As NFL Teams Hire & Interview Black Coaches, Strength of Flores Lawsuit Could Be Affected

NFL: New York Jets at Miami Dolphins
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Flores’s class action lawsuit is staking a lot of faith on other black and minority coaches joining him to sue the league for an alleged history of racial discrimination in the hiring and retention process. Their evidence, especially, is needed to bolster his claims.

However, several of the coaches that Flores named in his lawsuit, as being victims of the same type of discrimination as himself are now on their way to promotions and possible Head Coaching positions in the league, including Flores himself!

Talk about legal maneuvering. It’s unclear if these coaches were going to be interviewed and hired despite the lawsuit. However, the fact that now some of them may receive promotions, certainly will affect the lawsuit in several ways.

The NFL seems to be scooping up black coaches named in the lawsuit and one may wonder, is this a legal tactic or is it due to the coaches qualifications?

Flores mentioned Eric Bieniemy in his suit saying, “Eric Bieniemy has been a highly successful NFL coach for almost 12 years and has yet to be offered a Head Coach position despite more than 70 vacancies during that time.”

Bieniemy has been a running back coach for the Vikings and the Kansas City Chiefs, as well as an assistant head coach for the offense for the Vikings and an offensive coordinator in the NFL.

“Without question, Mr. Bieniemy has the pedigree, track record and reputation to
make him a sought-after Head Coach. However, despite being interviewed for approximately 20 vacant positions over the last five years, no team has extended Mr. Bieniemy an offer. During this time, numerous white candidates who are clearly less qualified have
taken over the Head Coach duties for numerous NFL teams,” Flores’ complaint stated.

Yet now, Bieniemy is being interviewed for the Head Coaching position for the New Orleans Saints, according to reports.

Similarly, Flores discusses Teryl Austin as “never given a chance.” Specifically saying that, “after success with the Seahawks, Ravens and Lions, Mr. Austin was interviewed
for no fewer than 10 open Head Coach positions. He was rejected for each one. Following the 2016 hiring cycle, Mr. Austin stated that only two of the four interviews he engaged in that year felt like “legitimate interviews” where he had a “legitimate shot at the job.” He was asked in a follow-up question whether his saying two of the job interviews were “legitimate,” meant he believed the other two were “Rooney Rule interviews.” Austin said: ‘Take it however you want.'”

On Sunday, several major outlets reported that Teryl Austin is finalizing a deal to be promoted to the Steelers’ Offensive Coordinator.

Similarly Kris Richard is mentioned by Flores as getting “no opportunities.” Well, a few days ago it was rumored that he would be interviewing for the Colts’ Defensive Coordinator opening.

David Culley and the alleged discrimination he faced is outlined by Flores in his lawsuit. Flores claims that Culley, who has been an NFL coach for 27 years, was fired unusually fast by the Houston Texans, after just one year, for the vague reason of “philosophical differences,” after facing an impossible situation for a first year Head Coach. Culley lost star quarterback Deshaun Watson due to a slew of civil lawsuits alleging sexual assault and harassment.

Well now it’s rumored that Brian Flores is a frontrunner for Culley’s job! How saucy! If Flores gets offered the Head Coach position, it could undermine his claim that he has been discriminated against, to an extent. It would not mean he has not faced discrimination by other teams, but it would be a harder case against the League as a whole and the Texans in particular. The team would do itself a big favor by hiring two black coaches back to back, as would other teams trying to avoid liability in the suit. Hiring black coaches could help them a lot from a legal defense standpoint.

However, what if Flores is offered the job? For one, it would be a sticky situation for Flores to accept a Head Coaching job with an organization if he thinks they are racist. He would certainly face questions about this on the stand, if it got that far. Second, it would be difficult for him not to take the job because his whole lawsuit rests on the mission to elevate more black coaches to Head Coaching positions so from a principle standpoint one would think he would take it. Third, it would undermine Culley’s claim that the Texans are racist if Culley decides to join Flores’ suit. Finally, it would create a strange situation in terms of Flores’ ability to coach a team he is engaged in potentially hostile litigation with. It would also expose the Texans to liability if anyone on the team or in the organization brass pressures him to drop the suit or talks about the suit or even holds it against him in any way. Plus, it’s a big conflict of interest to be deposing the team owner that you work for.

On the other hand, now the Texans could be placing themselves in the hot seat if they don’t hire Flores over Josh McCown who has no professional coaching experience. The hire of McCown given his lack of experience, would only provide possible evidentiary support to Flores’ suit. The team’s decision and process could even become discoverable and dissected in court.

With so many recent, extremely expensive and headline grabbing lawsuits involving owners, my hunch is that the owners don’t want to be sued anymore, at least for the time being. Remember the St. Louis Rams relocation suit and how the owners reportedly went head to head with Stan Kroenke over the ballooning legal bills, pressuring him to settle the suit?

How about the Colin Kaepernick suit where owners were deposed? Specifically Houston Texans owner Bob McNair went through the ringer in that deposition in terms of media coverage. He also had to sit face to face with Kaepernick during the questioning. Sources say it was not a pleasant event for the owner.

Plus the NFL is facing the Washington Football Team scandal and a possible Congressional inquiry including subpoenas and possible testimony. And, let’s not forget the Gruden lawsuit.

It would make complete sense that teams want to avoid the legal hot seat, the costs, the headlines, the aggravation. Going on a diverse hiring spree could be one solution. It also shows Flores and his team, that there is a commitment to change. It could lead to discussions, settlement talks, and all sides working together to implement solutions. I expect that’s exactly where this is headed.

For his part, Flores may want to sit down at the table and be part of the solution too, if he has an opportunity to play a role in meaningful change. For one, he may not make class certification, especially if a bunch of the people he thought would join him, want to focus on their careers, teams and new coaching positions.

Also, he’s got some people like Hue Jackson who are all too eager to back him up, actually creating somewhat of a mess for some elements of his case. Jackson who came out swinging on social media, promising receipts and making accusations of potential offers to tank has now stepped back his comments. Jackson also faced pushback on radio interviews about the validity of his claims and many found his responses confusing. In fact, some media outlets are saying Jackson’ mixed messaging could do more harm than good to Flores in court.

How many black or minority coaches will actually be hired remains to be seen. But, the one concern I would have if I were Brian Flores would be, is this really a turning point in the league or just another bandaid to make the ugly accusations go away? Either way, you have to wonder if the interviews and hires are coming from pressure from the league, the owners or if on the other hand, there is a genuine process unfolding that calls into question the validity of Flores’ claims.