Steve Wilks and Ray Horton Join Brian Flores Lawsuit Against NFL Teams Alleging Racism in Hiring Practices

Lawyers for former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, who is suing the NFL for racial discrimination in its hiring practices, added two more former NFL coaches to an amended complaint Thursday.

Steve Wilks, who served as the Arizona Cardinals head coach for one season in 2018, and Ray Horton, an NFL assistant since 1994 who interviewed for the Titans head coach position in Tennessee in 2016, are now part of the lawsuit filed against the NFL. , Dolphins, Denver Broncos, New York Giants, Houston Texans, Titans and Cardinals, plus 26 other NFL “John Doe” teams. The Titans, Cardinals and Texans were also added to the suit as part of the amendment.

Flores’ attorneys allege in the amended complaint that the Texans “retaliated” against Flores by removing him from consideration for their position as head coach “due to his decision to file this action and speak publicly about the systemic discrimination in the NFL”.

The amended lawsuit was filed in the Southern District of New York. He calls for, among other things, increased transparency in NFL hiring, incentives for hiring black coaches, and increased visibility for black assistant coaches.

Lawyers say Wilks was discriminated against as a ‘bridge coach’ who had ‘no meaningful chance of succeeding. Wilks was 3-13 in one season with Arizona before he was fired and replaced by Kliff Kingsbury. succeeded, “Mr. Wilks, given the same opportunity presented to Mr Kingsbury, would surely have succeeded as well.”

“When Coach Flores filed this lawsuit, I knew I had an obligation to myself and all black coaches and aspiring black coaches in the NFL to stand by him,” Wilks said in a statement released by his colleagues. lawyers. “This lawsuit has shed important new light on a problem that we all know exists, but too few are prepared to confront. Black coaches and candidates should have exactly the same ability to become employed and to remain employed as black coaches and candidates. white coaches and candidates. This is not currently the case, and I look forward to working with Coach Flores and Coach Horton to make the aspiration for racial equality in the NFL a reality. .”

Wilks returned to the NFL this year as the passing game coordinator and secondary coach for the Carolina Panthers after spending a season as the defensive coordinator at the University of Missouri.

Horton served as the Titans’ defensive coordinator in 2014-15 and was interviewed for the team’s head coaching position. The lawyers said the interview was “a completely mock interview conducted solely 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 job.” The Titans hired Mike Mularkey, who is white, for the job, and Horton left to be the defensive coordinator in Cleveland. He has since retired.

Mularkey, who served as the team’s interim head coach for the final nine games of the 2015 season, said in a 2020 podcast that Titans owners told him he was going to get the job before he left. have completed the interview process, including interviewing two. minority candidates.

Mularkey’s comments, part of an extensive interview with the “Steelers Realm” podcast, were in response to a question about his career regrets. The allegations have taken on new relevance since Flores filed his lawsuit in February, alleging he was discriminated against during interviews for head coaching vacancies.

“I’ve always prided myself on doing the right thing in this business and I can’t say that’s true for everyone in this business,” Mularkey said on the podcast. “It’s a very cutthroat business and a lot of guys will tell you that. … I allowed myself at one point when I was in Tennessee to get caught up in something that I regret and I still regret. But ownership there Amy Adams Strunk and her family came in and told me I was going to be the head coach in 2016 before they went through the Rooney rule And so I sat there knowing that I was the head coach in 2016 as they went through this fake hiring process, knowing a lot of the coaches they were interviewing, knowing how prepared they were to go through these interviews, knowing that everything they could do and they had no chance of getting that job. In fact, the general manager, Jon Robinson, he was in the interview with me. He had no idea why he was interviewing me. – that I already had the job. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I did that. It wasn’t the way to do it.

ESPN learned of the interview, which was not widely broadcast at the time, as part of a report on issues raised by Flores’ lawsuit and contacted Mularkey for comment before the lawsuit was filed. amended. Mularkey was let go by the Titans in 2017 after going 9-7 in consecutive seasons and losing to the New England Patriots in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

“I believe you have the truth and what you need,” Mularkey told ESPN, via email. “Prefer not to comment further.”

The Titans, in a statement to ESPN released before the lawsuit was filed, disputed Mularkey’s recollection of what happened during the interview process, but did not make Adams Strunk or any other executive available for comment. .

“Our 2016 head coaching search was an open and competitive process during which we conducted in-person interviews with four candidates and followed all NFL rules,” the statement said. “The organization was undecided on its next head coach during the process and made its final decision after reviewing all four candidates after interviews were completed.”

Two minority finalists for the Titans job in 2016, Teryl Austin and Horton, did not respond to repeated interview requests from ESPN before the lawsuit was filed. Austin is currently the defensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he works on the same staff as Flores. Flores, who was fired in January after three seasons with the Dolphins, was hired in February by head coach Mike Tomlin to be a senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach.

The NFL, when contacted by ESPN before the lawsuit was filed, said it was unaware of Mularkey’s comments until asked about them.

“I did a lot of internal research and it never reached the NFL,” said NFL vice president of communications Brian McCarthy. “We weren’t aware this was a problem.”

“I am proud to stand with Coach Flores and Coach Wilks in the fight against the systemic discrimination that has plagued the NFL for far too long,” Horton said in a statement released by his attorneys. “When I learned from Coach Mularkey’s statements that my interview with the Titans head coach was a sham, I was devastated and humiliated. By joining this case, I hope to turn this experience into a positive and bring about lasting change and create true equality of opportunity in the future.”

In the amended complaint, Flores’ attorneys write that on Feb. 4, it was widely reported that the Texans had narrowed their head coaching candidates to Flores, Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon and Josh McCown. After it was announced that Gannon, who is white, was no longer in consideration, the decision fell to Flores or McCown, who is also white and has no coaching experience in the NFL.

The complaint states that “Texans rightly feared that hiring Mr. McCown rather than Mr. Flores would bolster Mr. Flores’ systemic discrimination allegations against black candidates, especially since the team came to fire black head coach David Culley.So later the same day it was announced that the Texans had narrowed their search to just two candidates, it was also announced that the team had decided to award a first interview to his own coach Culley. Defensive coordinator, Lovie Smith, for the position of head coach.”

The Texans eventually hired Smith, who is also black, for their head coaching job. The lawsuit applauds the Texans for hiring Smith, who “is more than qualified for the role,” but says it’s “problematic” that Flores was passed over because he filed his lawsuit.

The amended complaint also expands on allegations that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered Flores $100,000 per loss during the 2019 season — his first as head coach — in an effort to ‘reservoir’ to reinforce the value of the Dolphins’ draft pick. It says Flores sent a memo on Dec. 4, 2019, to General Manager Chris Grier, CEO Tom Garfinkel, and Senior Vice President of Football and Business Administration Brandon Shore in which he “detailed the toxicity that existed within of the organization and explained the unreasonable”. position in which he was placed by team ownership and senior management.”

Flores’ attorneys said the NFL has a copy of that memorandum.

At its annual owners meeting last month, the NFL announced the creation of a new diversity advisory committee to review league and club policies on diverse hiring. The six-member committee “will provide expert, external insight into industry best practices and assess league and club diversity, equity and inclusion strategies and initiatives, including all processes, hiring policies and procedures, with an emphasis on high-level coaching and front office staff positions.

“While the NFL can hire outside consultants, make minor rule changes, and pander to various interest groups, real and lasting change can only be accomplished through the appointment of a court-ordered monitor, because the NFL has demonstrated time and time again that it is incapable of policing,” attorneys Douglas H. Wigdor and John Elefterakis said in a statement.