches have predominantly had offensive backgrounds. The pipeline for minorities on that side of the ball is lacking, as Steelers owner Art Rooney II reiterated Monday.

More: Detroit Lions to be featured on HBO series 'Hard Knocks'

“We recognize we have seen progress on some fronts,” said Rooney, chairman of the league's Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee, “but we still have a way to go on other fronts.”

The NFL saw an increase in the number of people of color in all coaching positions from 35% in the 2020 season to 39% last season. There was an all-time high increase in defensive coordinators to 15, up by two; an increase in minority GMs (five to seven), and assistant GMs (three to six).

Teams will receive league funding toward the coach’s salary for up to two years.

Overall, including women in all Rooney Rule requirements is designed to address under-representation of women in key football positions. The league believes this will “encourage the further identification and development of women candidates and the ability to provide them additional opportunity to interview for open positions.”

A total of 12 women coaches at the start of the 2021 season was an all-time high.

Dasha Smith, the NFL's chief administrative officer and one of the league's highest-ranking females, noted that for the first time, a woman was interviewed for a general manager's position this year.

Smith also said that virtual interviews will no longer be acceptable for head coach and general manager positions, and there will be specific requirements for candidates to become offensive assistants. Those would include at least three years of experience on the college or pro level.

There currently are five minority head coaches in the NFL. There are seven Black general managers.

The league also released a resolution to increase diversity ownership of franchises, and created a diversity advisory committee that includes Peter Harvey, a former attorney general of New Jersey; Rick Smith, a former general manager of the Houston Texans; and Don Thompson, former president and CEO of McDonald’s Corporation.

Early Monday, Mike Tomlin said he did not hire Brian Flores as an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers out of sympathy for the former Miami Dolphins head coach.

Tomlin, who like Flores is African American, did so because Flores is “a good coach.” That Flores had sued the NFL and three teams — the Dolphins, Giants and Broncos — claiming racist hiring practices, did not dissuade the long-time Steelers coach in any way, Tomlin said.

A member of the league’s powerful competition committee and one of the most influential coaches in the sport, Tomlin spoke strongly about the lack of minority head coaches in the NFL. He, Houston’s Lovie Smith, Miami’s Mike McDaniel, who is biracial, the Jets’ Robert Saleh and the Commanders’ Ron Rivera are the five minority head coaches among the 32 teams. About 70% of the players are Black.

Houston Texans head coach Lovie Smith, left, speaks to journalists at a coaches press availability during the NFL owner's meeting, Monday, March 28, 2022, at The Breakers resort in Palm Beach, Fla.

“I haven’t been in any discussions and no, I don’t have a level of confidence that would lead me to believe that things are going to be better,” Tomlin said. ”I’m more of a show me guy as opposed to a guy that sits around and talks about things.

“I think that we’ve pecked around the entire discussion and subject and we’ve done a lot of beneficial things,” Tomlin added of adjustments to the Rooney Rule adopted in 2003 to enhance job opportunities for minorities. “But we’ve got to land the plane. We’ve got to hire capable candidates.”

That, in Tomlin’s estimation and actions, includes Flores, whose lawsuit has been a major topic this offseason. Flores was fired by the Dolphins despite helping turn around a floundering franchise in his three seasons as coach, going 19-14 the last two years.

Flores cites a string of text messages with Patriots coach Bill Belichick three days before his scheduled Giants interview for the head coaching position. Those texts led Flores to believe Brian Daboll already had been chosen as the new coach.

Belichick refused comment on the lawsuit and any role he might have had. Giants owner John Mara said Sunday he is not interested in any settlement with Flores and “I think the truth will come out. The allegations are false.”

Also:

— A former Super Bowl coach is returning to the league. The Indianapolis Colts hired John Fox as a senior defensive assistant. Fox led Carolina and Denver to conference championships before losing in Super Bowls.

“This was a role I really wanted to add,’’ Colts coach Frank Reich said. Fox will work with new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.

