As NFL sued for discriminatory hiring practices, Lions Black assistant coaches weigh in

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Mobile, Ala. — On the first day of Black History Month, former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores filed a lawsuit against the NFL and three teams alleging racist hiring practices by the league. 

Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores gestures on the sidelines during an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Miami Gardens, Fla.

The lawsuit, filed in Manhattan on Tuesday, included bombshell claims that Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered Flores additional compensation to lose games, that the Denver Broncos' brass were late and showed signs of being hungover during his interview with the franchise in 2019, and the New York Giants recently only interviewed him as a token candidate to fulfill the league's Rooney Rule, despite already reaching a decision to hire Brian Daboll as the team's next coach. 

The rule, named after late Steelers owner Dan Rooney, was implemented to give more minority candidates increased opportunities to become a head coach. In 2020, the rule was revamped to require teams to interview at least two minority candidates for head coaching openings, as well as rewarding teams who developed them with draft compensation. 

All three teams named in the lawsuit, as well as the league, issued statements in response, disputing Flores' claims. 

"The NFL and our clubs are deeply committed to ensuring equitable employment practices and continue to make progress in providing equitable opportunities throughout our organizations," the NFL's statement stated. "Diversity is core to everything we do, and there are few issues on which our clubs and our internal leadership team spend more time. We will defend against these claims, which are without merit."

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Flores' lawsuit, which is seeking unspecified damages, also highlighted the contrast between Black players, which make up more than 70% of the league, while rarely being provided key leadership positions in organizations. It went as far as to compare the structure to a plantation. 

"The owners watch the games from atop NFL stadiums in their luxury boxes, while their majority-Black workforce put their bodies on the line every Sunday, taking vicious hits and suffering debilitating injuries to their bodies and their brains while the NFL and its owners reap billions of dollars,” the suit states. 

Flores was fired following the 2021 season. Despite starting the year 1-7, the Dolphins rallied to finish 9-8, the team's second consecutive winning season. Flores also exceeded expectations in his first year, 2019, going 5-11 with a roster that was gutted ahead of that season. 

Flores' accusations are seemingly strengthened by the current head coach hiring cycle, with no minorities earning the four coaching jobs that have already been filled. And following the offseason firing of Flores and Houston coach David Culley, who was let go after just one year, Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin is currently the league's only Black coach. 

This issue resonates in Detroit, where the team has a number of Black assistants, including two who are perceived to be on the cusp of head coaching jobs. 

Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn is scheduled to interview with the New Orleans Saints on Wednesday for the team's vacancy, his third interview in the past two years. 

Glenn, who was made aware of Flores' lawsuit coming off the field after Tuesday's Senior Bowl practice, where the Lions are coaching, declined commenting without knowing more details, but spoke positively about his own experiences pursuing a head coaching job. 

Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn.

"I thought all my interviews were really good interviews," Glenn said. "The way I look at it is I get a chance to get in front of these GMs and other high-level people in the organization and just express my thoughts on how to be a head coach and how to run an organization. That's the only way I look at it. I don't look at it like they're fake interviews or anything like that. If that was to happen, that's shame for the league, but I haven't experienced that, just to be honest with you."

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Glenn recently interviewed with the Broncos, who have a different general manager since Flores' alleged interactions. Glenn shared how his experience was much different. 

"I would say this, I think George Paton is a hell of a GM," Glenn said. "I like the way that he handled the interview. The start of the interview was just me and him for an hour, just talking. And I would say the last three hours — actually, it went longer than that, which was surprising. My interview was almost six and a half hours. To me, that spoke volumes. Apparently they liked what they were hearing. But the thing is, I just didn't win the job. The thing is, I look past that and go on and get ready for the next one. That's my only focus. The thing is, I have a really good job.

"... If I don't get one of these jobs, you know what man, I'm going to still be there with your guys and we're going to turn this thing around in Detroit and we're going to continue to play hard and play fast, get some more talent in there and go play," Glenn said. 

At the Senior Bowl, Glenn is working in a reduced capacity, coincidentally part of the game's focus on getting assistant coaches expanded opportunities in front of the league's decision-makers. That means Aubrey Pleasant, another Black coach viewed as a rising coaching star, is serving as defensive coordinator for the week. 

Also getting a short-term promotion is Duce Staley, Detroit's running back and assistant head coach. He's replacing Dan Campbell as the head coach of the National team at the event. 

"It's awesome, first of all, to be able to come down here and be the head coach for the week," Staley said. "I'm very thankful. As far as experience, one thing last year that Dan did a great job with me is putting me in situations like this. It just goes back to the whole year of being able to get in front of the team, talk to the team and bring that down here. You bring the juice, bring the energy and that's what you've been doing."

FILE - Staley joined Detroit's coaching staff after 10 years in Philadelphia, with the primary purpose of bolstering his resume for future head coaching opportunities.

Staley joined Detroit's coaching staff after 10 years in Philadelphia, with the primary purpose of bolstering his resume for future head coaching opportunities. That didn't lead to any interviews this cycle, with his lone head coaching interview coming with the Eagles last year. 

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But like Glenn, Staley hasn't felt disenfranchised by the lack of opportunities. 

"No, I'm not going to say that," Staley said. "I know that everything that was done in Philadelphia when I was there, it was fair. It was an awesome opportunity, I took advantage of it, I learned from it and if I had to do it all over again, I'd do it all over again."

Still, with the lack of diversity throughout the head coaching ranks, Staley didn't hesitate to acknowledge there is deserving candidates beyond himself who are being denied their shot. 

"Yeah, I mean there's some guys who are overqualified and we all know that," Staley said. "There's some guys out there that have been coaching in this league for a while that are outstanding coaches. I can't speak on the process. I can't speak on what they went through as far as interviewing or anything like that, I just know I can speak on the man and the coach and they're overqualified. We still got a couple openings, hopefully one of those guys get a job."

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers