Wilks, Horton Join Flores Lawsuit

Former Arizona HC Steve Wilks
Former Arizona HC Steve Wilks
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Offseason - Former Miami head coach Brian Flores has filed an ammended lawsuit against the NFL and several NFL teams. The lawsuit now includes former Arizona head coach Steve Wilks and longtime assistant coach Ray Horton. Wilks alledges that he was specifically hired as a "bridge coach" and not given a chance to succeed before getting fired after one year. (As part of the lawsuit, he alledges that he wanted to trade up to draft Josh Allen in 2018; everybody's hindsight is 50-50, I suppose.) Horton claims that his 2016 head coach interview with Tennessee was a "sham" to satisfy the Rooney Rule. The lawsuit also adds the Houston Texans as defendants, alledging that they specifically did not hire Flores as head coach this offseason because of the lawsuit itself. And Flores now claims that he sent a specific memo to Miami executives regarding Stephen Ross' directive to purposefully lose games in 2019.

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Comments

25 comments, Last at 14 Apr 2022, 1:45pm

#1 by Pat // Apr 07, 2022 - 1:32pm

Actually I'd say the biggest amendment in the complaint is the Mike Mularkey interview from 2020 where he flat out admits he was given the job and then the Rooney Rule interviews were taken, and when asked about it again by ESPN he just confirmed it's the truth. Obviously plenty of coaches have claimed they were sham interviews, but pretty sure this is the first case of the guy who was actually hired admitting he knew beforehand.

So it's not just that Horton's claiming his interview was a sham, there's direct corroboration of it. Which is... a much bigger deal. Yes, the Rooney Rule's an NFL rule, but the entire idea of sham interviews is a serious legal gray zone, so this could really blow up in their face. It would've been better if the Titans had just told the NFL "sod off, we're hiring Mularkey" and just ate whatever penalty they were given. It'd be really interesting if a case like this was the impetus for actually finally deciding sham interviews are equal opportunity violations.

Points: 0

#7 by BJR // Apr 08, 2022 - 9:39am

He certainly might have an axe to grind, given he was fired after a season in which the team went 9-7 and won a playoff game. And he's now retired, so presumably doesn't care about burning bridges.

That said, he had a long and reasonably distinguished career in the league as both a coach and player. Clearly I don't know anything about him personally, but fabricating a story like this would something of an A-hole move. I'm not aware of anything in his history that would suggest that is in his nature.

Points: 0

#8 by Aaron Brooks G… // Apr 08, 2022 - 9:54am

You are over-thinking the joke. It was entirely based on what Mularkey's homonym means.

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#9 by Pat // Apr 08, 2022 - 9:57am

So to be clear I'm pretty sure the original comment was just a joke on his name. :)

But the important note from a credibility standpoint is that

  1. making those statements doesn't benefit him whatsoever, as opposed to the person who had to go through the sham interview, who does stand to benefit if they're declared illegal
  2. he almost certainly has corroborating evidence which would be subpoenaed, as opposed to the guy going through the sham interview. Even if that corroborating evidence is just descriptions of discussions and times when they happened.

That being said, there's just enough wiggle room in Mularkey's statement to allow the team to spin it if they weren't super-dumb (like literally giving him a contract prior to conducting any of the other interviews). For instance, his only statement is "Amy Adams Strunk and her family, came in and told me I was going to be the head coach in 2016" - it's easy enough for the team to spin that and say "Mike Mularkey was definitely our leading candidate at the time, but we hadn't completed the hiring search yet, so he must have misunderstood."

But the Titans really would've needed to carefully couch their statements and what they did, and NFL teams aren't exactly well known for doing that behind closed doors.

Points: 0

#10 by Noahrk // Apr 09, 2022 - 1:49pm

Apart from the obvious, it's also very interesting that he was given the job before his own interview. He mentioned something to the effect that not even the GM interviewing him knew it was a sham interview. Crazy stuff.

But definitely, like you say, all he had was a verbal promise, so they can spin it easily.

Edit to remove a bunch of nonsense.

