Steve Wilks, Ray Horton join Brian Flores' NFL lawsuit

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Steve Wilks, Ray Horton join Brian Flores’ NFL lawsuit
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Former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores dropped a hammer on the NFL in February when he announced that he was suing the NFL for racial discrimination over the hiring process with multiple franchises. While the former head coach did eventually join the Pittsburgh Steelers as a defensive assistant and linebackers coach, his lawsuit remains ongoing.

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We learned in late March that two other NFL coaches would be joining Flores’ lawsuit as co-defendants. Thursday, those coaches were revealed in a report from ESPN as former Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks and longtime NFL assistant Ray Horton. Both the Cardinals and the Tennessee Titans were also added to the lawsuit, which already included the NFL, the Dolphins, the Denver Broncos, the New York Giants, and the Houston Texans.

According to the amended lawsuit, Wilkes claims he was discriminated against as a “bridge coach” and “not given any meaningful chance to succeed” before he was fired following one season with the franchise. Wilkes was fired in 2018 and replaced by current head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who is white. Wilkes went 3-13 in his lone season as head coach while Kinsbury went 5-10-1 in his first season but has remained in charge of the team since.

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“When Coach Flores filed this action, I knew I owed it to myself, and to all Black NFL coaches and aspiring coaches, to stand with him,” Wilks said in a statement released by his lawyers. “This lawsuit has shed further important light on a problem that we all know exists, but that too few are willing to confront. Black coaches and candidates should have exactly the same ability to become employed, and remain employed, as white coaches and candidates. That is not currently the case, and I look forward to working with Coach Flores and Coach Horton to ensure that the aspiration of racial equality in the NFL becomes a reality.”

Wilks is currently the defensive passing game coordinator & secondary coach for the Carolina Panthers.

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Horton, meanwhile, claims that when he was the defensive coordinator for the Titans in 2014-15, he did what lawyers refer to as a “completely sham interview done only to comply with the Rooney Rule and to demonstrate an appearance of equal opportunity and a false willingness to consider a minority candidate for the position.” The Titans instead hired coach Mike Mularkey, who is white.

Per ESPN, Mularkey said in a 2020 episode of a Steelers Realm podcast that the Titans ownership told him before the interview process was over that he already had the job despite the fact that they were still interviewing two minority candidates.

“I’ve always prided myself on doing the right thing in this business and I can’t say that’s true about everybody in this business,” Mularkey said on the podcast. “It’s a very cutthroat business and a lot of guys will tell you that. … I allowed myself at one point when I was in Tennessee to get caught up in something I regret it and I still regret it. But the ownership there, Amy Adams Strunk and her family, came in and told me I was going be the head coach in 2016 before they went through the Rooney Rule. And so, I sat there knowing I was the head coach in ’16 as they went through this fake hiring process. Knowing a lot of the coaches they were interviewing, knowing how much they prepared to go through those interviews, knowing that everything they could do and they had no chance of getting that job. Actually, the GM, Jon Robinson, he was in on the interview with me. He had no idea why he was interviewing me — that I had the job already. I regret. I’m sorry I did that. It was not the way to go about it.”

If lawyers were looking for a smoking gun to give their lawsuit some legitimacy beyond what their clients are saying, this is probably it.

ESPN reached out to Mularkey after discovering the interview. “I believe you have the truth and what you need,” Mularkey told ESPN, via email. “Prefer not to comment any further.”

The Titans said in a statement to ESPN that they disputed Mularkey’s recollection of what happened but did not make any executives available for comment.

“I am proud to stand with Coach Flores and Coach Wilks in combatting the systemic discrimination which has plagued the NFL for far too long,” Horton said in a statement released by his lawyers. “When I learned from Coach Mularkey’s statements that my head coach interview with the Titans was a sham, I was devastated and humiliated. By joining this case, I am hoping to turn that experience into a positive and make lasting change and create true equal opportunity in the future.”

Horton last coached as the defensive backs coach for Washington in 2019 but has since left the NFL.

Lots more to come on this front in the days ahead as all sides will continue to make their case in the court of public opinion before it actually reaches a legal court.

[ESPN]

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