September 27, 2022

Two NFL coaches join Brian Flores’ racial discrimination lawsuit

Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores talks to the media before practice at Baptist Health Training Complex at Hard Rock Stadium Oct. 20, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (David Santiago/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Two NFL coaches joined former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores’ class-action racial discrimination lawsuit against the NFL and other teams Thursday.

Steve Wilks is a longtime coach and was the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals for the 2018 season before he was let go and replaced by Kliff Kingsbury. Wilks alleged in a complaint obtained by Fox News Digital he was treated as a “bridge coach” and didn’t get enough of an opportunity to succeed.

“When Coach Flores filed this action, I knew I owed it to myself and to all Black NFL coaches and aspiring coaches to stand with him,” Wilks said in a statement. “This lawsuit has shed further important light on a problem that we all know exists, but that too few are willing to confront.  Black coaches and candidates should have exactly the same ability to become employed and remain employed as White coaches and candidates. That is not currently the case, and I look forward to working with coach Flores and coach Horton to ensure that the aspiration of racial equality in the NFL becomes a reality.”

Ray Horton is another longtime coach who joined the suit. He alleged he was a part of a “sham” interview process when he interviewed for the Tennessee Titans head coaching job in 2016. Horton says in the lawsuit the Titans only conducted the interview with him to fulfill the Rooney Rule requirement. 

The job was eventually given to Mike Mularkey. The complaint cited comments Mularkey made about the interview process in 2020. “[T]old me I was going to be the head coach in 2016, before they went through the Rooney Rule,” Mularkey told the Steelers Realm Podcast. “And so I sat there knowing I was the head coach in 2016, as they went through this fake hiring process knowing, knowing a lot of the coaches that they were interviewing, knowing how much they prepared to go through those interviews, knowing that everything they could do and they had no chance to get that job.”

“I am proud to stand with coach Flores and coach Wilks in combating the systemic discrimination which has plagued the NFL for far too long,” Horton said in a statement. “When I learned from coach Mularkey’s statements that my head coach interview with the Titans was a sham, I was devastated and humiliated. By joining this case, I am hoping to turn that experience into a positive and make lasting change and create true equal opportunity in the future.”

Wilks and Horton are Black. Mularkey is White.

Wilks has been in the NFL since the 2006 season when he broke into the league as a defensive backs coach with the Chicago Bears and has been with four other teams since. He currently serves as the defensive passing game coordinator and secondary coach for the Carolina Panthers.

Horton, a former NFL player, has coached in the NFL since 1994. He was recently a defensive backs coach for Washington in 2019. He was the Titans’ defensive coordinator from 2014 to 2015.

The Cardinals defended their decision to let Wilks go in a statement to Fox News Digital.

“The decisions we made after the 2018 season were very difficult ones. 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,” the statement read.

Titans said no decision was made until all the interviews were completed.

“Our 2016 head coach search was a thoughtful and competitive process fully in keeping with NFL guidelines and our own organizational values. We conducted detailed, in-person interviews with four talented individuals, two of whom were diverse candidates. No decision was made, and no decision was communicated, prior to the completion of all interviews. While we are proud of Our Commitment to Diversity, we are dedicated to continued growth as an organization to foster diversity and inclusion in our workplace and community.”

Flores first accused the NFL, the Dolphins, New York Giants and Denver Broncos of racial discrimination in his initial lawsuit in February. The league and those teams have all denied the accusations. The former coach applauded Wilks and Horton for joining him.