Mike Tomlin’s appearance on the Pivot Podcast with former NFL players Ryan Clark, Fred Taylor and Channing Crowder that aired Tuesday afternoon brought forth several revelations. But one part of the conversation detailed more of Tomlin’s thoughts about his new defensive assistant coach Brian Flores and how the Steelers signed him.
Flores filed a lawsuit that has since been joined by multiple coaches against the NFL for discrimination against minorities in head coach hiring decisions. We know from previous comments at owners meetings that Tomlin didn’t want Flores to fight for change in the NFL alone.
But on the Pivot Podcast, Tomlin was the most open he’d been about the Steelers’ process to hire Flores and the thought process involved.
“When the process started happening for him,” Tomlin explained from his home own home where the podcast episode was filmed. “He filed a lawsuit, I shot him a text, ‘you’re not alone. Holler at me if I could be of some service to you.’ I didn’t know Flo like that. I really didn’t meet him until he became head coach of the Dolphins. I told him ‘hey, congratulations man and all the best for what it is that you’re doing. I’m rooting for you except when you’re standing on the other sideline.'”
Tomlin made it clear throughout the podcast that his intentions of reaching out to Flores were purely about an effort to aid Flores in his fight against the NFL. Even though both coaches knew and respected one another, there wasn’t a deep personal experience between them that allowed for any instant open communication about all the details of the progress.
“Every now and then we would talk on league-related matters,” Tomlin continued. “But we had no personal relationship. When he filed that lawsuit, I imagined people were moving away from this dude. I wanted him to know I wasn’t moving away from him. I’m not moving to him because I didn’t know him like that. So I just shot him a text. He shot me a text in response and was thankful for it and said we would connect.”
Tomlin then explained his next line of communication was with Mike Locksley of the Minority Coaching Coalition to make sure the organization Tomlin helped Locksley found would make their resources open to Flores. That would have been the end of their talks, but Flores came back to Tomlin for a different kind of advice.
“When the process started running its course, he reached out to me again and was talking coach-related things,” Tomlin recalled. “I think the Giants opportunity had fallen through for him and there may have been one job or two open for him left, but he didn’t feel have a good feeling that he was in play for them. He started asking me advice.”
“He told me he wanted to coach,” Tomlin continued. “I told him, ‘hey man, before this thing goes any further, if you want to coach and there are no head coaching opportunities for you, you don’t need to make another phone call. I didn’t initiate this relationship for that and that wasn’t the spirit with which I reached out to you, but if that’s where this is headed, what are we talking about?’ I said, ‘hey man, give me 24 hours or whatever and let me kick this around a little bit.'”
It didn’t take 24 hours for Tomlin to get back to Flores about an opportunity.
“So I go down the hall to Art Rooney’s office,” Tomlin said. “I said, ‘Art, I’ve been talking to Brian Flores about a lot of things but now it’s pushed to this dude wants to coach football and I want to hire him.’ He was like, ‘great!’ That was the extent of the conversation. I told Flo’ to give me 24 hours but I probably called him back 45 minutes later because I didn’t want to miss.”
Tomlin’s details of how Flores and his relationship came about matched with the descriptions offered by Flores when he was hired in February. But Tomlin also added his reasoning why he didn’t reach out about hiring Flores right away, indicating it was about his respect for the former head coach.
“At the early stages of our interaction, I wouldn’t have even thought of broaching the subject because I thought that would’ve been disrespectful of his talents,” Tomlin said. “Because I thought this dude was head coach capable, there were head jobs available, and so I won’t have conversations with this dude about being anything other than that.”
“When the opportunities dried up is when the conversation changed,” Tomlin continued. “That was my general attitude, like, ‘I’m not going to let this dude sit out.’ It didn’t start with me running to him about an assistant job, I just thought that was disrespectful to his talents with head coaching opportunities that were available. That’s how it had to come together.”
But make no mistake, once Tomlin got past any concern he might offend Flores with an offer of an assistant position, he was quick to finalize the process. Not only was Tomlin adamant that Flores would be a boost to the Steelers, but he also wanted to help the coach who put his name on a lawsuit to fight for other minority coaches that Tomlin doesn’t see get enough opportunities.
“Most of the time in the hiring cycle I’m thinking about coaches I respect, know of and deserve an opportunity,” Tomlin said. “When I hear my name, I’m not thinking about the reference to me. I’m thinking about the men they need to be talking about. They’re capable dudes whose resumes speak for themselves, but for whatever reason, keep coming up short from getting the opportunity to show they’re one of the best 32 in the world at what they do because that’s what we’re talking about right? You talk about head (coaching) football jobs in the NFL, you’re talking about the best 32 in the world at what you do.”
One coach in particular who Tomlin wanted to speak up for was Raheem Morris, who coached with Tomlin on the Buccaneers’ staff in 2002. Morris started coaching in the NFL 20 years ago but has only had brief opportunities as a head coach for the Buccaneers from 2009-2011, and as interim head coach for the Falcons in 2020.
“I’ve been in coaching all my adult life,” Tomlin said, who got his first NFL coaching job at 28 years old. “I’ve been in the National Football League for over 20 years. I know the coaches, and I know some of the guys being denied are in the top 32. Raheem Morris is the best coach I know, and ever been around. that doesn’t have a head job. I don’t have a problem saying it, I’ve never had a problem saying it, I’ve been saying it. During those times when they talk about me and relate the Rooney rule and things I’ve done, I think about those guys and whether or not they’ll get an opportunity to prove what I know about them.”
Tomlin’s process to bring Flores to the Steelers is layered in both admiration for his coaching ability and for his stand against discrimination. But it appears clear that Tomlin kept those admirations separate in his reasoning to communicate with Flores. That implies a more pure nature in their communication; one that matches what we understood from Flores’ description of their talks, and provides more insight into the influence Tomlin has in the NFL.