Updated: Feb 12, 2022
Credit: Tennessee Titans (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a9/Brian_Flores.png)
Brian Flores, former head coach of the Miami Dolphins, is suing the NFL. Flores alleges racist hiring practices as well as other racial discrimination. The specifics are appalling if true.
Flores, who was fired from the Dolphins at the conclusion of the NFL season, is also bringing lawsuits against the Dolphins, the Denver Broncos and the New York Giants. Each of these teams are alleged to have been racist and discriminatory in the hiring process, especially through circumventing the well-intentioned Rooney Rule, a code that requires NFL teams to interview at least two minority candidates that are from outside the organization.
Against the Dolphins, Flores, who is black, alleges that team owner Stephen Ross offered him $100,000 for each game he lost in the 2019 season. The purpose of Ross’ bribe was to ensure the Dolphins would have the #1 overall pick, giving Ross the opportunity to select Joe Burrow.
Flores refused to tank the Dolphins season. Despite starting the season 0 - 7, Flores’ team rallied, winning five of their last nine games. The Dolphins would wind up with the #5 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and would select Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
Tagovailoa has been somewhat disappointing so far in his NFL career. Even though Tua put up career best numbers in 2022, that wasn’t enough to save Flores’ job. Flores was fired despite a 24 - 25 record as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins and leading the team to two consecutive winning seasons.
That the Dolphins were willing to part ways with Flores even though he had performed admirably up to this point showed light on the disparity felt by black coaches. Several white coaches were given a longer leash by their ownership. Gus Bradley (14-48 record) was given four years at the helm of the Jacksonville Jaguars. So were Dave McGinnis (17-40 for the Arizona Cardinals), Mike Nolan (18-37 with the San Francisco 49ers), Joe Philbin (24-28 for the Miami Dolphins) and Mike McCoy (27-37 with the San Diego Chargers).
Honorable mention goes out to Chip Kelly, who was fired after three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. Kelly was immediately hired by the 49ers and promptly rewarded their faith by going 2-14. Kelly was then fired after the season but has remained coaching at the college level ever since.
The Dolphins, for their part, deny all the allegations. “The implication that we acted in a manner inconsistent with the integrity of the game is incorrect,” said the Dolphins in a statement Tuesday.
But Ross’ infatuation with Burrow isn’t some state secret. Longtime sportswriter Peter King has repeatedly mentioned how Ross was prepared to offer as many as five first-round picks to the Bengals for the rights to draft the LSU QB. Trying to bribe his head coach might not be such a stretch.
The allegations against the Broncos and the Giants refer more directly to the NFL’s embarrassing hiring practices. Flores alleges that in 2019, when he was interviewing with the Broncos for their open head coach position, the Broncos’ executives showed up to the interview an hour late. They also may have been hungover.
“I think there was a reason why they were late,” Flores stated in an interview with Mike Greenberg on ESPN, “I think they had been out the night before, I think that's the reason why.” The Broncos, of course, deny all the allegations.
Before Flores was set to interview with the New York Giants for their head coaching position, he received a text message from New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick congratulating him on securing the position. However, it turned out that Bellichick had intended to congratulate Brian Daboll, the former Buffalo Bills’ offensive coordinator. Flores had not even interviewed for the position and it was already filled.
In an interview with CBS, Flores detailed his emotions after realizing what the text message exchange meant. “It was a range of emotions. Humiliation, disbelief, anger,” Flores explained. “I’ve worked so hard to get where I am in football to become a head coach, put 18 years in this league and to go on what was going to be a, what felt like—or what was—a sham interview, I was hurt,” Flores said.
The Giants claim that Flores was in contention for the position until the “eleventh hour,” a curious choice of words considering they didn’t completely deny that Daboll had been given the job before Flores had his opportunity to interview. It’s also telling the way Belichick reached out. Why was Belichick privy to this information in the first place? And why would he be reaching out to Daboll anyway if Flores hadn’t interviewed yet?
Flores, for his part, maintains that he stands for honesty and truth. He is taking a brave stance. Flores is supposedly still in contention for two head coaching positions with other NFL teams and he says he alerted those franchises of the forthcoming lawsuit.
The NFL, however, doesn’t have the greatest track record when it comes to hiring individuals who are fighting for social equality. Just ask Colin Kaepernick.
Flores deserves better than all of this. His 24 - 25 record undersells the impact he’s had on his players and the Dolphins franchise. “Flo has always been a special individual…has been pivotal in my career,” said Patriots safety Devin McCourty, who Flores coached from 2012-15 In 2020, Dolphins running back Matt Brieda spoke about all the great things he heard and saw from Flores. “We all want to play for him and go out there and players lay it on the line for him, and he does the same for us. He’s just a great head coach.”
Clearly, NFL players see the value of Flores as a head coach. It’s disappointing that NFL owners don’t, but it’s even worse to see the lengths they will go to just to avoid giving him a chance. Hopefully Flores will force the NFL to reexamine its practices through this lawsuit.
Roughly 70% of NFL players are black, but in the NFL right now there is only one black head coach: Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Out of all thirty-two franchises, only fifteen black coaches hold coordinator positions. There are only six black general managers.
The NFL has used the Rooney Rule as a shield to protect themselves from confronting their ugly hiring history. Brian Flores is putting his career in jeopardy to expose these injustices. He has shown nothing but tremendous character and bravery through all of this. This ordeal has shown just how exceptional a person Flores is, but it never should have come to this.