The Brian Flores of it all.
The NFL claims diversity is at the core of everything that they do. Yet year after year they struggle with the same inclusion issues when it comes to hiring black candidates in head coaching and front office management roles. The worst kept secret about the NFL, other than the risk of traumatic injuries, is the fact that owners of NFL teams will not hire black coaches and general managers regardless of qualifications. This disparity is intensified when you factor in that nearly 70 percent of the players in this league are black. On February 1st 2022 former NFL head coach Brian Flores filed a class action lawsuit against the NFL which alleged racial discrimination in its hiring practices across the league. The NFL quickly responded to this lawsuit stating these claims by Flores are “without merit.” This begs two questions. The first is do the NFL’s higher ups know what the word “merit” means, and secondly why does it take a lawsuit to invoke a fundamental change in the hiring of qualified black candidates in a black dominated league?
The NFL established the Rooney Rule in 2003. This rule is a league policy meant to ensure more fair and balanced interview and hiring practices for qualified minority candidates as it relates to head coaching positions. This rule has been in place for 19 years and has been amended a number of times to include more inclusive interviewing for general management positions and to incentivize teams with draft picks if a minority candidate was hired. Even with these incentives and requirements in the 2021-2022 season there were only 5 minority head coaches in the NFL. And after the conclusion of the season only 3 remain.
Time after time in the NFL we have seen white coaches and general managers get hired from the college ranks, from lower assistant positions, and even from retirement (i.e. Jon Gruden). Conversely there are numerous examples of black coaches given lame duck positions, or positions that were certain to fail. The most recent examples of that instance would be Vance Joseph for the Denver Broncos in 2017-2018, Steve Wilks for the Arizona Cardinals in the 2018 season, and most recently David Culley for the Houston Texans last season. Now you may ask yourself “Why would these minority candidates take these lame duck jobs knowing they most likely will not succeed?” A very fair question. Unfortunately I would say this is a Catch-22 scenario. If the minority head coach in question refuses the job his resume suffers in that he will not have the “requisite” amount of experience to get consideration for another head coaching job or he will be labeled as “difficult”. On the other hand, if he accepts the job to avoid those labels, or to gain experience when the team fails to succeed, he will be fired and more than likely never considered again. In that same breath white head coaches are routinely hired with little to no head coaching experience, have refused offers, and even when they perform poorly somehow someway they will receive more opportunities.
Being the lover of lists that I am I have complied a small list of the white head coaches hired from as far back as 2009 with little experience, who have failed as head coaches previously, or have performed much worse than their black counterparts. Feast your eyes upon this.
Former offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots hired by Denver Broncos in 2009.
Head coach for 2 full seasons. Win Loss record: 11-17.
Accepted Indianapolis Colts head coaching position in 2018, only to renege shortly after.
Hired by Las Vegas Raiders to be new head coach in 2022.
Former college head coach at Texas Tech University, fired from Texas Tech after compiling a record of 35-40 accepted an offensive coordinator job with USC, only to then be hired as an NFL head coach by the Arizona Cardinals in the same offseason.
Replaced Steve Wilks (black head coach after he only got 1 season as the Coach) Kingsbury’s NFL Win Loss record in 3 full seasons in Arizona: 24-24
Former offensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos and Chicago Bears. Hired to become head coach of Miami Dolphins in 2016. Head coach for 3 full seasons. Win Loss record: 23-25.
Hired to become head coach of New York Jets in 2019. Head coach for 2 full seasons. Win Loss record: 9-23.
Adam Gase replaced Todd Bowles (black head coach) in 2019.
Bowles’ Win Loss record: 26-41. Gase’s total Win Loss record 32-48
Former wide receivers coach of the New England Patriots. Hired to become head coach of the New York Giants in 2020.
