By Barry Wilner,
The Associated Press News

Mike Tomlin says he did not hire Brian Flores as an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers out of sympathy for the former Miami Dolphins head coach.

Tomlin, who like Flores is African American, did so because Flores is “a good coach.” That Flores had sued the NFL and three teams — the Dolphins, Giants and Broncos — claiming racist hiring practices, did not dissuade the long-time Steelers coach in any way, Tomlin said March 28 at the NFL owners meetings.

A member of the league’s powerful competition committee and one of the most influential coaches in the sport, Tomlin spoke strongly about the lack of minority head coaches in the NFL. He, Houston’s Lovie Smith, Miami’s Mike McDaniel, who is biracial, the Jets’ Robert Saleh and the Commanders’ Ron Rivera are the five minority head coaches among the 32 teams. About 70 percent of the players are Black.

“I haven’t been in any discussions and no, I don’t have a level of confidence that would lead me to believe that things are going to be better,” Tomlin said. ”I’m more of a show-me guy as opposed to a guy that sits around and talks about things.”

“I think that we’ve pecked around the entire discussion and subject and we’ve done a lot of beneficial things,” Tomlin added of adjustments to the Rooney Rule adopted in 2003 to enhance job opportunities for minorities. “But we’ve got to land the plane. We’ve got to hire capable candidates.”

That, in Tomlin’s estimation and actions, includes Flores, whose lawsuit has been a major topic this offseason. Flores was fired by the Dolphins despite helping turn around a floundering franchise in his three seasons as coach, going 19-14 the last two years.

Flores cites a string of text messages with Patriots coach Bill Belichick three days before his scheduled Giants interview for the head coaching position. Those texts led Flores to believe Brian Daboll already had been chosen as the new coach.

Belichick refused to comment on the lawsuit and any role he might have had. Giant’s owner John Mara said Sunday he is not interested in any settlement with Flores and “I think the truth will come out. The allegations are false.”

One topic the AFC coaches generally avoided was the contract the Cleveland Browns gave to Deshaun Watson after acquiring him in a trade with Houston: a record-setting $230 million, fully guaranteed contract. There’s a $1 million base salary in the first season in the event he’s suspended by the NFL under the personal conduct policy.

Watson was not indicted by two Texas grand juries on criminal charges of sexual misconduct, but he’s facing 22 civil claims. Historically, the league has handed out suspensions in such situations.

Smith, taking over for the fired David Culley in Houston, is relieved that the Watson issue — the quarterback didn’t play a down last season but was paid by the Texans — is behind his team.

“Not having Deshaun playing is not good for the league,” Smith said, citing Watson as one of the NFL’s best players. “For him to move on that has to be good.

“We want to be talking about Houston Texans football. Now, we’re able to do that. It is final.”

A former Super Bowl coach is returning to the league. The Indianapolis Colts hired John Fox as a senior defensive assistant. Fox led Carolina and Denver to conference championships before losing in Super Bowls.

“This was a role I really wanted to add,” Colts coach Frank Reich said. Fox will work with new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.

“A great complement to Gus,” Reich said of Fox. “Our goal with John coming in is not for him to bring his system to us but for him to come in and learn our system and contribute some of his experience. How it can fit.”

The NFL awarded the 2024 draft to Detroit on March 28. The city was a finalist for the 2022 event, which will be hosted next month in Las Vegas after the 2020 draft, originally planned for Las Vegas, was held virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We think we really proved to the league we would put on a great show,” said Lions president Rod Wood, “and how important it is to our city and to our fans.”

Help us Continue to tell OUR Story and join the AFRO family as a member – subscribers are now members!  Join here! 

Barry Wilner

AP Pro Football Writer The Associated Press