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

Recent Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks and former Washington defensive coach Ray Horton added their names to the federal class-action litigation.
Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks of the Cleveland Browns on the sideline prior to a game against the Buffalo Bills on Nov. 10, 2019 at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio.
Steve Wilks, then the defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns, on the sideline before a game against the Buffalo Bills in Cleveland on Nov. 10, 2019.Nick Cammett / Diamond Images via Getty Images file

Two Black coaches with significant NFL experience on Thursday joined the class-action 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, a former head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, and Ray Horton, who was most recently the 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," Flores' amended lawsuit contends.

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

The Cardinals have 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 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 the defensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans when, he alleges, he was put through a sham interview for the head job in Nashville to satisfy the NFL's "Rooney Rule" requirement to interview minority candidates.

Horton was at home in Phoenix when, he alleges, he was called on Jan. 15, 2016, and told to board a last-second, late-night flight to Tennessee to meet with Amy Adams Strunk, the 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 says.

"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.

While the NFL declined comment Thursday, the Titans insisted their hiring of Mularkey was by the book.

“Our 2016 head coach search was a thoughtful and competitive process fully in keeping with NFL guidelines and our own organizational values," the Titans said in a statement.

"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 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 it hired Flores.

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

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.