As the story goes, the phone call that initiated the process of Brian Flores’ hiring by the Pittsburgh Steelers organization last month was the former Miami Dolphins head coach calling up Mike Tomlin and asking him for guidance, on what to do next after being passed over for nine vacant head coaching positions in the midst of the filing of his lawsuit. But the only real connection for the Steelers was the contact with a good football coach.
“Honestly, it’s about what Brian Flores can do for us from this point forward”, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said to Pro Football Talk yesterday at the Combine in answering a question from Mike Florio about the decision to hire him amidst his lawsuit against the league.
“Everything else, that has nothing to do with the Pittsburgh Steelers”, he added definitively. “You mention the NFL, so on and so forth, but in our minds, Brian’s coming in, he’s got a fresh start with us, and again, I’m sure he can help us as an organization”.
The prevailing assumption has been that Flores’ decision to sue the NFL, charging discrimination in hiring practices, had made him untouchable, but I believe there is more support around the league on an individual level than some realize. Former Steelers coach and current head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Bruce Arians was very supportive of Pittsburgh’s decision, also speaking at the Combine.
“I thought it was a great move”, he said. “We practiced against Coach Flo in Miami. Great dude; hell of a coach. He needs to be a head coach in this league. Obviously, I think Mike did a great job bringing him on, brought on a hell of a football coach, and I think it helped the Steelers organization”.
Flores’ suit initially named three teams as co-defendants, including two teams with whom he interviewed for head coaching positions against whom he charges that his interviews were ‘shams’ set up only to fulfill the obligations of the Rooney Rule. It has since been said that the Houston Texans would be added to the suit after it was alleged that they chose not to hire him and went with another black coach, Lovie Smith, specifically because of the lawsuit.
Texans general manager Nick Caserio told reporters at the Combine that he was given broad authority during the hiring process to make the decision for the organization. Both he and Flores spent a long time between 2004 and 2018 as members of the New England Patriots organization.
“Personally speaking, I feel a lot of respect and admiration for Brian”, he told reporters when asked about the decision not to hire Flores. “I think he’s one of the better coaches in our league. We had a lot of time together there in New England. Ultimately, as we went through the hiring process, my responsibility to the organization and to ownership was to make the decision I felt was in our best interests”.
“Brian was certainly a part of that process”, he went on. “Brian’s a great coach; I know he’ll do a lot of great things with the Steelers I’m sure, and will be in this league for a long time. But ultimately, in the end, I just felt that Lovie made the most sense for our team and situation at that time”.
As a member of the Steelers’ coaching staff in 2022, Flores will wear the title of Senior Defensive Assistant and will play a role in the instruction of the linebackers, which is the final of many different hats that he wore in New England before earning the Dolphins’ head coaching job in 2019, from which he was fired this offseason.
It is widely assumed that his stay in Pittsburgh will be short, though, as he figures to be a very high contender for open head coaching positions during the next hiring cycle in 2023. Performing well with the Steelers, and doing so amidst his lawsuit, would only strengthen his case, of course, so I’m sure he’ll give everything to his job this year.