Former Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks and former NFL assistant coach Ray Horton, who are both Black, have joined a federal class-action lawsuit filed earlier this year by former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores, alleging racial discrimination in hiring practices by the NFL and its member teams.
The amended complaint, filed Thursday in the Southern District of New York, includes new allegations of discrimination against the Cardinals, Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans. The complaint also outlined eight proposals for change within the NFL “to create a future with equal opportunity for Black candidates,” including the promotion of Black ownership, increased transparency in the hiring and termination process, increased visibility for Black assistant coaches and an increased pipeline for black coaches.
An NFL spokesperson declined to comment on the amended complaint.
In the amended complaint, Horton alleges the Titans conducted a “sham interview” with him for their head coach vacancy in January 2016 when the team had already decided to hire Mike Mularkey. At the time, Horton was the Titans defensive coordinator and Mularkey, who is white, was the team’s interim head coach.
Horton alleges that his interview for the team’s head-coaching position was conducted so the Titans could make it appear that they had complied with the Rooney Rule and had “given an equal opportunity to Black candidates” before announcing the “pre-made decision to hire [Mularkey] as head coach.”
The complaint goes on to cite a 2020 podcast interview in which Mularkey said he regretted the process that led to him becoming the Titans head coach.
“I allowed myself at one point when I was in Tennessee to get caught up in something I regret, and I still regret it, but the ownership there, Amy Adams Strunk and her family, came in and told me I was going to be the head coach in 2016, before they went through the Rooney Rule,” Mularkey said. “And so I sat there knowing I was the head coach in 2016, as they went through this fake hiring process knowing, knowing a lot of the coaches that they were interviewing, knowing how much they prepared to go through those interviews, knowing that everything they could do and they had no chance to get that job.”
Horton said in a statement Thursday he was “devastated and humiliatedWhen he learned that his interview with the Titans was a sham.
“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,” he said.
In a statement on Thursday, the Titans defended their search process for a new head coach in 2016.
“Our 2016 head coach search was a thoughtful and competitive process fully in keeping with NFL guidelines and our own organizational values,” the team said. “We conducted detailed, in-person interviews with four talented individuals, two of whom were diverse candidates. No decision was made, and no decision was communicated, prior to the completion of all interviews. While we are proud of Our Commitment to Diversity, we are dedicated to continued growth as an organization to foster diversity and inclusion in our workplace and community.”
Flores’ original lawsuit included an allegation against Dolphins owner Stephen Ross that Ross told Flores he would pay him $100,000 for every loss during the coach’s first season in 2019 in an effort to obtain the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Ross has denied the allegations.
According to Thursday’s court filing, Flores, now the Pittsburgh Steelers senior defensive assistant/linebackers coach, allegedly sent a memo on Dec. 4, 2019, to Dolphins GM Chris Grier, CEO Tom Garfinkel and senior executive Brandon Shore on Ross’ desire to lose games and the “toxicity that existed within the organization.”
NFL.com has reached out to the Dolphins for comment.
The amended complaint also included an allegation of “retaliation” by the Texans against Flores, as a result of his initial lawsuit. Flores alleges that he was not hired to replace David Culley, who is Black and was fired after he went 4-13 in his lone season as the Texans’ head coach, because Flores was suing the league and “speaking publicly about the systemic racism in the NFL.”
The complaint cites a report from Feb. 6 that Flores and former NFL quarterback Josh McCown were the apparent finalists for the Houston head-coaching job, and alleges that the team was “concerned” that if it hired McCown, who is white, “it would bolster Flores’ allegations of systemic discrimination against Black candidates.” On Feb. 8, the Texans hired Lovie Smith, who is Black and served as the team’s defensive coordinator under Culley, to be their next head coach.
“The search for our head coach was very thorough and inclusive,” the Texans said in a statement on Thursday. “Due to his previous success as a coach in the NFL, Brian Flores was among the first candidates we held a formal interview with for the position and he remained a candidate until the very end. We have a lot of respect for Brian both personally and professionally; he has been a competitive coach in the league for a number of years and his resume speaks for itself. manager Nick Caserio. In the end, we made the decision to hire Lovie Smith as our head coach and we believe he is the best fit for our team moving forward. It was a very fluid process that allowed us to spend time with a number of quality candidates. We are proud of our decision and will vigorously defend our process.”
In joining the lawsuit, Steve Wilks alleges he was hired as a “bridge coach” by the Arizona Cardinals in 2018 and was “unfairly and discriminatorily fired” after one season with the club. Wilks alleges differences in how he was treated in comparison to GM Steve Keim, who is white. Wilks describes being at a “severe disadvantage” in his first season as a head coach due to Keim’s five-week suspension resulting from a DUI judgment, which caused Keim to miss the Cardinals’ training camp and much of their preseason. Wilks alleges that while Keim was suspended, the GM participated in contract negotiations for running back David Johnson. In addition, Wilks said in the complaint that he preferred the Cardinals trade up to select Josh Allen in the 2018 NFL Draft, while Keim preferred a trade to select Josh Rosen. Allen has made one Pro Bowl so far in his career and has emerged as one of the league’s better quarterbacks, while Rosen lasted one season in Arizona.
Wilks drew a distinction to how he was fired after going 3-13 in his one season in Arizona, while Keim received a four-year contract extension one month later. He also noted the Cardinals’ current coach, Kliff Kingsbury, who is white, has had “a much longer leash” to succeed after going 5-10-1 in his first season.
“The decisions we made after the 2018 season were very difficult ones,” the Cardinals said in a statement on Thursday. “But as we said at the time, they were entirely driven by what was in the best interests of our organization and necessary for team improvement. We are confident that the facts reflect that and demonstrate that these allegations are untrue.”
Wilks, currently a defensive assistant coach with the Carolina Panthers, said in a statement on Thursday he hoped the lawsuit would help bring racial equality to the league.
“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,” he said. “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. “