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Two more Black coaches join Brian Flores’ discrimination lawsuit against NFL

Two Black coaches, with significant NFL experience, on Thursday joined the class-acton lawsuit that accuses the league and its teams of discrimination and paying lip service to minority hiring rules.

The litigation of former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores was joined by Steve Wilks, former Arizona Cardinals head coach, and Ray Horton, who was most recently defensive backs coach for the team now known as the Washington Commanders.

Wilks was in charge in Arizona in 2018 when the Cardinals finished 3-13.

Wilks “was discriminated against by the Arizona Cardinals” by being hired merely as a “bridge coach” and “not given any meaningful chance to succeed,” according to Flores’ amended lawsuit.

Arizona replaced Wilks with Kliff Kingsbury, a former head coach at Texas Tech who had no prior NFL coaching experience. Kingsbury, who is white, went 35-40 during six college seasons, a sub-.500 mark that came despite the services of future NFL star Patrick Mahomes in Lubbock.

The Cardinals have since become a playoff contender under Kingsbury and dynamic quarterback Kyler Murray.

“Mr. Wilks, given the same opportunity afforded to Mr. Kingsbury, surely would have succeeded as well,” according to the lawsuit. 

Wilks is now the defensive passing game coordinator for the Carolina Panthers.

“The decisions we made after the 2018 season were very difficult ones,” the Cardinals said in statement on Thursday. “But as we said at the time, they were entirely driven by what was in the best interests of our organization and necessary for team improvement. We are confident that the facts reflect that and demonstrate that these allegations are untrue.”

Horton was defensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans when he was allegedly put through a sham interview for that head spot in Nashville to satisfy the NFL’s “Rooney Rule” requirement for interviewing minority candidates.

Horton was at home in Phoenix when he was allegedly called on Jan. 15, 2016, and told to board a last-second, late-night flight to Tennessee to meet with Amy Adams Strunk, controlling owner of the Titans, to interview for the head coaching spot.

The “urgency of the request was, so Mr. Horton was told, due to the fact that” Strunk’s granddaughter “was competing in an equestrian event for which she had to get to Tampa, Florida on Saturday,” the lawsuit said.

“Thus, Mr. Horton took a red-eye flight on little notice to interview for the Titans” on Jan. 16, according to the lawsuit.

“As Mr. Horton now understands, the rush to interview him was an orchestrated attempt to make it appear that the Titans had complied with the Rooney Rule and otherwise appear to have given an equal opportunity to Black candidates so the team could announce the pre-made decision.”

A short time later, Tennessee announced that Mike Mularkey, then the Titans interim head coach, had secured the job permanently.

“Mr. Mularkey admitted that he knew the job was his before he was interviewed and that the minority candidates interviewed as part of the process were subjected to sham interviews … in order to comply with the Rooney Rule and/or create an appearance of a non-discriminatory process,” according to the lawsuit.

The NFL declined comment and a representative for the Titans could not be immediately reached.

Flores is now an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers, working under the league’s longest tenured Black head coach, Mike Tomlin.

The Miami Dolphins surprisingly parted with Flores after three years in charge, which included 10-6 and 9-8 records in his final two seasons. The once-proud franchise, with two Super Bowl titles, hadn’t had consecutive winning seasons since 2003 before Flores.

The NFL has come under increasing scrutiny for its hiring practices, with just a handful of minority head coaches in a league where the players are more than two-thirds non-white.

The short list includes Tomlin in Pittsburgh, Ron Rivera in Washington, Lovie Smith in Houston and Robert Saleh with the New York Jets. Mike McDaniel, recently hired in Miami, identifies as “multi-racial.”

Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll reportedly called out the NFL’s lack of diversity during recent league meetings.

Adam Reiss contributed.

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