 

 

Points: 0

#11 by Pat // Apr 11, 2022 - 2:49pm

Oh, they can spin it (and already have, to the public) but it would've taken a tremendous amount of internal discipline to make sure that there wasn't any corroborating information, and even if they do spin it as "well, we told him he was our leading candidate" that already casts a ton of doubt on the entire hiring process to begin with.

I know a lot of people wondered why Flores would do something like this, but the NFL's going to be under a lot of pressure to settle if Flores's lawyer can sell the idea that the existence of sham interviews is a violation on its own, and that's not a huge legal stretch (there's very little legal ground there). Really, he just needs to sell it enough to say that the existence of sham interviews warrants discovery, and that's definitely not a stretch - I mean, discovery against Washington was bad enough, imagine if they're faced with it against the entire league.

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#4 by Shylo // Apr 07, 2022 - 9:19pm

Nah, but Robinson was. Process was still shit though. It really wasn't much better with the Vrabel hire, at least from what we can see externally.

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#5 by Shylo // Apr 07, 2022 - 9:20pm

I'm sure everyone else is gleefully expecting the NFL to take its pound of flesh out of the Titans, and whatever the punishment is hopefully it'll get the team to be smarter about its hiring procedures. Just wish it would've came at a time where the team sucked.

Points: 0

#6 by ImNewAroundThe… // Apr 08, 2022 - 9:24am

To prove racism

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#15 by Theo // Apr 13, 2022 - 12:05am

The dude is a career DB coach and his ceiling seems to be defensive coordinator. 

He has been coaching for 27 years and 15 years in the NFL. 

Instead of a lie about QBs, tell me a truth to prove racism towards him.

Points: 0

#16 by ImNewAroundThe… // Apr 13, 2022 - 10:48am

There's no truths you'd believe in after watching McDaniels get his 3rd chance, Dennis Allen his 2nd, etc. 

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#18 by Theo // Apr 13, 2022 - 1:17pm

Wait. I got this. I speak this language.

So I think you're trying to say that McDaniels gets a 3rd chance and Dennis Allen a 2nd, therefore _____ is racism?

Or something?

What am I missing in______ for your argument? Because it's too late here to fill in your riddles.

Ah I think you're trying to say that white coaches get more chances than black coaches. Is that it?

 

 

Points: 0

#13 by Theo // Apr 12, 2022 - 8:30pm

Who is surprised, really?

"You have to interview minorities"

"Ok." *Interviews a minority*

"Heyyyy, you can't do THAT!"

And of course, only minorities are interviewed for sham interviews, because that rule only exists for minorities. 

"I was a bridge hire"

How is that a reason for a lawsuit?

Points: 0

#17 by Pat // Apr 13, 2022 - 11:00am

And of course, only minorities are interviewed for sham interviews,

You're assuming that sham interviews are legal at all. There's very little case law regarding this and most HR departments are very careful to explain to non-HR people that they should not make or convey any decision until the hiring process is done.

"I was a bridge hire"

How is that a reason for a lawsuit?

If minority candidates are only considered for employment with conditions, that's a classic equal opportunity violation. Hiring (and firing!) fairly is a tricky process, and as is ludicrously obvious to anyone who follows the NFL, several (most?) of the owners are just sloppy as hell.

This isn't even particularly unique to hiring: fair bidding opportunities are similarly tricky, where you have to be extremely careful to ensure communication/conditions are equivalent between all bidders and you'll still end up getting unfair business practice claims fairly often anyway. Just like you can screw yourself right from the start by not putting out the right bid requirements, you can screw yourself in hiring by not documenting the process, too.

Again, several (most) of the NFL owners treat their teams as toys they can just do whatever they want with, and not as multi-billion dollar companies.

Points: 0

#19 by Theo // Apr 13, 2022 - 1:27pm

You're assuming that sham interviews are legal at all. There's very little case law regarding this and most HR departments are very careful to explain to non-HR people that they should not make or convey any decision until the hiring process is done.

There is no determining factor to tell if an interview is a sham or not. Then again, even if it was, I don't know if it's "illegal" or not.

