PITTSBURGH -- Days after former Dolphins head coach Brian Flores filed a potential class-action lawsuit against the NFL and three teams this week alleging discrimination in his interviews and his firing in Miami, Steelers owner and president Art Rooney II acknowledged that the league still has work to do in hiring minority candidates for head-coaching positions.
But he added that the NFL has made progress in hiring minority candidates in other team positions.
"While I acknowledge that we have not seen progress in the ranks of Head Coaches, we have seen marked improvement in the hiring of women and minorities in other key leadership roles such as Coordinator positions, General Manager positions, and front office positions both in and out of football operations," Rooney II said in a statement. "I believe this progress has been made as a result of the implementation of many of the enhanced policies that were recently adopted."
In the 2021 hiring cycle, three of seven general managers hired were minorities, along with two assistant general managers.
Three of 14 open offensive coordinator positions were filled by minority candidates, as were six of 14 open defensive coordinator positions and four of 10 open special teams coordinator positions. In 2020, no minority candidates were hired for vacant offensive or special teams coordinator positions.
Two of the Steelers' senior officials are minorities, including head coach Mike Tomlin, the only current NFL Black head coach, and vice president of football operations and business administration Omar Khan, who is of Hispanic descent. Khan recently interviewed for the Steelers' soon-to-be vacant general manager position, along with pro scouting coordinator Brandon Hunt, who is Black.
The Steelers currently have a vacancy at defensive coordinator, and senior defensive assistant Teryl Austin is likely a frontrunner for the job. Austin is no stranger to the frustrating hiring practices around the league.
In 2017, Austin was one of two minority candidates interviewed for the Lions' head coaching position after Jim Caldwell's firing. Matt Patricia was eventually hired over Austin, who was the Lions' defensive coordinator from 2014-17, and other candidates. At the time, Eric Metz, Austin's agent, said the interview was a "sham."
"I said the Lions interview was a 'sham' interview years ago," Metz said in a message to ESPN. "I guess it's being brought up again because of the Flores lawsuit. I'm not saying 'racism' as much as the Rooney Rule, though well intentioned, is not working in its current form. Amendments need to be made. Perhaps giving a team hiring a minority HC an extra first round pick. Regardless, it's time for change."
He added, "The original Rooney Rule did give guys interview experience but when you get several interviews and no job they use the 'Well five other clubs didn't hire him for a reason BS.' A lot has changed since 2003, and it's time to update the Rooney Rule with the times."
The Rooney Rule's enhanced policies, which were adopted in October, include a requirement for each team to interview at least two external minority candidates for a vacant head coach, general manager or coordinator job. Clubs must also conduct an in-person interview with at least one external minority candidate for any general manager or head coach position.
"Over the past several years, our Diversity Committee has recommended, and Ownership has adopted, a number of enhancements to the Rooney Rule as well as new policies designed to ensure that women and minorities are receiving full and fair consideration for coaching and front office positions," Rooney II said of the changes to the rule named after his father, former Steelers owner and executive Dan Rooney.
"... The Commissioner and League Executives, as well as the Diversity Committee, remain committed to working with all clubs, the Fritz Pollard Alliance, and others in making these efforts as effective as possible and building upon them to promote the desired impacts on hiring decisions in the League at all levels, including Head Coach positions."
In his lawsuit, Flores accused the Broncos and Giants of sham interviews. He included text messages from Patriots head coach Bill Belichick that suggested the Giants were already set on hiring Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll three days before Flores' interview for the vacant head coach position.
"Those text messages confirmed what a lot of us minority coaches already feel," Flores said on ESPN's Get Up earlier this week. "That we're going into these interviews and they're shams."
He also accused Broncos officials of not taking his candidacy for their head coach position seriously in 2019, saying they arrived late for his interview and had been "drinking heavily the night before."
"We didn't have to file a lawsuit for the world to know there's an issue," Flores said. "We need change. That was the No. 1 reason. I know there's sacrifice, there's risk to that, but at the end of the day, we need change. I know many capable Black coaches who, I know, when given an opportunity, will do a great job during their interview.
"This isn't about me. It's bigger than football. This is about equal opportunity for qualified Black candidates -- not just in football but everywhere, in all industries."