Tuesday was quite the day for NFL news, as it started with Tom Brady officially announcing his retirement and ended with the league getting hit with a class action lawsuit for discriminatory hiring practices by former Dolphins coach Brian Flores.
There are a number of eyebrow raising allegations (including some damning evidence) in the lawsuit, most notably some text messages from Bill Belichick that he accidentally sent to Flores that were meant for Brian Daboll, congratulating him on getting the Giants job after talking to people in New York and Buffalo. The problem was, he sent them to Flores days before the ex-Dolphins coach was set to interview in New York, meaning they had given the job to Daboll prior to Flores even interviewing. The result was a sham interview in which he knew he wasn’t getting the job, but the Giants did the song and dance routine to ensure they filled the NFL’s Rooney Rule requirement of interviewing at least one Black candidate.
It’s long been assumed teams were doing this, but it is about as solid a bit of evidence of it as we’ve seen and Flores hopes it will push the league to maybe, finally address the real issues of the lack of minority head coaches and GMs in the league by demanding Black voices be in the room for hiring decisions. On top of of taking aim at the Giants (and Broncos for a similar sham interview in 2019), Flores had some rather spicy nuggets in the lawsuit about Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, offering his side of the story as to why he ended up getting painted as “difficult to work with” and a bad “collaborator” as was given as the reasoning for his firing.
In January 2022, Mr. Flores, who spent three years as the Head Coach of Defendant Miami Dolphins, Ltd. (the “Dolphins” or “Miami”), found himself without a job. He was fired by the Dolphins after leading the team to its first back-to-back winning seasons since 2003. The purported basis for his termination was alleged poor collaboration. In reality, the writing had been on the wall since Mr. Flores’ first season as Head Coach of the Dolphins, when he refused his owner’s directive to “tank” for the first pick in the draft. Indeed, during the 2019 season, Miami’s owner, Stephen Ross, told Mr. Flores that he would pay him $100,000 for every loss, and the team’s General Manager, Chris Grier, told Mr. Flores that “Steve” was “mad” that Mr. Flores’ success in winning games that year was “compromising [the team’s] draft position.”
After the end of the 2019 season, Mr. Ross began to pressure Mr. Flores to recruit a prominent quarterback in violation of League tampering rules. Mr. Flores repeatedly refused to comply with these improper directives. Undeterred, in the winter of 2020, Mr. Ross invited Mr. Flores onto a yacht for lunch. Shortly after he arrived, Mr. Ross told Mr. Flores that the prominent quarterback was “conveniently” arriving at the marina. Obviously, Mr. Ross had attempted to “set up” a purportedly impromptu meeting between Mr. Flores and the prominent quarterback. Mr. Flores refused the meeting and left the yacht immediately. After the incident, Mr. Flores was treated with disdain and held out as someone who was noncompliant and difficult to work with.
If he can prove the part about Ross offering him $100,000 per loss to tank in 2019, that is the biggest bombshell of this entire lawsuit. An owner making under the table payments to a coach to lose, even when everyone knows tanking is a thing, is the kind of thing that compromises the integrity of the sport and leads the NFL to get very mad — unfortunately, moreso than discriminatory hiring practices. The tampering allegation is, reportedly, related to the pursuit of Tom Brady (not Deshaun Watson, who would be connected to the Dolphins a year later in 2021), and is more funny than anything that Ross thought an “accidental bump-in” at the damn yacht club would seem above board enough for Flores who already said he wasn’t going to tamper.
We will see how quickly the NFL tries to resolve this lawsuit, and that will depend on how much of the goods Flores really has on the Ross allegations. For now, it’s dreadful PR at the start of the week off before the Super Bowl and there is some serious explaining to do for the league.