The Miami Dolphins fired head coach Brian Flores on January 10 despite recording the Dolphins’ first back-to-back winning seasons since 2003. On Tuesday, February 1, Flores fired back.
Flores filed a class-action lawsuit against his former employer, the NFL, and two additional teams — the Denver Broncos and New York Giants — alleging discrimination regarding his interview process in discussing each respective teams’ head coaching positions. Instead of moving on quietly to other potential coaching positions in the league, Flores put his career on the line with a bold, public move designed to address systemic change.
Wigdor Law LLP, the firm representing Flores, said in the lawsuit that the coach seeks to “shine a light on the racial injustices that take place inside the NFL.”
Flores specified this perspective in a statement released by Wigdor Law.
“God has gifted me with a special talent to coach the game of football, but the need for change is bigger than my personal goals. In making the decision to file the class action complaint today, I understand that I may be risking coaching the game that I love and that has done so much for my family and me. My sincere hope is that by standing up against systemic racism in the NFL, others will join me to ensure that positive change is made for generations to come.”
In firing Flores with two years left on his contract, Miami owner Stephen Ross said at a news conference, “I think an organization can only function if it is collaborative and it works well together. I don’t think that we were really working well as an organization that it would take to really win consistently at the NFL level.”
Flores alleges that Ross attempted to incentivize him to “tank,” or purposely lose games, shortly after he was hired in 2019, purportedly offering Flores $100,000 for every loss that season. As the team continued to win, Flores attests that general manager Chris Grier communicated Ross’ disdain that this on-field success was “compromising [the team’s] draft position.”
Flores further claims that he refused pressure from Ross to violate NFL tampering rules by recruiting a “prominent quarterback” at the end of the 2019 season.
The lawsuit also contends that Flores attended two separate interviews set up merely to satisfy NFL requirements. First, Flores asserts that his January 27 interview with the Giants was a “sham” as New York was already set to hire former Bills offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll, the next day. The former coach cites a series of texts from New England coach Bill Belichick, for whom Flores worked for 10 years, as evidence.
A similar scenario played out when he interviewed with the Broncos for their head-coaching job in 2019, according to Flores. The plaintiff states that then Denver general manager John Elway and the front office team arrived at the interview an hour late and hungover.
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Both interviews satisfied the NFL’s “Rooney Rule.” Established in 2003, the Rooney Rule is a policy requiring league teams to interview at least one ethnic-minority candidate for open head coaching and senior football operation positions. By the numbers, the Rooney Rule has not achieved its intended effect of bringing more Black men to leadership positions in the league.
While the NFL is nearly 70% Black on the field, front offices and management are still largely white. Only five of the league’s 32 general managers are Black, including Miami’s Grier, and there is only one minority owner — Jacksonville’s Shad Khan. A USA Today analysis found that between 2019 and 2020, only seven men of color were hired for 31 available positions — about 23%. Men of color, however, made up six of the 31 positions — almost 20% — who parted ways with their NFL employer.
This year, most NFL teams again opted to hire retreads and “emerging” white coaches as opposed to sticking by Black leaders. Like Flores, former Houston Texans coach David Culley received less than 12 months of rope before the ax fell. This appears to be a trend as during the 2016-2017 season, 19% of fired or released front office employees and head coaches were people of color.
In the lawsuit, Flores is seeking league-wide change including:
- The elevated influence of Black individuals in hiring practices
- A more objective process in the hiring and terminating of coaching and front office employees
- Incentivized hiring/retention of Black coaches and front office staff
- Transparent salaries for coaches and front office staff
- More Black coordinators in the league
Ironically, Flores is still in consideration for two open head-coaching vacancies — the New Orleans Saints and the Houston Texans. The former head coach said that he reached out to both teams in advance to inform them about the impending lawsuit.
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