The Pittsburgh Steelers should’ve never had the chance to hire Brian Flores as a defensive coaching assistant, according to the team’s owner.
OK, he never said that, but he might as well have. Remember, Flores is suing the NFL and three of its teams for racial discrimination. In that lawsuit, Flores said he prepared for the possibility that his NFL career was over. But then came a call from Mike Tomlin, the Steelers head coach who began this off season as the only Black person in the NFL with that title, with advice and eventually a job offer.
How did Steelers ownership feel about that? After all, by suing the entire NFL, by default Flores is suing also the Steelers although they’re not a named defendant. Did the Steelers pick Flores up to give the NFL cover as the lawsuit moves forward?
Absolutely not, says Steelers president Art Rooney II. In an interview with ESPN, Rooney said the team hired Flores “because we think he is a qualified coach and will be an asset to us,” before acknowledging that his hire might make things a just a little weird with that whole lawsuit stuff and detailing his conversations with Tomlin about the Flores hire.
Coach Mike Tomlin approached Rooney II earlier this month about hiring Flores as an assistant once it became clear that Flores was not going to get a head coaching job. Rooney II said his family’s role in the creation of the Rooney Rule didn’t pressure him into approving the hire.
“No, look, Mike came to me and said he thought that Brian was available and was interested in coming, and that he was interested in hiring him,” Rooney II said. “That’s when we started the discussion. We didn’t get into any discussions about the Rooney Rule or anything else.”
Whether you take Rooney at face value or not, one thing rings true: Flores is absolutely a qualified coach, one who’d be an asset to many other teams besides the Steelers. Adding Flores as linebackers coach and senior defensive assistant to Tomlin as head coach gives the team an embarrassment of riches and diversity at the coaching level (the Steelers coaching staff was already majority Black and the team was one of two that hired an assistant coach directly from an HBCU program during the offseason).
But Rooney also let out an unintentional truth in his explanation for the Flores hire, and one that should be uncomfortable for the rest of the NFL, especially the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos, which were all named in his lawsuit, as well as the Houston Texans, who were allegedly interviewing him but halted the process once the lawsuit dropped.
Flores, once a defensive coordinator for the New England Patriots and a former head coach for the Dolphins, is probably overqualified for the job he has with the Steelers. The fact that he’ll make their coaching staff better is a nod to the fact that he should have gotten an opportunity to be the top dog elsewhere, and the fact that the Steelers should never have even had a shot.