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A Rooney Rule

In England there is increasing discussion about implementing the Rooney Rule, the NFL policy that requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coach roles. The rule has proved a success in the NFL, and would likely go some way to correcting the underrepresentation of ethnic minority coaches in England.

One of the reasons the policy works is because it helps turn what can be an unprofessional process – where coaches are hired based on an agent’s recommendation, or through the exploitation of networks – into a professional one, where all candidates must go through rigorous steps that would be normal in any other industry. The lack of ethnic minority coaches is, fundamentally, a symptom of this unprofessionalism.

The Rooney Rule is therefore in effect a constraint that drives better practice. Constraints can either be accidental or self-imposed. Clubs like Southampton, Lyon and Feyenoord have become talent factories in part due to the constraint of financial troubles in the last 10 years; with little room for manoeuvre in the transfer market, the clubs had to give academy-developed players a chance. Meanwhile, some teams self-impose strict rules on player recruitment; only signing players under a certain age, for example, can help create focus and specialism in what is a very noisy space.

It’s worth considering what other types of ‘rules’ we can enforce at our own club to help create better processes. A clearly-defined wage structure, for example, can help prevent escalating costs when circumstances change. A contracted commitment to homegrown first team minutes might mean we dedicate more resources to our academy, to ensure it is producing the requisite quality of players (mirroring to some degree Athletic Club’s Basque player policy). Or limiting squad sizes such that we don’t waste money that can be spent elsewhere at the club.

The principle of the Rooney Rule is one we can all learn from. Sometimes a constraint or two is all we need to nudge us towards better practice.


About Omar Chaudhuri

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