ABOVE PHOTO: Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, center, talks to down judge David Oliver (24) during the first half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints Monday, Dec. 27, 2021, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
By Teresa M. Walker
Brian Flores says his lawsuit against the NFL over alleged racist hiring practices will continue even if he becomes a head coach again this offseason.
Flores has interviewed with the Houston Texans and New Orleans Saints, who have yet to fill their coaching vacancies. If they call, Flores will listen, but he said the suit will go on because the league needs change.
“This is about changing the hiring practices in the National Football League, and that’s what this lawsuit is about,” Flores said Wednesday on CNN. “I want to coach football that’s what I’m called to do.”
Flores said he knows others have similar stories and that it is hard to speak out. He called his potential sacrifice bigger than football or coaching. The NFL is at a fork in the road, he said.
“We’re going keep it the way it is or go in another direction and make some change where we’re actually changing the hearts and minds of those who make decisions to hire head coaches, executives, et cetera,” Flores said on CBS. “That’s what we’ve got to get to. We’ve got to change hearts and minds.”
Flores’ lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Manhattan federal court. It is seeking class-action status and unspecified damages from the league, the Miami Dolphins, the Denver Broncos and the New York Giants, along with unidentified individuals.
The NFL, Dolphins, Broncos and Giants have denied Flores’ accusations. In its statement, the NFL said it will defend “against these claims, which are without merit.”
Rod Graves, executive director of the Fritz Pollard Alliance and a former general manager in the league, noted Flores’ lawsuit is the latest call to action for the NFL and its team owners.
The Alliance, which fights for equity and inclusion in pro football, is named after a Black player and coach in the 1920s who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It champions diversity in the NFL “through education and providing its members with resources that will help them succeed at every level of the game.”
”Men and women of color in the NFL community have long known that the odds of advancing in the coaching ranks and in the front office are stacked against them,” Graves said in a statement. “The Fritz Pollard Alliance supports coach Flores and others in their effort to level the playing field for men and women of color.”
Flores, 40, was fired last month by Miami after leading the Dolphins to a 24-25 record over three years. They went 9-8 in their second straight winning season, but failed to make the playoffs during his tenure.
According to the lawsuit, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross told Flores he would pay him $100,000 for every loss during the coach’s first season because he wanted the club to “tank” so it could get the draft’s top pick.
The lawsuit alleged that Ross then pressured Flores to recruit a prominent quarterback in violation of the league’s tampering rules. When Flores refused, he was cast as the “angry Black man” who is difficult to work with and was derided until he was fired, the suit said.
Flores said he had conversations with general manager Chris Grier that Ross was upset that Miami was compromising its draft position by winning too many games. Flores said he also talked repeatedly with Ross, who said the team didn’t need to win right then and the coach was under contract.
“That’s not something you make up,” Flores said of those conversations.
What drove Flores to file the lawsuit was a string of text messages with New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick three days before his scheduled Giants interview, leading Flores to believe Brian Daboll already had been chosen as the new coach.
“It was humiliating to be quite honest,” Flores said. “There was disbelief, there was anger, there was a wave of emotion for a lot of reasons. I think this is why we filed the lawsuit.”
Since the NFL implemented the Rooney Rule in 2003 to boost hiring of minority coaches, 27 of 127 head coaching jobs have gone to minorities. This year, white men have filled the first four of nine head coaching jobs.
The rule requires teams to interview at least two external minority candidates for general manager/executive of football operations positions, head coach and all coordinator roles. At least one of those interviews must be held in-person for any head coach or general manager opening.
Tony Dungy, a Pro Football Hall of Famer who was head coach of Tampa Bay and Indianapolis, told The Associated Press last month Rooney’s goal with the rule was to slow the hiring process down and investigate different candidates instead of simply interviewing a minority candidate before announcing a hire.
“He wanted to create a process to search for candidates, not an interviewing quota,” Dungy said. “My hope would be for owners to spell out very specifically what they’re looking for and then have them really research a variety of people before making a decision.”
Teryl Austin, a senior assistant defensive coach with Pittsburgh with the NFL’s lone Black head coach in Mike Tomlin, has been interviewed for 11 head coaching jobs without being hired. He talked to the AP in October about the NFL’s hiring pipeline and said the interviews are “invaluable experiences” and that the rule gets Black candidates in front of owners.
Flores’ lawsuit mentions Austin as someone who was “Never Given a Chance” among the coaches who have interviewed for head coaching jobs unsuccessfully.
Yes, Austin could tell when an interview was real or merely scratching the Rooney Rule box.
“I could tell when I was really in it,” Austin said. “And so to me, that’s kind of worth it.”
Flores said he understands this lawsuit may keep him from ever coaching again. He’s being called the NFL’s Rosa Parks in taking on the league’s hiring practices, and Flores called that a humbling comparison.
“That gives me more confidence that we made the right decision here and that we need to continue to fight for that change,” Flores said.