I'm not saying I'm for or against the practice, I'm saying that if the league demands everyone to have  minority interview, they shouldn't be surprised if they get a "minority interview" just for the sake of it. Is that really off base?

 

If minority candidates are only considered for employment with conditions, that's a classic equal opportunity violation.

No. It's only if they are considered for employment with condition BECAUSE they are a minority.

I think we're saying the same, but the assumption is the other way around.

Points: 0

#21 by Pat // Apr 13, 2022 - 1:48pm

 

There is no determining factor to tell if an interview is a sham or not. Then again, even if it was, I don't know if it's "illegal" or not.

Because the courts have stayed far away from it (because it's wacko common). You totally could argue that an interview conducted to satisfy an internal equal opportunity rule once a candidate has already been selected indicates evidence of unfair hiring and warrants discovery.

You don't have to be able to prove everything in your case at the beginning, and discovery on stuff like this is super-ultra bad for the NFL (because, again, many of the owners just treat their team as a plaything and very likely break laws all the time).

Think about it this way: evidence of sham interviews looks bad for the NFL. Why? Because the Rooney Rule was evidence that they really wanted to fix their obviously unequal head coach hiring practices. Finding out that teams said "yeah, skip that" completely counters that evidence, implying that the unequal head coach hiring practices are a real issue that the teams have no interest in fixing... meaning it's an equal opportunity violation.

I'm saying that if the league demands everyone to have  minority interview, they shouldn't be surprised if they get a "minority interview" just for the sake of it. Is that really off base?

The league demanded minority interviews to help shelter it from equal opportunity claims. If those interviews are for show, the shelter goes away.

Teams having minority interviews just to satisfy the Rooney Rule shield them from the NFL, but it then exposes them to equal opportunity claims. The point of the NFL having the Rooney Rule wasn't just to get minority interviews. It was to get the teams to start fixing their hiring practices because it was really, really obviously bad.

No. It's only if they are considered for employment with condition BECAUSE they are a minority.

Nope. Long case law on this. If the results of the hiring process are manifestly unequal, the burden's on the employer to show that the process is fair. If minority coaches as a group get fired for better results than non-minority coaches, that's evidence of an equal opportunity violation, and the NFL/team would have to show that they applied standards equally. One piece of evidence they could use is the Rooney Rule... but the fact that the Rooney Rule is widely circumvented throws that out the window.

Turning the assumption around doesn't work. Griggs, for example: submitting all candidates to a test unrelated to job requirements had the result of an unequal distribution of employees. The employee can't say "oh, they weren't excluded because they were a minority, they were excluded because of this test." Doesn't work.

Points: 0

#22 by Theo // Apr 13, 2022 - 2:10pm

Nope. Long case law on this. If the results of the hiring process are manifestly unequal, the burden's on the employer to show that the process is fair. If minority coaches as a group get fired for better results than non-minority coaches, that's evidence of an equal opportunity violation, and the NFL/team would have to show that they applied standards equally. 

This is new to me.

So the NFL had to basically show why less minority coaches were hired.

But I'm honestly asking where this law ends then. How do you determine the pool of potential coaches?

I'm not American and I have no idea what you want from your identity politics. It seems to drift people further apart than it brings them together.

Points: 0

#23 by Pat // Apr 13, 2022 - 2:45pm

So the NFL had to basically show why less minority coaches were hired.

No, they have to show that the process was fair. Which wouldn't really be hard if NFL teams were all run like modern businesses. If a major position becomes open, you have a search firm give you a list of names, you interview all of those names (possibly not even by the decision makers!) and then after the interviews are complete you make the decision. You make it explicitly clear to the decision makers that they don't communicate whether or not someone's gotten the job until the process is complete.

The problem in the NFL is that the process isn't run like that. The process is "owner wants this guy, goes and gets him." And so now the owners have to prove they considered all candidates. In their heads. With mountains of evidence that some of them have "questionable" opinions. Good luck with that.