Head coach for 2 full seasons. Win Loss record: 10-23
Former college head coach at the University of Oregon. Hired to become head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013. Head coach for 3 full seasons. Win Loss record: 26-21
Hired to become head coach of San Francisco 49ers in 2016. Head coach for 1 season. Win Loss record 2-14. Kelly was accused by a number of Eagles players of racism. How nice.
Former defensive coordinator of the New England Patriots. Hired to become head coach of the Detroit Lions in 2018. Head coach for 3 full seasons and fired after week 12 in his 4th season. Win Loss record: 13-29.
Patricia replaced Jim Caldwell (black head coach) Caldwell’s Win Loss record with Lions: 36-28
Former offensive coordinator of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Atlanta Falcons. Hired to become head coach of Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2016. Head coach for 3 full seasons. Win Loss record: 19-29.
Koetter replaced Lovie Smith (black head coach) Smith’s Win Loss record with Buccaneers: 28-20
Former college head coach at Bowling Green State University, University of Utah, University of Florida, and Ohio State University.
Hired to become head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2021. Fired in week 13 of his first season. A former staffer under Meyer in Jacksonville is quoted saying the Meyer regime was “the most toxic environment I’ve ever been apart of.” Heavenly.
Now that’s just a small list of examples keep in mind there are way more. But the purpose of that list is to show that teams WILL hire non-experienced coaches, they will replace successful black head coaches on a whim, and most of these hires do not lead to success. So why are these coaches routinely given opportunities? I’ll answer that with a quote legendary comedian Chris Rock. “It’s alright cause it’s all white!”
Now this brings us to Brian Flores. Brian Flores spent 15 years in the New England Patriots organization learning the ropes in various coaching positions under Bill Belichick, finally getting his opportunity to become a head coach in 2019 with the Miami Dolphins. In the 3 full seasons as the head man in Miami he posted a record of 24-25, but the wins and losses we just the beginning of the challenges he would face in the Dolphins organization. The first is with ownership. According to the lawsuit filed, and ESPN, Flores alleges that the Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross attempted to incentivize Flores and the team to “tank” or intentionally lose games for a higher drafting position. Ross allegedly offered Flores $100,000 for every loss that season after he was hired in 2019. An offer in which Flores refused as to uphold the integrity of the game. Flores also alleges that as the team won games, the general manager of the Dolphins Chris Grier told him that Ross was "mad" that the team’s on field success was compromising their position in the upcoming NFL draft. In addition Flores also claims that Ross tried to coerce Flores into recruiting a significant collegiate player in which Flores refused to not violate the NFL’s rules against tampering. After the initial refusal Ross allegedly invited Flores onto a yacht to have lunch in late 2020, at the beginning of this lunch Ross informed Flores that this player was “coincidentally” going to join them on the yacht turning this lunch in to a recruitment meeting, a violation of the NFL’s tampering rules, to which Flores again refused and left the yacht. Afterward, Flores alleges he was "treated with disdain and held out as someone who was noncompliant and difficult to work with.” There’s that difficult word again. Flores was fired on January 10th, 2022 despite recording the Dolphins' first back-to-back winning seasons since 2003 posting the records of 10-6 in 2020, 9-8 in 2021. So let’s recap: Brian Flores in his first opportunity to be a head coach in NFL refuses to intentionally lose games, wins too much, and refuses to tamper with college players before the legal period and he is labeled as “difficult”. So when you’re black and you do everything right you're difficult, when you’re a coach like Jon Gruden who has a list of racial and misogynistic offenses you get hired out of retirement and a 10 year 100 million dollar contract. Interesting.
