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Rooney Rule debate sparked by recent questionable interviews

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Recent minority interviews for NFL coaching jobs in Washington and Seattle under the Rooney Rule have raised questions about whether the spirit of the rule has been violated.

Former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy wonders about the process used by the Washington Redskins, who interviewed assistant coach Jerry Gray for the head-coaching position last month even though Jim Zorn still held the job.

The Seattle Seahawks met with Leslie Frazier on Saturday amid reports that USC coach Pete Carroll would be hired regardless of how impressive the Minnesota Vikings' defensive coordinator was.

"That is not what the Rooney Rule is supposed to be, (that) you make up your mind and then interview a candidate for it anyway just to satisfy the rule," said Dungy, who retired from coaching last year and now is an analyst on NBC's Football Night in America. "If the Jerry Gray situation is the way it has been described as happening, I don't think it was fair. I don't think I would ever interview for a job if my boss was not out of the job. I don't blame Jerry; it's the position he was put in, if it happened that way."

Yet Dungy encourages all candidates to interview -- under the proper procedures.

"The idea of the rule is to slow down the process and get teams to do their homework and investigate a lot of candidates, not just minority candidates," Dungy said. "You went through the process, and in doing that, sometimes you uncover people."

That's what happened when the Pittsburgh Steelers hired Mike Tomlin over assistants Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm in 2007. Dungy believes Frazier's numerous interviews -- the St. Louis Rams, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins and Atlanta Falcons have spoken to him in past years, and he remains among the front-runners for the Buffalo Bills' position -- will pay off, too.

"Even in cases where you don't get the job, I know Leslie interviewed with the Dolphins and know Bill Parcells came away impressed and told other people how impressed he was, and he is a sharp guy, and that helps," Dungy said. "That goes a ways in promoting that diversity."

The Vikings declined to make Frazier available for comment Sunday. In the past, he has said he supports the Rooney Rule process, which was introduced after the 2002 season and became mandatory one year later.

Vikings coach Brad Childress said Sunday that only the interviewee can determine the legitimacy of the talks.

"It's really for the guy that's being interviewed to decide what he feels like the intentions are," Childress said. "Do you feel like it's a good conversation? And those are all kinds of things that you try to ferret out before you get interviewed."

On Saturday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the Redskins and Seahawks had complied with the Rooney Rule in their coaching searches. League spokesman Greg Aiello added this on Sunday:

"The rule has been effective, teams are complying, and it has produced its intended positive results. Before the Rooney Rule, interviews with minority head-coaching and GM candidates that are conducted now might never have taken place. Since the Rooney Rule, there has been an exceptional increase in the number of minority coaches who have had interviews, and there are far more minority coaches in the NFL, including head coaches, than in years past."

Compliance with the Rooney Rule is overseen by the Fritz Pollard Alliance. Its chairman, John Wooten, played 10 NFL seasons (1959-68) as a guard -- back when there were no minority head coaches.

Wooten can't understand recent criticism of the system, noting that the Seahawks and Carroll himself assured him they had no deal at the time Frazier was interviewed. Wooten also believes the Redskins properly handled things with Gray.

"Do we have to fight and safeguard against shenanigans? Yes" Wooten said. "People try to play as close to the line as they can. We say to our guys, 'Don't let people use you. We all know a legitimate interview.'

"I told Jerry that Dan Snyder went about it the right way. He called the commissioner, and the commissioner called me. The thing that bothered me with Jerry is he didn't stand up and say, 'Dan Snyder came to me and asked me would I be interested in being coach of the Redskins?' He's the owner and knows what will happen with his team."

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