PALM BEACH, Fla. — When Brian Flores filed a lawsuit against the NFL and three teams alleging racial discrimination in their hiring practices, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin felt it was his duty to stay close to the former Miami Dolphins coach.
“I just didn’t want him to feel like he was on an island,” Tomlin told reporters Sunday from league meetings. “From a coaching fraternity standpoint I owed him that. I was in position to provide that. I think that started our interactions and conversations.”
In quick succession, phone calls of advice morphed into a job offer, and Flores joined Tomlin’s staff Feb. 19 as a senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach.
“Over the course of those discussions, particularly when it became evident he was not going to get a head job, then I think the natural discussion began,” Tomlin said. “It really ran its course rather quickly, to be quite honest with you. Because it doesn’t require a lot of time to come to the realization that you can use a Brian Flores on your staff.”
Flores told HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” he talked to Tomlin on Thursday, Feb. 17, and accepted the job that Friday evening.
“I actually was calling Coach T. to really get some counsel,” Flores told Gumbel. “I was thinking about the next steps for me just from a coaching standpoint. And then that conversation turned into an opportunity there in Pittsburgh.
“… I’m a very capable coach in this league. But I do feel like he saw a situation where there was a very experienced coach who could help his staff, who was also a Black coach in the league.”
Tomlin expressed pride in the Steelers organization Sunday, praising team owner and President Art Rooney II for hiring Flores despite his pending lawsuit against the league.
“To have an opportunity to impact the game in a positive way, to impact society in a positive way, it’s continually an honor to be a part of something that the Rooney family started and led for a long time before my existence here,” Tomlin said.
Prior to his February conversations with Flores, Tomlin, who called himself a “lone-wolf type,” acknowledged he didn’t know the former New England Patriots assistant well. But with Flores’ pedigree and track record, Tomlin felt he would make an important addition to the staff.
“Senior defensive assistant and linebacker coach is his title, but there’s help that he’s going to help us and help me, in particular,” Tomlin said. “I love sharpening my sword on his and gaining a perspective that his experiences provide, that wise counsel.
“We’re talking about a myriad of things. Whether it’s calendar, whether it’s taking care of players, whether it’s the acquisition or evaluation of talent, it’s been fun to have him. His contributions are going to be significant.”
A little more than a month into his tenure, Flores is already having an impact. Free-agent linebacker Myles Jack spoke with Flores after Tomlin sold him on joining the Steelers following his release from the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“We both kind of came to the agreement that we both have something to prove,” Jack said after signing his two-year, $16 million deal. “Him feeling he was in his situation and myself feeling like, getting released, I feel like I got a second chance at life. I’m just super excited.
“I feel like we kind of vibed about that connection. I’m very excited to work with him and just see what I can learn and see how we can collaborate to make this thing go.”