The Oregon “Rooney Rule,”

House Bill 3118, 2009

The “Rooney Rule” started in the N.F.L. in 2002-2003 and is named after the Pittsburgh Steelers’ owner, Dan Rooney, who championed for the N.F.L. to implement a rule for all 32 teams to follow, or face a financial penalty.

The N.F.L. “Rooney Rule” requires league teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs. In 2006, minority hiring in the N.F.L. went up 22% after the rule’s implementation.

Later in 2007, Coach Tim Walsh, head football coach at Portland State University, took a job with the Army and left PSU. That decision would ultimately be the inspiration for a new law that is known today as HB 3118 or the “Oregon Rooney Rule”.

I, Sam Sachs, was attending Portland State University and majoring in Black Studies at the time. When word spread that Coach Walsh was leaving PSU, I contacted the school and asked them to interview at least one minority candidate for the available head football coach position. PSU dismissed my suggestion, with no intention of interviewing any candidates of color for the job. Instead PSU moved quickly to hire a former National Football League coach, Jerry Glanville. Coach Glanville’s tenure was short and unsuccessful.

I believed then as strongly as I do today that the “Rooney Rule” can and will work in college athletics. During my senior year, I had the honor and privilege to serve with former Senator, Avel Louise Gordly. After graduating in 2007, I used that knowledge and experience to lobby the Oregon State Legislature to consider House Bill 3118, known as “The Oregon Rooney Rule.”

I was fortunate that my representative at the time was Rep. Mitch Greenlick a champion of people. Greenlick didn’t hesitate to sponsor the bill along with former Senator and current Congresswoman Suzanne Bonomici. House Bill 3118 passed successfully in the House 52-4 and in the Senate 29-0. But as it turns out, “The Oregon Rooney Rule” was the first and only law of its kind in the country.

When HB 3118 was first introduced it was only to apply to the hiring of head football coaches. But the House Education Committee saw the value in making it all inclusive and amended the bill to include the hiring of coaches in all sports and athletic director positions. It was a solid victory for minorities in Oregon, ensuring equal opportunities for them within the college coaching arena, no matter what sport it may be.

Since the bill became a law, it has been violated three times by two different schools, but there have been some significant minority hires:

  • Portland State hired Nigel Burton as the Head football Coach.
  • Oregon hired Robert Johnson as their head track coach. In his first three years as head coach, Robert Johnson led Oregon to eight national championships, while producing eight Pac-12 titles and guiding 28 individuals to victories at the NCAA Championships.
  • Portland State hired Valerie Johnson (formerly Cleary) as its Athletic Director. She is believed to be the first Black Woman College Athletic Director in the state of Oregon.
  • In 2017 Western Oregon University hired Curtis Campbell as its first Black or Minority Athletics Director in the school’s history
  • In 2017, The University of Oregon hired Willie Taggart as the first Black or Minority Head Football coach in the school’s history. Coach Taggart left after one year to accept the same job at Florida State University.
  • In 2018 The University of Oregon hired Mario Cristabol as its Head Football Coach. He became the first Cuban American head coach and the 2nd minority Head Football Coach at U of O.

Over the past 14 years, I have been working with others to bring the Oregon law to the rest of the country’s colleges. I have presented at the Black Caucus of State Legislators conference in 2009 and 2015, to ask them to sponsor similar legislation. I have presented my work twice at the National Conference on Race & Ethnicity, when it was held in my hometown of Portland Oregon 2019 & 2022. To my knowledge 8 other states have attempted to adopt the Oregon Rooney Rule, but none have been successful.

I worked with the late Dr. Merritt Novell of the National Association for Coaching Equity and Development. Together we were outspoken in our desire to see the N.C.A.A. adopt a rule like that of the Oregon law. We lobbied all the way to the N.C.A.A. Board of Governers. They would only agree to recommend The Oregon Rooney Rule as a best practice for its member institutions.

The N.C.A.A. says they can’t enforce such a rule, which we all disagree with, including Dr. Richard Lapchick whom I have also been working with on this issue since 2009, he is considered the leading expert and longest tenured person working on this issue. Dr. Lapchick has been tracking the progress, or lack thereof, of schools and their hiring practices for years.

Our goal is to replicate Oregon House Bill 3118 throughout every college and conference in the country. More information on the progress being made in the articles referenced below.
Information / News on Rooney Rule

Oregon Report on Compliance

The NCAA Pledge

The 2015 Racial and Gender Report Card: College Sport[PDF]

Article on the “Eddie Robinson” Rule

Washington Post Article on Oregon’s Version of the Rooney Rule

Oregonian Article on the Hiring of Valerie Cleary Hired as Athletic Director

Article on Rooney Rule in Action