“A great complement to Gus,’’ Reich said of Fox. “Our goal with John coming in, not for him to bring his system to us but for him to come in and learn our system and contribute some of his experience. How it can fit.”

Taxpayer tab is $850M for Bills' new stadium, NY gov says

Buffalo, N.Y. — State and county taxpayers will be asked to commit $850 million in public funds toward construction of the Buffalo Bills’ new stadium — which has a state-projected price tag of $1.4 billion — as part of a 30-year lease agreement reached on Monday.

New York state will commit $600 million in funds, which will be in included in the budget due on Friday, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced in a press release. Erie County will commit $250 million toward the project, with the NFL and the Buffalo Bills committing $550 million in financing.

The dollar amount is considered to be the largest public commitment for an NFL facility. The deal is meant to secure the NFL team’s long-term future in Buffalo, with the proposed 60,000-plus-seat facility to be built across the street from the Bills’ current stadium.

Although the taxpayer burden of 60% is considered high, the agreed upon funding falls in line historically. The state and county have shared about 73% of the cost to build, maintain and upgrade the Bills' existing facility, now called Highmark Stadium, which opened in 1973. Under the proposed agreement, the Bills will be responsible for covering any costs that run over the budget.

“I wanted to accomplish two major goals: Keep the Bills in western New York, keep them in the state of New York because this is not just a western New York point of pride, it’s a point of pride for all New Yorkers,” Hochul, a Buffalo native herself, said during a press conference. The second goal, she said, was “making sure that it made sense for our taxpayers in terms of our commitment and our return on the investment, which will be paid off in the next 22 years.”

Without going into detail, Hochul said the project will create 10,000 union jobs with the commitment recouped by the economic activity generated by the team. The state previously projected the Bills — the only NFL team actually based in New York — generate $27 million in direct annual income for the state.

The announcement came as the the Bills' stadium proposal was approved at the NFL's owners meetings in Florida. Owners also approved granting the Bills what’s called a $200 million G4 loan to go toward construction costs.

Under the G4 program rules, Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula are required to at least match the loan.

The NFL’s $200 million contribution was already factored in as part of the funding package.

The Bills are expected to recoup part of their cost of construction by having season-ticket holders — for the first time — pay one-time seat-licensing charges, potentially doubling the price of their ticket package.

Hochul did not include the stadium commitment in the $216 billion budget proposal submitted in January, but it will be added this week. Hochul said there are numerous options at her disposal to draw upon the necessary money to fund the project.

The Buffalo News previously reported the largest commitment of taxpayer funds for an NFL stadium involved the Las Vegas Raiders, with $750 million of public funds directed toward constructing the $1.97 billion Allegiant Stadium, which opened in 2020.

There have been, however, higher splits of public-private funds for NFL facilities, the newspaper found. Taxpayers covered 86% of the $720 million cost to build the Indianapolis Colts’ Lucas Oil Stadium, which opened in 2008. The public commitment for the Cincinnati Bengals’ Paul Brown Stadium, which opened in 2000, covered $425 million of the $450 million construction costs.

The Bills' existing facility was deemed too expensive to renovate. A state study in November pegged renovation costs at $862 million.

The Bills project the new facility could be built in time for the start of the 2026 season. The Bills’ existing lease with the state and county runs through July 2023.

As part of the new agreement, the state will take over as the sole lease-holder of the stadium after previously sharing that role with the county.

In anticipation of the agreement, the Bills already hired the architectural firm Populous to begin rendering plans and designs, which are expected to be completed by fall. Although the stadium will not feature a roof, the Bills plan to have 80% of seating protected from the elements.

Extra points

... Brandon Linder was one of the best centers in the NFL when healthy. That wasn't the case nearly as often as Linder or the Jacksonville Jaguars would have liked.

Linder announced his retirement Monday after eight injury-filled seasons, a decision that came once the Jaguars decided he had played his last down for the franchise.