The Steelers added a key defensive assistant to their staff in former Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, the team announced on Saturday.
Pittsburgh's hiring of Flores comes weeks after the coach filed a class-action lawsuit against the NFL and its teams. The suit alleges the league and its teams engage in disingenuous hiring practices, merely going through the motions of interviewing Black and other minority candidates to satisfy the requirements of the league's Rooney Rule before settling on white candidates.
MORE: Brian Flores' attorneys say it's 'obvious' lawsuit against NFL kept him from getting Texans job
Part of Flores' suit also alleges he was mistreated at the hands of Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, adding that he would not have faced if he weren't Black. Flores led the Dolphins to a 24-25 record in three seasons, a mark that is skewed because of a 5-11 season in 2019. He also claimed to have undergone a coaching interview with the Broncos in 2019 in which team executives — including John Elway — appeared hungover.
As part of his suit, Flores included a purported text message conversation between himself and his former coach, Bill Belichick — seemingly mistaking Flores for Bills coordinator Brian Daboll — in which Belichick congratulated Flores for landing the Giants head-coaching position. Flores had yet to interview for the job and underwent what he felt and described as a "sham interview."
Flores filed the suit while he was actively applying for NFL head coaching positions, including the Texans, Saints and Giants jobs. The league, as well as Dolphins, Broncos and Giants, have all released statements rebuking Flores' claims.
Regardless, the former Dolphins coach ultimately ended up with the Steelers in a role that is neither a head coach nor a coordinator position. Why did Pittsburgh add the embattled former head coach? Sporting News breaks down the decision:
Why did the Steelers hire Brian Flores?
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin praised Flores' defensive acumen in the team's statement announcing the latter's hire:
"I am excited about Brian Flores joining our coaching staff given his history of developing and teaching defensive players during his time in the NFL," Tomlin said. "Brian's resume speaks for itself, and I look forward to him adding his expertise to help our team."
The Steelers likely saw Flores could address an area of need within the Steelers defense: That unit in 2021 ranked 24th in the league in total defense (361.1 yards per game); 32nd in rush defense (146.1 yards per game); and 20th in scoring defense (23.4 points per game). Pittsburgh had a relatively strong pass defense, ranking ninth in the league by surrendering 215.1 yards per game through the air.
MORE: Brian Flores lawsuit, explained: Former Dolphins coach sues NFL, teams for discriminatory hiring practices
Prior to his three-year stint as the Dolphins' head coach, Flores was a key assistant on Belichick's Patriots teams, serving as safeties coach from 2012-15 and linebackers coach from 2016-18. During that time, he worked with such players as defensive backs Darrelle Revis and Aqib Talib and linebacker Dont'a Hightower.
Flores' Miami teams also featured strong defensive units in the 2020 and '21 seasons, particularly as it relates to turnovers forced: The unit led all NFL teams in 2020 with 29, and was tied for eighth with 26 in 2021.
Why did Brian Flores join the Steelers?
Flores' signing with the Steelers is also significant in that he was not hired in a coordinator role, despite having been in several interviews to fill vacant head-coaching positions with the Giants, Texans and Saints.
Why did Flores end up coaching a positional group as opposed to a head coaching or coordinator position? Flores — speaking on "CBS Mornings" on Feb. 2 — said he wanted to continue coaching in the league:
"I absolutely want to coach in this league but I also know I’m not the only story here," Flores told CBS (via The Athletic). "I’m not the only one with a story to tell."
That said, Flores mentioned during his media tour that he could very well have ended any chance he had of being a head coach again in the league as a result of his suit against the NFL and its teams:
"This isn’t about me. This is bigger than football,” Flores said in an interview on ESPN’s "Get Up" (via The Athletic). "This is about equal opportunity for qualified Black candidates, not just in football, but everywhere.
“If change comes and I never coach again, it’ll be worth it,” Flores added.
Flores' attorneys released a statement Saturday saying the coach's legal action against the NFL and its teams will continue:
Flores legal team’s comment: pic.twitter.com/8eyvCAhOB4— Mike Jones (@ByMikeJones) February 19, 2022
It's worth mentioning that Tomlin was the only Black head coach still active in the NFL at the time Flores filed his suit (the Texans and Dolphins have since gone on to hire Lovie Smith and Mike McDaniel, the latter of whom is biracial). Tomlin is the longest-tenured Black head coach in the league, having held his position as Steelers coach since 2007.
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Brian Flores defensive rankings
Below are Flores' team defensive rankings while he was head coach of the Dolphins. His defensive units saw improvement year over year in total, passing and rushing defense. The team also forced at least 26 turnovers in each of his last two years as head coach and saw significant improvement in Years 2 and 3 in terms of points allowed.
|Total defense||Passing defense||Rushing defense||Scoring defense||Turnovers created|
|2019||397.8 ypg (30th)||262.4 ypg (26th)||135.4 ypg (27th)||30.9 ppg (32nd)||16 (T-29th)|
|2020||367.9 ypg (T-20th)||251.5 ypg (23rd)||116.4 ypg (16th)||21.1 ppg (6th)||29 (1st)|
|2021||337.5 ypg (15th)||227.7 ypg (16th)||109.8 ypg (T-13th)||21.9 ppg (T-15th)||26 (T-8th)|