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NFL rules and restrictions for interviewing head-coaching candidates

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The Packers and any NFL team searching for a new head coach must follow certain rules during the interview process.

Houston Texans v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The 2018 NFL regular season has officially concluded which means the Green Bay Packers’ head-coaching search will shift into top gear. The team can now widen its scope of candidates outside of those out of work or already within the organization, though some rules limit how president and CEO Mark Murphy and general manager Brian Gutekunst can proceed.

College coaches

Teams looking for a new head coach can pursue candidates from the college ranks. While the league has no restrictions on interviewing those coaches, NFL clubs tend to wait until after those candidates have coached their final game of the season. Accordingly, the Packers plan to request an interview with Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald shortly after the team plays in Monday’s Holiday Bowl against Utah.

Assistant coaches from other NFL teams

Any assistant coach working for a non-playoff team can now interview freely for a head-coaching position. However, many if not most of the top candidates currently work for playoff teams. NFL rules limit the amount and variety of contact prospective employers can have with those coaches.

For assistant coaches on teams playing on wild-card weekend, they cannot interview for at all until after their team plays. Should that team lose, those assistants can interview for a head-coaching position without further limitation. In the event of a win, assistants can interview before the divisional round but only in their current employer’s home city. The assistant’s current team can also dictate which day the interview takes place.

As for assistants working for playoff teams with a bye, head-coaching interviews can take place during wild-card week. However, because they remain employed by a team still in the postseason, those sit-downs must occur where that assistant currently works.

The league also restricts certain follow-up interviews. Candidates working for a team knocked out of the playoffs have no further limitation in that regard, but those whose clubs remain alive can only interview again during the bye week between the conference championships and the Super Bowl. Once the coach’s current employer arrives at the Super Bowl city, no additional interview can take place until after the game.

Rooney Rule

Since its establishment in 2003, the NFL’s Rooney Rule (named after Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney) requires all teams to interview at least one minority candidate as part of any head-coaching search. The league has expanded the rule in recent years to apply for general-manager positions. Under the more recent revision, teams must now interview a minority candidate not already part of the organization, a change meant to curtain token interviews undertaken to comply with the letter, but the not spirit, of the law.

As for the Packers, their recent interview of former Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions head coach Jim Caldwell satisfies the Rooney Rule. The team will reportedly also interview other minority candidates for the position, including former New York Jets headman Todd Bowles.