Wed. Feb 21st, 2024

How the Steelers got better by hiring Brian Flores, who will continue litigation against NFL

By: Brooke Pryor

PITTSBURGH — Brian Flores has the resume of an NFL head coach.

Four years as a New England Patriots scout. Fifteen seasons as a Patriots assistant coach. Four Super Bowl victories. Three seasons — including two winning seasons — as the Miami Dolphins head coach.

Yet, Flores will not be a head coach for the 2022 season. It was a risk he acknowledged when he filed a lawsuit against the NFL and three teams, including the Dolphins, alleging racial discrimination in hiring practices and in his firing.

“We didn’t have to file a lawsuit for the world to know there’s an issue,” Flores said on ESPN’s Get Up! earlier this month. “We need change. That was the No. 1 reason. I know there’s sacrifice, there’s risk to that, but at the end of the day, we need change.”

Flores is joining the Pittsburgh Steelers as a senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach in a hire announced Saturday afternoon.

“I am excited about Brian Flores joining our coaching staff given his history of developing and teaching defensive players during his time in the NFL,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said in a statement. “Brian’s resume speaks for itself, and I look forward to him adding his expertise to help our team.”

Make no mistake, this is a significant football hire for the Steelers and Tomlin. Flores helped build a vaunted defense in New England, and it’s not often a team hires someone with that experience and head-coaching credentials for an assistant position below coordinator.

But Flores, 40, was available because he didn’t get hired by any of the four teams he interviewed with for a head coaching position in the 2022 cycle.

The Steelers ensured that Flores will be on an NFL staff while he has litigation pending against the league, though he’s overqualified to be the Steelers’ senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach. Not only has Flores been a head coach and guided the Dolphins to an 8-1 finish after a 1-7 start, he also coached the Patriots’ linebackers for three seasons and called plays in New England’s Super Bowl LIII win.

But even with his pedigree, Flores is neither the defensive coordinator nor is he expected to be the playcaller in Pittsburgh. The first title belongs to Teryl Austin, who was previously the senior defensive assistant and secondary coach. The second has yet to be officially announced, but Tomlin will likely continue defensive playcalling duties.

“He’s a premier coach who had a pretty good defense in Miami,” Steelers defensive captain Cam Heyward told ESPN. “Looking forward to working with him and helping us all grow.”

To avoid a complete rebuild in the wake of Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement, the Steelers need a strong offseason. Filling coaching vacancies with respected heavy-hitters like Flores is the first step to achieving that.

In hiring Flores, the Steelers get a veteran leader to infuse the defense with a fresh set of ideas and a major boost to a position group that needs revamping after finishing last in the league in rushing defense last season. The addition should also aid in the development of former top-10 pick Devin Bush, who had a disappointing season coming off an ACL repair. And Flores gets a position at one of the NFL’s flagship organizations, one that’s been a champion of diversity in the league, in a role in which he’s been a proven winner while he continues to be a catalyst for change.

“We congratulate Coach Flores on his new position with the Steelers and thank Coach Tomlin and the organization for giving him this great opportunity,” said Flores’ attorneys, Douglas H. Wigdor and John Elefterakis, in a statement. “While Coach Flores is now focused on his new position, he will continue with his race discrimination class action so that real change can be made in the NFL.”

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