It's not hard to specify the process such that only one guy meets your standards. You take Jerry Jones and McCarthy, for instance. Could easily say that he wanted a head coach who had won a Super Bowl and worked with a Hall of Fame level quarterback. Now you go down the list. OK, McCarthy meets that. So does Tony Dungy. You call up Dungy, ask if he's interested, he says no, you say OK, great, and you bring in McCarthy. (I might be missing others, hopefully you see the example).

Now, you've still got to satisfy the Rooney Rule for the league requirements. That could be a total sham of an interview! Doesn't matter, your process is documented and fair.

Again, it's just because many NFL teams are very poorly run as businesses.

But I'm honestly asking where this law ends then. How do you determine the pool of potential coaches?

That's up to each of the teams. You just have to document how you determined it. In today's NFL the Fritz Pollard Alliance puts out a list of qualified minority coaches, so, for instance, not having any of them on your list would of course raise the question "why didn't you include any of these candidates." 

It's really not difficult. Part of the reason why the idea of sham interviews hasn't been touched upon legally is major businesses aren't friggin' stupid.

I'm not American and I have no idea what you want from your identity politics. 

In the case of the NFL, remember the NFL was explicitly racist within the lifetimes of several of the current owners, and has serious nepotism issues. Racist past + nepotism = fundamental systemic issues. Even totally ignoring the possibility of active racism now.

But really, "drift people further apart"? The case I referenced (Griggs vs Duke Power) involved a North Carolina plant that explicitly restricted black employees to a specific department. When the Civil Rights Act was passed (making that requirement obviously illegal) they immediately added 2 "employment tests" (one of which was the Wonderlic!) to get out of the Labor Department - tests which were totally unrelated to the job and which white employees passed 10x more often. You're saying that the ruling that that was illegal "drifts people apart" more?

These standards are put in place because employers at the time were explicitly racist, and then tried to bullshit their way around the law.

Points: 0

#24 by Theo // Apr 14, 2022 - 1:16am

If a major position becomes open, you have a search firm give you a list of names, you interview all of those names (possibly not even by the decision makers!) and then after the interviews are complete you make the decision. You make it explicitly clear to the decision makers that they don't communicate whether or not someone's gotten the job until the process is complete.

In all my years of hiring people, we've never had a firm give us a list of names we had to interview. I'm not sure what process you're referring to.

The problem in the NFL is that the process isn't run like that. The process is "owner wants this guy, goes and gets him." And so now the owners have to prove they considered all candidates. In their heads. With mountains of evidence that some of them have "questionable" opinions. Good luck with that.

Why is this a "problem"?

If Jerry Jones wants to hire McCarthy, why can't he have a talk with McCarthy and seal the deal? 

Why would you tell owners to go through a process where they have to interview people that they don't want just to satisfy ... what exactly? I really think that is a rule that has the opposite effect of what you want it to be.

Now you have black coaches suing the NFL and people talking about black vs white and what is the effect? You put people into camps. And I've not even started on the criteria for coaches to be considered minority. Are Turkish coaches minorities? Asian? Mongolian? Turkish? What about Greek? What about Kroatian? Jewish? Danish? First generation, second generation or third generation immigrants? How much 'minority' ancestry do you have to have to be considered 'minority'? It raises more questions than it solves questions. And honesty, to raise these questions myself in my head shows how addicted Americans are with identity. Addictions are a bad thing, and the sooner you get rid of them, the better but the answer is not to replace one addiction with another.

In the case of the NFL, remember the NFL was explicitly racist within the lifetimes of several of the current owners, and has serious nepotism issues. Racist past + nepotism = fundamental systemic issues. Even totally ignoring the possibility of active racism now.

I'm aware of America's and the NFL racist's past. I'm also very aware that sports are very conservative. On the case of racism in the NFL. Are there stories of the last, say, 20 years that owners have been actively not-hiring minorities? 

I have to disagree that nepotism relates to racism. Racism is excluding certain people. Nepotism is favoring relatives and friends. 

 

But really, "drift people further apart"? The case I referenced (Griggs vs Duke Power) involved a North Carolina plant that explicitly restricted black employees to a specific department.

...