After Flores’ unjust firing, he went into a number of head coaching interviews. He had the wins, he built a winning culture with his former team, and he stayed away from bad business. He SHOULD get a NFL head coaching job, but what he got instead was embarrassment, humiliation, and a first hand view to the exclusionary nature of NFL owners and executives. The final straw for Flores was how he discovered he was not going to be hired as the head coach of the New York Giants. Before interviewing for the Giants job Flores alleges he received text messages from his former boss and current head coach of the New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick. In those messages Belichick told Flores that he had spoken with representatives from the Buffalo Bills and the New York Giants and that Flores was “their guy.” When asked for clarity on whether this message was intended for him - Brian Flores or Buffalo assistant Brian Daboll, Belichick realized his error and replied “Sorry - I fucked this up. I double checked and misread the text. I think they are naming Brian Daboll. I'm sorry about that, BB.” This Brian brain fart led Flores to believe his interview was not a real interview and he was only bought in to satisfy the Rooney Rule and Flores claimed also in 2019 representation for the Denver Broncos showed up to his interview an hour late and appearing as if they had been “drinking the night before.” I will issue an open challenge for anyone out there to find documentation of any other white head coach who interviewed for head coaching or any coaching position if they ever had an experience remotely similar. I’m very comfortable in saying they did not experience what Flores has.
According to ESPN, Wigdor Law LLP the law firm representing Brian Flores say the coach hopes to “shine a light on the racial injustices that take place inside the NFL." Among the areas Flores said he would like to see addressed are:
• Increase influence of Black individuals in hiring
• Increase "the objectivity" of hiring/terminating GMs, head coaches and coordinators
• Increase the number of Black coordinators
• Incentivize hiring/retention of Black GMs, head coaches and coordinators
• Transparency of pay for GMs, head coaches and coordinators
The lawsuit also seeks unspecified damages from the NFL, which called the claims "without merit”. There is nothing in the lawsuit demanding Flores get a job, nothing in the lawsuit requesting special treatment, and nothing in the lawsuit requesting a handout. The request is simply fairness. A concept that seems almost impossible in this league.
On February 19th, 2022, Brian Flores was hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers to become to be their senior defensive assistant/linebackers coach. The Steelers employ one of the 3 current (when this piece was written) minority head coaches in the NFL, that being Mike Tomlin. The Steelers are also the organization where the Rooney Rule originated, named after former owner Dan Rooney. But Flores’ hiring with Pittsburgh should not lessen the sting of this lawsuit. You may ask “Denzel he got a job, he is with Mike Tomlin, and the Steelers aren’t a racist team. Shouldn’t he drop this suit? Shouldn’t he just be happy with what he has?” My answer is absolutely not! Think about what he has gone through. He was employed for 15 years by the New England Patriots one of the most successful NFL franchises and a team that sees a number of assistant coaches graduate to head coaching positions many of which do not enjoy the level of success he did as a head coach. He refused the notion to purposely lose games for monetary gain and did not tamper with ineligible players even though he was encouraged to do so by the OWNER of the team, and lastly led the team to 2 consecutive winning seasons despite these factors. What did that get him? A label of being difficult and hard to work with, a number of sham interviews, and the embarrassment of finding out from your former boss and mentor that another guy was getting a job you didn't even interview for yet. How about the feeling that you will only be called in to interview to satisfy a league requirement, a requirement that if not in place would see you get less opportunities for interviews regardless of how qualified you are. For whom he is, and what he has gone through in this league, Brian Flores should keep this lawsuit going for as long as he sees fit.
The NFL claims diversity is at the core of everything that they do, but will not hire black people to be head coaches or front office executives regardless of their qualifications and will hire inexperienced, unprepared, and toxic people to be head coaches or executives long as their skin color is deemed correct. Brian Flores is literally why the Rooney Rule was created, and his actions against the league could actually bring some real MERIT to hiring practices throughout the NFL. Finally, I’ll pose the second question of my opening paragraph again. Why does it take a lawsuit to invoke a fundamental change in the hiring of qualified black candidates in a black dominated league?
Brian Flores sues NFL, three teams as former Miami Dolphins coach alleges racism in hiring practices
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Brian Flores cover image
[Adam Glausman]/[2019 Adam Glausman] via Getty Images
The Rooney Rule