Mike Tomlin no doubt knows all the tangible, X’s and O’s-related benefits newly hired Brian Flores will bring to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Flores is a bright defensive mind who helped devised a plan to shut down Lamar Jackson and the Ravens’ offense last year, something teams – including the Steelers – began to copy.
But expanding on all the reasons why he hired Flores, Tomlin said the decisions ran deeper than just football. Here’s what he said according to ESPN’s Brooke Pryor, who was on a Q&A call with Tomlin Sunday afternoon.
Here’s Tomlin’s full commentary on what led to the hire, per Steelers.com’s Teresa Varley.
“I wanted to stay close to Brian when his legal issues started,” he said. “I just didn’t want him to feel like he was on an island. I think from a coaching fraternity standpoint I owed him that. I was in a position to provide that. I think that started our interactions and conversations. Over the course of those discussions, particularly when it became evident that he was not going to get a head job, I think the natural discussion began and it really ran its course rather quickly to be quite honest with you. It doesn’t require a lot of time to come to the realization that you could use a Brian Flores on your staff. I was so excited that he shared the same level of enthusiasm about being a part of us as we were about potentially acquiring him. It’s been really good.”
Flores appeared to be on his way to being out of the league this year. The Miami Dolphins’ somewhat surprisingly fired him shortly after the season ended. Flores in turn filed suit against Miami, two other teams, and the NFL for racial discrimination in their hiring practices along with the heavy allegation that Dolphins’ owner Stephen Ross offered him $100,000 per loss during the 2019 season in an effort to gain the #1 pick. The teams and leagues have disputed all those claims with the court battle ongoing.
With an opening on the coaching staff following Teryl Austin’s promotion to DC, Tomlin said he jumped at the chance to give Flores a job. As he notes, the coaching fraternity isn’t an incredibly large one and frankly, if Tomlin wasn’t going to hire him, no one would.
Doubling back to Flores’ role, while he carries the title of defensive assistant/linebackers coach, Tomlin indicated Flores will serve plenty of roles on the team.
If Flores’ role is similar to what Austin had done the last three seasons, Flores will be an asset on gameday as another pair or eyes for Tomlin up in the booth, assisting with in-game decisions like coaches challenges and other game management. Pittsburgh has one of the smallest coaching staffs in the league (look for an article on the topic later this offseason) but saw the value in adding Flores to the team. Flores has joined Tomlin and Colbert on at least two Pro Day trips this year to Georgia and Clemson. Flores was also spotted at Penn State’s workout earlier in the week.
While his legal situation is unpredictable, odds are Flores’ time with the Steelers will be short. He’s certainly overqualified to be “just” the team’s assistant. He’s worthy to become a defensive coordinator and probably a head coach again. But until his legal battles are resolved, no team will hire him.
In this overly politically-charged world, some will take issue with Tomlin’s decision to hire Flores. But Tomlin, like any coach, knows the value of a helping hand and an opportunity. Throughout his career, Tomlin has mentioned his gratitude towards the late Bill Stewart, who gave him his first coaching job at VMI in 1995. Two years later, Tomlin become a positional coach, four years after that he broke into the NFL (hired by Tony Dungy, one of only three black head coaches at the time), and six years later, Tomlin was an NFL head coach.
Tomlin was so grateful to Bill Stewart that he hired his son, Blaine Stewart, for his first NFL job, where he remains on-staff as the team’s assistant wide receivers coach. Now, Tomlin is lending a hand to Flores to keep him engaged in the game during an otherwise difficult year.