Two black NFL coaches have joined a lawsuit filed in February by Brian Flores, a former Miami Dolphins head coach, who accused the league and its 32 teams of discriminating against African Americans when hiring.
Steve Wilkes, who was fired after one season as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, and Ray Horton, a longtime assistant coach and defense coordinator, were added to Flores’ complaint on Thursday. The pre-trial conference on the federal lawsuit is scheduled for April 29.
In a complaint with amendments, the 52-year-old Wilkes said the cardinals hired him as a “bridge coach” in 2018 and that he was not given any significant chance of success under general manager Steve Keim, who “made bad staffing decisions.”
That season, the Cardinals finished 3-13. Wilkes was fired before the team selected quarterback Kyler Murray at No. 1 overall in 2019. Cliff Kingsbury, who is white and had no coaching experience in the NFL, was hired to replace Wilkes.
After Wilkes left Arizona, he was coordinator of the Cleveland Browns defense in 2019 and then held the same position at the University of Missouri in 2021. In February, he was hired by the Carolina Panthers as a game coordinator in defense and a secondary coach.
“Like Brian and Ray, I did not decide to join this lawsuit based on what it could potentially cost me in my own career,” Wilkes said in a statement. “Instead, this decision was made to help pave the way for the next generation of talented coaches and minority leaders to finally get equal opportunities and equal conditions.”
In a statement, the cardinals called the decisions made after the 2018 season “very difficult”, adding that they were “entirely due to what was in the interests of our organization and was necessary to improve the team.” The statement continued: “We are confident that the facts reflect this and show that these allegations are untrue.”
In the run-up to the 2016 season, Horton applied for the position of head coach at Tennessee Titans, where he was the defense coordinator. Horton, who has served as assistant coach and coordinator in seven franchises over a 24-year career abroad, said in a complaint that the team gave him a “fake interview” so she could comply with Rooney’s rules, a league requirement the teams consider. . a diverse list of candidates for open head coach positions.
That year, the Titans promoted to the position of head coach interim coach Mike Mularka, who is white. In a podcast interview four years later, Mularki said Titans owner Amy Adams Strank and her family told him they would hire him before they interviewed non-white contenders.
“I sat there knowing I was a coach in the 16th when they were going through this fake hiring process, knowing the many coaches they interview, knowing how willing they are to go through these interviews, knowing all that they could have done it and they have no chance of getting the job, ”Mularki told the Inside Pro Football Podcast. He added that it was his biggest regret in his career.
For three seasons Mularki coached the Titans to a record 20-21. The 61-year-old Horton has coached two more seasons: as the Cleveland Browns defense coordinator in 2016 and as the defenders ’coach at Washington in 2019. Horton is still looking for a job in the NFL, but in his complaint he said that he was considered “stale” and that he was not called for an interview for the vacancy of head coach.
“When I learned from Mularka’s coach that my head coach’s interview with the Titans was fictitious, I was devastated and humiliated,” Horton said in a statement.
He added: “While I know I risk being involved in this case, it would be a greater risk to stay away and give the NFL the right to systemic discrimination that has harmed me and many others.”
The Titans denied the bill. “Our search for a head coach in 2016 was a thoughtful and competitive process that fully complied with NFL principles and our own organizational values,” the team said in a statement. “Until the end of all interviews, no decisions were made or reported.”
Mularki did not respond to a request for comment. The NFL declined to comment.
Wilkes and Horton’s claims echo Flores’ allegations in their original complaint. In an amendment Thursday, Flores spoke in detail about the consequences as he accused the Denver Broncos and Giants of interviewing him as part of an unscrupulous search for hires. Both teams deny his allegations.
In his amended complaint, Flores claimed that the Houston Texans removed him from the vacancy for head coach after he filed a lawsuit and spoke “publicly about systemic discrimination in the NFL.” head coach in February.
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Flores also claimed that the Dolphins had not paid him for the remaining two years of his five-year contract, which he called an “eight-figure sum.” The team did not respond to a request for comment.
After Flores failed to get another head coaching post this offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers hired him as a senior defense assistant and lineback coach.
The involvement of two coaches in the case of Flores does not necessarily make her stronger, legal experts say. All three coaches claim they were denied work because the teams were only trying to comply with the requirement to interview the color candidates. But the NFL may argue that each situation was unique and therefore should be considered separately.
“There may be hundreds or at least dozens of African-American candidates for various coaching positions, but the reality is that in the absence of NFL policies that discriminate against coaches, it’s hard to say they’re not individual facts,” said Ted Frank, director of the Hamilton Law Institute. Lincoln and the nonprofit law firm Center for Class Action Justice. “Even if you find a discriminatory email from the owner, it affects that owner, not the entire NFL.”
Frank said that if the case is not upheld as a class action, it could go on as three different lawsuits. The NFL, he added, is likely to try to advance each case to arbitration.
The case has shed an unpleasant light on the NFL, which has repeatedly been accused of not doing enough to promote diversity in its coaching ranks, where only six of the 32 head coach positions are held by non-white men. This is being combated when the league faces close scrutiny as part of a congressional committee investigation into allegations of workplace harassment in Washington Commanders. On Wednesday, attorneys general in six states said they would launch an investigation if the NFL does not consider allegations of workplace harassment at the league’s headquarters.
Meanwhile, the league has made efforts to ensure consideration of various candidates for senior positions. At its annual meetings last week, the NFL announced an extension of the Rooney Rule to provide that each team with open positions of head coach and CEO conduct personal interviews with two outside candidates who are colored men or women, or both.
The League has also announced the creation of a six-member diversity advisory committee to study diversity, equity and inclusion policies. It includes Rick Smith, a former Texas general manager from Houston, and Peter Harvey, a former New Jersey attorney general who advised the league in 2017 to investigate allegations of domestic violence against Dallas fugitive Ezekiel Elliott.