2 More Coaches Join Brian Flores' Lawsuit Against NFL
By Jason Hall
April 7, 2022
Steve Wilks, who served as the Arizona Cardinals' head coach for one season in 2018, and Ray Horton, a longtime NFL assistant who interviewed for the Tennessee Titans' head coaching vacancy in 2016, have joined Flores' lawsuit against the league; six franchises: the Miami Dolphins, Denver Broncos, New York Giants, Houston Texans, Cardinals and Titans; and 26 other "John Doe" NFL teams.
The Titans, Cardinals and Texans were added to the lawsuit amid Wilks and Horton's inclusion, as well as Flores' attorneys alleging Houston "retaliated" against the coach by removing him from consideration for its head coaching search earlier this year "due to his decision to file this action and speak publicly about systemic discrimination in the NFL."
ESPN reports the lawsuit was filed in the Southern District of New York and asks for increased transparency in NFL hiring, incentives for hiring black coaches and more visibility for Black assistants, among other things.
Lawyers said Wilks was considered a "bridge coach" and "not given any meaningful chance to succeed" during his only season in Arizona.
The Cardinals finished the 2018 season with a 3-13 record and Wilks -- who currently works as the pass game coordinator and secondary coach for the Carolina Panthers -- was fired and replaced by Kliff Kingsbury, who attorneys acknowledged was successful, but argued that, "Mr. Wilks, given the same opportunity afforded to Mr. Kingsbury, surely would have succeeded as well."
"When Coach Flores filed this action, I knew I owed it to myself, and to all Black NFL coaches and aspiring coaches, to stand with him," Wilks said in a statement released by his lawyers and obtained by ESPN. "This lawsuit has shed further important light on a problem that we all know exists, but that too few are willing to confront. Black coaches and candidates should have exactly the same ability to become employed, and remain employed, as white coaches and candidates. That is not currently the case, and I look forward to working with Coach Flores and Coach Horton to ensure that the aspiration of racial equality in the NFL becomes a reality."
In a response statement, the Cardinals said, "the decisions we made after the 2018 season were very difficult ones. But as we said at the time, they were entirely driven by what was in the best interests of our organization and necessary for team improvement. We are confident that the facts reflect that and demonstrate that these allegations are untrue."
Horton served as the Titans' defensive coordinator in 2014-15 and interviewed for the team's head coaching vacancy in 2016, which lawyers argued was a "completely sham interview done only to comply with the Rooney Rule and to demonstrate an appearance of equal opportunity and a false willingness to consider a minority candidate for the position."
The Titans ultimately hired former interim head coach Mike Mularkey, who admitted had already accepted the full-time position prior to the team interviewing Horton in adherence with the Rooney Rule -- named after late former Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney -- which requires teams to interview minority coaching candidates for head coach, general manager and executive positions.
Flores took over as Miami's head coach in 2019 after spending 11 seasons as an assistant with the New England Patriots, which included winning four Super Bowl championships (XXXIX, XLIX, LI and LIII).
The 40-year-old went 24-25 during three seasons with the Dolphins, but appeared to be gaining momentum.
Miami finished the 2021 season with a 9-8 record having won eight of his last nine games following a disappointing 1-7 start, which made his termination in January the most surprising of any NFL head coach.
Flores' initial lawsuit accused the Giants and Broncos of interviewing him solely to meet the "Rooney Rule" requirements while having already decided on White candidates -- with the Giants hiring Brian Daboll and Denver hiring Nathaniel Hackett, both White coaches -- during the process.
During an appearance on the I Am Athlete Podcast, Flores addressed a conversation with Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who appeared to have mixed up Flores and Daboll -- both of whom previously served as assistants on his Patriots staff -- in what the former Dolphins head coach argued was proof that the New York Giants interviewed him simply to comply with the NFL's 'Rooney Rule' while having already decided on Daboll as their next head coach.
“I’m not mad. I mean, Bill did what a lot of us [have done]. He sent a text message to the wrong person. I’m certainly guilty of that before,” Flores told I Am Athlete hosts Brandon Marshall, Chad Johnson and Omar Kelly via CBS Boston. “To me, I thought it was specific to the lawsuit in that it confirmed a lot of things that I thought were going on, that I think a lot of Black and minority coaches think are going on. It kind of confirmed it for me. As far as having a fair and equal opportunity to go and interview and show your acumen, show your intelligence, show your ability to lead, show your willingness and your leadership. Oftentimes, it’s not a fair and equal playing field.”
In the leaked conversation, the contact saved as 'Bill Belichick' appears to accidentally tell Flores -- who served as a Patriots assistant for 11 seasons -- that he heard from the Buffalo Bills -- Daboll's previous employer after stints with the Patriots and the University of Alabama -- and the Giants that "you are the their guy" in relation to New York's coaching search.
Flores, a Brooklyn native, responds with "that's definitely what I want" and thanks Belichick before later asking if the legendary head coach actually meant to send the message to Daboll.
Belichick realizes the mistake and said he "misread the text" and that he thought the Giants were naming Daboll as their next head coach before apologizing.
In February, the Steelers announced they'd hired Flores as a senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach, the team announced in a news release on their official website.
"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," said head coach Mike Tomlin, who was the league's only Black head coach when Flores initially filed his lawsuit. "Brian's resume speaks for itself, and I look forward to him adding his expertise to help our team."