Pittsburgh Steelers hire Brian Flores amid his NFL lawsuit
By Jenny Vrentas
Brian Flores, a former Miami Dolphins coach who is suing the NFL and its 32 teams alleging discriminatory hiring practices toward Black candidates, was hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers as a senior defensive assistant/linebackers coach, the team announced over the weekend.
“I am excited about Brian Flores joining our coaching staff given his history of developing and teaching defensive players during his time in the NFL,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said in a team release Saturday. “Brian’s resume speaks for itself, and I look forward to him adding his expertise to help our team.”
Flores was fired by the Dolphins in January, after leading the team to a 24-25 record in three seasons. On Feb. 1, he filed a proposed class-action lawsuit on behalf of Black coaching and general manager candidates whom he said have been subjected to sham interviews, denied opportunities to lead teams, and given unequal terms and conditions of employment.
Responding to the suit, the NFL said it “will defend against these claims, which are without merit.”
Last week, the league hired Loretta Lynch, who from 2015-17 was the first Black woman to serve as U.S. attorney general, as part of the legal team representing the NFL in its defense against Flores’ suit, a league spokesperson confirmed. She will work with Brad Karp, who represented the NFL in the class-action concussion litigation.
Flores’ lawyers, Douglas Wigdor and John Elefterakis, thanked Tomlin and the Steelers for what they called a “great opportunity” for Flores.
“While Coach Flores is now focused on his new position, he will continue with his race discrimination class action so that real change can be made in the NFL,” they added in their statement.
When Flores filed his lawsuit, he acknowledged that “I may be risking coaching the game that I love and that has done so much for my family and me.”
Colin Kaepernick, a former quarterback who in 2019 settled a suit with the NFL that alleged teams had colluded to blacklist him for kneeling to protest police brutality and systemic racism, loomed as a cautionary corollary.
Flores’ hiring by the Steelers extends his coaching career, but has no direct bearing on the specific claims detailed in his lawsuit about interviewing for head jobs with the Denver Broncos in 2019 and with the New York Giants in January. At the time he filed suit, Flores was still a candidate for the Houston Texans and New Orleans Saints head coaching positions, which have since been filled.
Flores cited in his complaint text messages he said were sent by his former boss, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, appearing to congratulate Flores on winning the Giants’ head coach job on Jan. 24, three days before Flores’ interview. In a subsequent message, the sender seemed to indicate that the original message had been intended for Brian Daboll, another Belichick acolyte who is white and was announced as the Giants head coach later that week.
The Giants called Flores’ claims “disturbing and simply false,” saying they had “concrete and objective evidence” that the team’s decision was not made until the day after Flores was interviewed.
Flores also said in his lawsuit that he sat for a “sham interview” with the Broncos in 2019, a claim the Broncos said was “blatantly false.” Further, he alleged that Stephen Ross, the Dolphins owner, pressured him to lose games during the 2019 season to secure a higher draft pick, going so far as to offer him $100,000 for each loss. Ross called his claims “false, malicious and defamatory.”
Four days after the league’s initial statement that called Flores’ lawsuit meritless, Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to all 32 teams pledging that it would not wait for a resolution to the lawsuit to reevaluate and reassess its diversity, equity and inclusion policies. Goodell also said the NFL would “thoroughly and independently” review Flores’ claims that Ross asked him to lose games.
The NFL, in which about 60% of the players are Black, currently has three Black head coaches: Tomlin, Mike McDaniel of the Dolphins, who is multiracial, and Lovie Smith of the Texans. The NFL’s Rooney Rule, which was implemented in 2003 to require teams to interview nonwhite and/or female candidates for head coaching and senior executive positions, was named after Dan Rooney, whose family founded and owns the Steelers. Flores wrote in his lawsuit that although the provision may have been well intentioned, “what is clear is that the Rooney Rule is not working.”
Flores played linebacker and safety at Boston College, and one of the roles he held during his 11-year tenure with the Patriots was coaching the linebackers, while he also ascended to defensive play-caller.
In Pittsburgh, he will work alongside Teryl Austin, who replaced Keith Butler as the team’s defensive coordinator this month. Austin was one of the Black coaches whom Flores referred to in his lawsuit, describing Austin as a longtime assistant who was “never given a chance” to be a head coach.
Earlier this month, Austin’s agent, Eric Metz, told The Associated Press that Austin had been given a sham interview with the Detroit Lions in 2018 to satisfy the Rooney Rule as the team sought to fill its head coach opening, which eventually went to Matt Patricia.