The group that monitors whether NFL teams adhere to the "Rooney Rule" is keeping a close eye on the scramble for Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh that's occurred over the last 12 hours in the Bay Area. While the 49ers, who sat down with Harbaugh yesterday afternoon, have adhered to the rule, which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate before making a head-coaching hire, it's unclear whether the Dolphins have done so. The Dolphins reportedly are offering Harbaugh a deal that will pay him $8 million a year, which would make him the richest coach in the league.
"We certainly don't have anything against coach Harbaugh," said John Wooten of the Fritz Pollard Alliance. "But we're also not going to back away from following the procedure."
Wooten said that to his knowledge, the Dolphins have not yet interviewed a minority candidate. He said teams usually follow a procedure when it comes to the "Rooney Rule." They report to the league when they have interviewed a minority candidate and the league passes that information to the Fritz Pollard Alliance. The 49ers, Wooten said, followed that procedure in interviewing Raiders offensive coordinator Hue Jackson on Wednesday and that Jackson reported to him that it was a thorough and comprehensive interview.
Wooten said any penalties in relation to the "Rooney Rule" are up to the discretion of the league and Commissioner Roger Goodell. What's to stop the Dolphins from agreeing to a deal with Harbaugh, interviewing a minority candidate and then officially hiring Harbaugh later? "You can't legislate integrity," Wooten said. "... If the spirit of the rule is circumvented, it's up to the commissioner to decide what he's going to do in that case."
Based on past violations, however, it's hard to see the "Rooney Rule" standing in the way of Harbaugh joining the Dolphins. In 2003, the Lions hired former 49ers coach Steve Mariucci before interviwing minority candidates. Their penalty: a $200,000 fine.
-- Matt Barrows