Long before filing the lawsuit that has only just begun to send shock waves throughout the NFL, Brian Flores was a young coach working his way up the league’s coaching ladder. He was doing it with an impressive résumé of varied skills, moving from a standout playing career at Boston College into a scouting position with the Patriots, then parlaying that into coaching jobs on both sides of the ball.
So by the time he landed here in Minnesota in January, 2018, seated at a round banquet table tucked into the corner of a conference room somewhere beyond the food court at the Mall of America, Flores had more than earned the national attention beginning to come his way. At 37 years old, he was the inside linebackers coach for the Patriots, days from coaching them in a Super Bowl LII meeting with the Eagles. He was rumored to be in line to succeed soon-to-depart colleague Matt Patricia as Bill Belichick’s de facto defensive coordinator, and had even completed a somewhat surprising interview for the open head coaching job in Arizona.
This was when I first met Flores, back in pre-pandemic days when the week leading up to the big game was a smorgasbord of media availability. Having arrived at The Globe only a few months earlier and already enjoying a whirlwind debut of assignments including a Super Bowl run with the Patriots, the Winter Olympics in South Korea, and eventually, a World Series run by the Red Sox, a profile column on Flores wedged its way into my memory even during those heady times.
He was that impressive in answering questions. That poised in front of a microphone. And, as I discovered after stopping at his table every day he was available and doing myriad interviews about him, that well-spoken of by others.
By the time I got down to writing, it was impossible not to agree with a promise from Flores’s former high school coach out of Brooklyn, New York’s Poly Prep, who told me: “He’s destined to be a head coach sooner or later in the NFL. There’s just not too many guys as bright, articulate and purposeful as he is. He’s a diamond. They don’t come around that often.”
Flores would make good on that prediction almost exactly a year later, heading to Miami in the wake of the Patriots’ 13-3 Super Bowl win over the Rams, a gem of a defensive game plan that propelled Flores up the final step of that elusive ladder.
As a Black man in a profession historically and repeatedly exposed for not giving men like him such opportunities, he went to work determined to turn around a flailing franchise. He would guide the Dolphins to a 24-25 record in three seasons, including the first consecutive winning campaigns in almost two decades these past two years, as well as notching a season sweep of Belichick’s Patriots this past season and beating Belichick in four of six meetings.
And then he was fired.
Now, he’s firing back.
In the midst of the NFL playoffs, on the heels of Tom Brady’s retirement, at the start of Black History Month, what Flores did Tuesday is a story big enough and important enough to overshadow them all. Backed by the courage that has defined his life since growing up in the Brownsville projects in Brooklyn, buoyed by the belief that there are fellow Black coaches who will be ready to join his cause, and emboldened by doing what he believes is right regardless of the risk to his own career, Flores filed a lawsuit against the NFL, the Giants, the Dolphins, and the Broncos, alleging discrimination in his interview process and racist hiring practices.
The leader of men is now the leader of a cause, and I can’t think of a better candidate to step into this difficult breach.
“Look, coaching is what I love, it’s a passion of mine, a calling. I’m gifted to do it,” Flores said Wednesday on the ESPN morning show “Get Up,” following similar interviews on “CBS Mornings” and CNN. “The reason why is that I love helping young people reach their potential and become the best version of themselves, on and off the field.”
And yet, after failing to land with the Giants, whom he accuses in the suit of conducting a sham interview with him after already promising the job to Brian Daboll (who was indeed hired to succeed Joe Judge), after continuing to pursue openings with the Texans and Saints, this lawsuit puts it all in jeopardy.
He knows it, and he’s doing it anyway.
“I would love to lead another NFL team,” he said. “But,” he continued, before pausing, his dark eyes contemplating what to say next.
“We need change.
“The hiring practices in the NFL numbers speak for themselves. There’s one Black head coach. The league is filled with 70 percent Black players. I know there are capable coaches in this league to lead teams. I have some on my staff. I know what kind of character and integrity they have. They deserve an opportunity. A real opportunity, and not a Rooney Rule opportunity where a box is checked.
“The National Football League is an example to the world, it really is. People follow the lead of the National Football League — that’s how powerful it is. There’s an opportunity here. We’re at a fork in the road. Things are either going to stay the way they’ve been, or we’re going to move in a direction that will not only help and effect change among the Black and minority coaches in the National Football League. It won’t just be there.”
Flores knows he will be the target of ire; he knows he will hear those questioning his personal motives and suspecting him of seeking revenge. But he will also be the target of praise, appreciation found in the words of players such as Patriots captain Devin McCourty, who tweeted in support, “Flo has always been a special individual [who] has been pivotal in my career and [I] love that I can support him for calling out what we all already know.”
Flo has always been a special individual…has been pivotal in my career and love that I can support him for calling out what we all already know -Dmac https://t.co/kwKefZVg4R— Devin&Jason McCourty (@McCourtyTwins) February 1, 2022
Flores is their voice now, standing up just as he did as a kid in Brooklyn, when his parents immigrated from Honduras to build a better life, when his dad toiled so hard in the Merchant Marines and his mom stayed home to guide her boys with both discipline and love, when he learned what it means to do the right thing.
“I learned a lot from being there. I learned to never back down, because if you backed down there, you’d be backing down every day,” Flores told me at that table in Minneapolis. “I learned how to be tough, and that transcended into something else, that I wasn’t going to back down from anything, academically, football wise, any challenge I was presented with.”
Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.