Being a Black head coach in the NFL is a Catch-22

Being a Black head coach in the NFL is a Catch-22


Brian Flores
Photo: Getty Images

Brian Flores’ racial discrimination lawsuit against the NFL has multiple elements to it. On different levels, Flores is alleging, and claiming to have receipts for, behavior in the league that’s long been suspected, but would be damning to have shown as true — especially to the extent that Flores is alleging.

Each claim is a bombshell for the league in its own right, and when you put them together, you can really see how insidious and baked-in the institutional racism is.

Black coaching candidates getting interviewed only to comply with the Rooney Rule isn’t a stunner, as we’ve known the racism coursing through the NFL. But it’s jaw-dropping that word could get to Bill Belichick that Brian Daboll was going to be named coach of the Giants, before Flores even got to have that sham interview.

Likewise, we’ve known for years that teams tank for draft position. It’s been a decade since “Suck for Luck” submarined Jim Caldwell in Indianapolis, and the Jaguars-Jets tank battle for Trevor Lawrence is still fresh in our minds. It’s quite another thing, though, to have Flores alleging that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered him $100,000 per loss in the quest for a No. 1 pick.

Caldwell was a rarity among Black coaches in that he got a second job, not that it did him any good. A 36-28 record might not seem like much, but Caldwell had the highest winning percentage of any Lions coach in the Super Bowl era, and still got canned after a 9-7 season. Detroit is 17-46-2 with four last-place finishes since letting him go.

Flores is well aware of that, as well as his own 24-25 record over three seasons with Miami. He also knows that he’s been passed over in this coaching cycle for Matt Eberflus, Nathaniel Hackett, and Daboll — three white men with zero head coaching experience. If Caldwell can’t get another job with his resume, how is Flores ever going to get one?

That’s where the two parts of Flores’ lawsuit come together. It’s hard enough for a Black man to get a job coaching an NFL team, and then when he does, he’s told by the owner to go out and lose. Then he gets fired after back-to-back seasons with winning records, but he’s still a game under .500 overall because of that first year.

Not only are Flores’ future job prospects screwed, but now the Dolphins are free to go back to hiring white coaches. After all, they couldn’t possibly be racist, they just had a Black coach. Same with the Browns and Hue Jackson. And hey, how racist can the Texans be when they had Crennel take the reins as interim coach after Bill O’Brien was fired in 2020, then hired David Culley as their head coach? Cal McNair can’t be racist, he has a Black friend and painted “END RACISM” in the end zone, right?

This is the extra layer that keeps the foundation of the structural racism strong. It’s not just denying opportunities to Black candidates, it’s putting Black coaches in positions where they’re less likely to succeed — and even if they do, dumping them like Caldwell and Flores after multiple winning seasons, just when it’s plausible to want the next guy in to get this team over the top, or however they want to phrase it before winning six games the next year with a generic white guy.

Before going forward with his lawsuit, Flores had to consider what effect it might have on his future job prospects, just as a rational thing to think about. It’s possible that he concluded that doing this was worth that risk. It’s likely that it wasn’t a risk at all, because he already knew that he wasn’t going to get another shot in this league — and that’s why the lawsuit is worth filing, not for his own future, but for all the Black coaches who haven’t been denied their fair shot yet. 



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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.