Two black coaches join Brian Flores’ lawsuit against NFL

Two black coaches have joined a lawsuit filed in February by Brian Flores, the former Miami Dolphins head coach who accused the NFL and its 32 teams of discriminating against African Americans in their hiring practices.

On Thursday, Steve Wilks, who was fired after one season as Arizona Cardinals head coach, and longtime assistant coach and defensive coordinator Ray Horton were added to Flores’ complaint. A federal pre-trial conference is scheduled for April 29.

In the amended complaint, Wilks, 52, said the Cardinals hired him as a “bridge coach” in 2018 and he had no meaningful chance of succeeding under a general manager, Steve. Keim, who “made bad personnel decisions”.

The Cardinals finished with a 3-13 record that season. Wilks was fired before the team signed quarterback Kyler Murray with the 2019 first overall pick. Kliff Kingsbury, who is white and had no NFL coaching experience, was hired to replace Wilks.

After Wilks left Arizona, he served as defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns in 2019, then moved to the same position at the University of Missouri in 2021. In February, he was hired by the Carolina Panthers in as defensive passing coordinator and secondary coach.

“Like Brian and Ray, I did not make the decision to join this lawsuit based on what it could potentially cost me in my own career,” Wilks said in a statement. “Instead, this decision was made to help pave the way for the next generation of talented minority coaches and executives to finally have a level playing field and a level playing field.”

In a statement, the Cardinals called the decisions made after the 2018 season “very difficult,” adding that they “were entirely driven by what was in the best interests of our organization and necessary for the betterment of the team. “. The statement continued: “We are satisfied that the facts reflect this and demonstrate that these allegations are false.”

Prior to the 2016 season, Horton applied for the head coaching job of the Tennessee Titans, where he was the defensive coordinator. Horton, who served as an assistant coach and coordinator with seven franchises during a 24-year career on the sidelines, said in the complaint that the team granted him a “mock interview” so that he can meet the Rooney Rule, a league requirement that teams consider. a diverse list of candidates for open head coaching positions.

That year, the Titans promoted interim coach Mike Mularkey, who is white, to head coach. In a podcast interview conducted four years later, Mularkey said Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk and her family told him he would be hired before interviewing non-white candidates.

“I sat there knowing I was the coach in 16, 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 all they could do and they have no chance of getting this job,” Mularkey told “Inside Pro Football Podcast”. He added that it was his biggest regret in his career.

In three seasons, Mularkey coached the Titans to a 20-21 record. Horton, 61, coached two more seasons: as defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns in 2016 and as defensive backs coach with Washington in 2019. Horton is still looking for work in the NFL, but said in the complaint that it was considered “expired”. ” candidate and that he had not been called to interview for head coaching job offers.

“When I learned from statements by Coach Mularkey that my interview with the Titans head coach was a sham, I was devastated and humbled,” Horton said in a statement.

He added: “While I know I’m taking a risk to be associated with this case, it would be a greater risk to sit on the sidelines and give the NFL a free pass for the systemic discrimination that’s been on my mind. hurt me and so many others.”

The Titans denied the account. “Our 2016 head coaching search was a thoughtful, competitive process that was fully consistent with NFL guidelines and our own organizational values,” the team said in a statement. “No decision has been made and no decision has been communicated until all interviews have been completed.”

Mularkey did not respond to a request for comment. The NFL declined to comment.

Wilks and Horton’s claims echo Flores’ allegations in her original complaint. In Thursday’s amendment, Flores explained the fallout since he accused the Denver Broncos and Giants of interviewing him as part of bad faith job searches. Both teams have denied his allegations.

In his amended complaint, Flores claimed the Houston Texans removed him from consideration for their head coaching position after he filed his complaint and spoke “publicly about systemic discrimination in the NFL.” The Texans promoted Lovie Smith, who is black, from defensive coordinator to head coach in February.

Flores also claimed the Dolphins failed to pay him for the remaining two years of his five-year contract, which he called “eight figures”. The team did not respond to a request for comment.

After Flores failed to land another head coaching job this offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers hired him as a senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach.

Adding two coaches to Flores’ case doesn’t necessarily make it stronger, legal experts have said. All three coaches say they were denied jobs because teams were only trying to meet the requirement that applicants of color be interviewed. But the NFL could argue that each situation was unique and should therefore be judged separately.

“There may be hundreds or at least dozens of African American applicants for various coaching positions, but the reality is that without an NFL policy that discriminates against coaches, it is difficult to ‘state that these are not individualized facts,’ said Ted Frank, director of the Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute and the Center for Class Action Fairness, a nonprofit public interest law firm. “Even if you find a discriminatory email from an owner, it reflects on that owner, not the entire NFL”

Frank said if the case is not certified as a class action, it could unfold into three separate claims. The NFL, he added, would most likely try to push each of the cases to arbitration.

The case has cast an unflattering light on the NFL, which has repeatedly been accused of not doing enough to promote diversity in its coaching ranks, where only six of 32 head coaching positions are filled. by non-white men. It is being fought as the league comes under scrutiny from a congressional inquiry into allegations of workplace harassment among Washington commanders. On Wednesday, attorneys general in six states said they would launch an investigation if the NFL did not address the workplace harassment charges at league headquarters.

Meanwhile, the league has unveiled its efforts to ensure diverse candidates are considered for top positions. At its annual meetings last week, the NFL announced an extension of the Rooney Rule to stipulate that every team with open head coaching and general manager positions conduct in-person interviews with two outside candidates who are people of color or women, or both.

The league also announced the creation of a six-person Diversity Advisory Committee to review its diversity, equity and inclusion policies. Its members include Rick Smith, the former general manager of the Houston Texans, and Peter Harvey, the former New Jersey attorney general who advised the league in its 2017 investigation into domestic violence allegations against the Dallas Cowboys, the running back Ezekiel Elliott.