Why the conversation Brian Flores started about race in the NFL is far from over

A former NFL insider says back channel personnel dealings are common in the front office, and that owners need to have a change of heart.

By Laura RiceFebruary 8, 2022 3:12 pm, , ,

When Daron Roberts saw the press release last week about former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores suing the Dolphins, the Broncos, the Giants and the NFL as a whole – he wasn’t surprised by Flores’ allegations of racial discrimination in hiring and firing practices. But he was struck by Flores’ conviction.

“I knew that Flores understood he was potentially signing the death certificate to his coaching career…. The first thing I thought was, this guy has to believe what he’s doing,” Roberts said.

Roberts is the founding director of the Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation at UT-Austin. He’s also a former NFL coach. In that position, he got to know Flores and has remained friends with him.

Roberts told the Texas Standard about his perspective on the current racial makeup of NFL head coaches and what he thinks needs to change. Listen to the interview in the audio player above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.

Texas Standard: Tell us a little bit more about your time rubbing shoulders with Flores. Sounds like he sort of took you under his wing just a bit, even though you’re from different teams, right?

Daron Roberts: Yeah, the NFL is not necessarily a place where there’s a lot of collegiality, and when I first started, I was just a grunt with the Kansas City Chiefs back in 2007, went to my first Combine in ‘08 and met Brian Flores. He was a quality control coach with the New England Patriots. And for folks who haven’t been to the NFL Combine, it is pure pandemonium. And Flores really helped me to navigate that world. So we became friends in ‘08 and have continued that friendship until this day.

What did you think when you heard this news about Flores’ lawsuit?

I thought a couple of things. One. Flores is a smart guy. I think that just has to be said up front. And people who watch some of his press conferences have seen the job that he’s done with the Dolphins. Took an organization that was really in shambles and turned it around. He’s a smart football guy. He’s also a hard-nosed guy from Brooklyn, and he’s savvy.

And I knew when I saw that complaint that was filed in the Southern District of New York, I knew that Flores understood that he was potentially signing the death certificate to his coaching career. You make a move like that at this early in his career – the first thing I thought was, this guy has to believe what he’s doing. He is convicted enough to make this sort of move at this point in his career. So I applauded him. I mean, he’s seen what happened with [Colin] Kaepernick, and I think at the very least, whether we disagree or agree with what he’s done, we can all acknowledge that it was a brave move.

As coach yourself. Did you notice or experience any of what Brian Flores has been bringing up?

Here’s the thing that I noticed. And here’s, I think something that’s important for casual fans to remember. By the time you see breaking news scroll across the bottom of your TV screen. Insiders in the league have already known that information for a while. With coaching hires and hires of GMs, usually you knew who was the front runner, and regardless of how many people were brought into an organization, owners and general managers, they have their favorites. And usually everything’s a formality. So I did see some of this atmosphere of backroom dealing. And I can understand where Flores had just had enough.

I have to ask you about the Rooney Rule. This is that NFL rule that requires teams to interview candidates from minority populations. It was put in place to develop a more diverse pool of coaches. How does the Rooney Rule fit into this conversation?

The Rooney Rule has really been beefed up as many incentives as a team would need, I mean, if you hire a coach of color, you’re going to get compensatory picks in the draft. And you still see that of nine openings, we have two African-American head coaches, Lovie Smith with the Texans, and you’ve got [Mike] McDaniel, who is biracial with the Dolphins, and that’s it. So I’m going to be honest with you and say, really, it comes down to the 32 owners being willing to expand the pool of people who will take over the leadership of their organization.

What more needs to be said when you look at the makeup of coaches in the NFL, in particular head coaches? How should people process what’s happening with the Texans and with the league overall?

I just also want to point people in the direction of guys like Eric Bieniemy, the offensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs, Byron Leftwich, offensive coordinator with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. These are two young guys who have operated at a high level. They have Super Bowl rings. They call plays. And for some reason they’re not getting the nod to become the head coach. Unless there’s going to be a change of heart, I don’t see this getting any better, to be quite honest with you. And I think we should buckle up for a very interesting court case and discovery period with this Flores suit.

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