You're saying that the ruling that that was illegal "drifts people apart" more?

No. I'm not saying that the ruling that that was illegal drifts people apart, I never said that. I'm saying that segregating people into race boxes is drifting people apart. 

The answer to the question would be "only personnel with sufficient authority can enter the space".

Just like I'm saying that the NFL should not have a mandate to segregate coaches into race boxes. 

Coaches are coaches. The only way to really defeat racism is to stop referring to people by their skin color. You lead by example - if the NFL was really concerned about racism they would ditch the idea of skin color completely. 

[edit]

my apologies, I forgot to thank you for your kind and well reasoned reply.

Thank you.

 

 

Points: 0

#25 by Pat // Apr 14, 2022 - 9:58am

In all my years of hiring people, we've never had a firm give us a list of names we had to interview. I'm not sure what process you're referring to.

Not list of names you have to interview, list of possible names. You give them criteria, they identify the candidates. Separate the search from the decision. They're search firms. They're crazy common when you get higher up in large businesses/organizations because they avoid bias. It's not just an equal opportunity issue either, hiring bias is super-bad for a company's health in general.

The analog of hiring a head coach is hiring a top executive for a company, and I'd have to say that search firms are more the norm than the exception there, for exactly this reason.

I'm honestly completely shocked you've never heard of a search firm.

If Jerry Jones wants to hire McCarthy, why can't he have a talk with McCarthy and seal the deal?

Of course he can. If Jerry Jones in his entire life only ever hires white head coaches (which... he has) if a minority coach brings an equal opportunity claim against him, he'll then need to explain his hiring process and how it's fair when it certainly doesn't seem to be. And that's going to be really, really hard given some of the public comments Jones has made if the only part of the hiring process is in his head.

On the case of racism in the NFL. Are there stories of the last, say, 20 years that owners have been actively not-hiring minorities? 

Jerry Jones bought the Cowboys 33 years ago. The Chiefs, Bengals, Raiders, Lions, and Bears have been continually owned by the same family for 50+ years.

Why in the world would you care about looking at only the last 20 years? Same people own the teams, same results - very few minorities. It's completely reasonable to file an equal opportunity claim.

I have to disagree that nepotism relates to racism. Racism is excluding certain people. Nepotism is favoring relatives and friends. 

I didn't say it leads to racism. I said nepotism + racist past = systemic issues. Again, this is just Griggs vs Duke Power. You start with a racist setup, and then impose conditions unrelated to job performance which maintain that setup. The "why" is unimportant. Maybe Duke Power really thought the tests weren't racially selective. Doesn't matter. They weren't related to the job.

Keep in mind the lawsuit claim is really "unfair hiring practices" not "y'all are racists." Minority coaches get hired less often and fired quicker. Why is that? If the answer is "well, we just like hiring coaches who belong to a long lineage of NFL coaches" guess what? That's illegal. Fair hiring practices are tough.

Just like I'm saying that the NFL should not have a mandate to segregate coaches into race boxes. 

Again. The NFL's mandate really is only secondary to try to address the issue. It's really to fix the $#!+ hiring practices of the team. If teams were taking it seriously, they'd take the list of candidates from the Fritz Pollard Alliance and interview them right at the beginning. It would cost them absolutely nothing and would begin to regularize their hiring practices.

Note: if the poor minority distribution is unrelated to their hiring practices - due to, say, some other systemic issue outside the NFL's control - then obviously fixing the hiring process won't fix it. But it doesn't matter. With the NFL's hiring practice as effed up as it is, you have to do something to force the teams to start having proper hiring practice. This is what I said before: if teams were taking the Rooney Rule seriously, then it would be a defense in cases like this. They don't. It isn't. $#!+ hiring practice just asks for bias problems.

The only way to really defeat racism is to stop referring to people by their skin color.

I seriously disagree. That completely ignores the fundamental systemic differences that different groups of people face. Fair hiring practices are tough.

Points: 0

#14 by Theo // Apr 12, 2022 - 8:32pm

Hindsight is 20/20.

Balls are 50/50. 

Points: 0

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