Brian Flores, Chris Grier and the need to succeed in Miami
NFL’s only minority GM-head coach duo is well aware of the situation
DAVIE, Fla. — The only minority to become an NFL head coach during this season’s hiring cycle was introduced Monday by the league’s only African-American general manager.
Let that sink in.
During a downright disturbing year for diversity in the NFL, the Miami Dolphins hired former New England Patriots defensive playcaller Brian Flores, the hand-picked choice of general manager Chris Grier. Flores, who helped shut down the Los Angeles Rams during the Super Bowl, becomes the franchise’s first head coach of color. And now that longtime Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has stepped down in a long-planned organizational transition, Grier, who will enter his first offseason with total control of Miami’s football operations, is the league’s lone black personnel boss.
And now the Dolphins, as well as coaches and executives of color around the league, will hope this works.
During these turbulent times regarding matters of race in the NFL, many minority assistant coaches and officials said the significance of the Grier-Flores union cannot be underestimated.
Grier and Flores are regarded highly by their peers. They’ve proved they have the chops for the positions they occupy. They’re also aware of the importance of their new partnership.
“I don’t view it as pressure,” Grier told The Undefeated. “But I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t feel like I want to be successful, not only for the Miami Dolphins but to help [Dolphins owner Stephen Ross] for everything he’s done for Brian and myself to have these opportunities. And I want to help other guys have these opportunities.”
When it comes to minority representation at the highest levels of team management, there’s definitely plenty of room for improvement.
Of the eight jobs open during this cycle, seven went to white coaches. Next season, the league will have only four head coaches of color: Flores, Ron Rivera of the Carolina Panthers, Anthony Lynn of the Los Angeles Chargers and Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers. When the 2018 season kicked off, the NFL had eight head coaches of color, matching 2011 and 2017 as the most the league has had in any season.
The view from the front office is equally bleak. At the conclusion of the 2016 season, the NFL had seven black general managers. Now, Grier is the only one to run his own shop.
The league’s only minority GM-head coach duo (in 2004, the Arizona Cardinals became the first NFL team to have two African-Americans occupy those roles at the same time in Rod Graves and Dennis Green) will be scrutinized. That’s a given. In addition, the Dolphins are expected to hire former Colts and Lions head coach Jim Caldwell as assistant head coach.
Flores, in particular, will be under the microscope in his first year as a minority head coach because, “unfortunately, we still live in an age where he’s being judged like that,” Grier said.
“But everything Brian has gotten he has completely earned,” Grier continued. “I don’t think he’ll put any undue pressure on himself. At the end of the day, he’s a really good football coach. Brian is very methodical in his approach. He’s very organized. He’s going to do a great job. The significance of the situation … he’s aware of it. And I know a lot of people are very happy for him and rooting for him.”
How Flores fares with the Dolphins could have a big effect on whether doors open next year for other minority assistant coaches. The lack of upward movement for them in this cycle prompted commissioner Roger Goodell to move to strengthen the Rooney Rule.
In place since 2003 for head coaches and expanded in 2009 to include general manager jobs and equivalent front-office positions, the Rooney Rule — named after former Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, the onetime head of the league’s diversity committee — mandates that an NFL team interview at least one minority candidate for these jobs.
Under the revised Rooney Rule, owners seeking to interview candidates from outside their organizations will be able to pick from the NFL’s career development advisory panel list as well as a list of black assistant coaches who should be considered to move up in each hiring cycle that is compiled by the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which helps oversee compliance of the rule.
Flores said he benefited from the alliance and plans to pay it forward.
“As the only minority, it’s important to be an example for other minority coaches, not just in this field,” Flores said. “If I can be an example of a minority in any field, that’s something I take seriously. I’m going to try and do my best to make sure that other minorities get the same opportunity.”
Although Grier commends Goodell and Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, for their commitment to strengthening the rule, he acknowledged more work is needed.
“The league is trying to address some of the issues with it. I do give them credit. Roger and especially Troy … they’re trying their best to do it,” Grier said. “But you have owners who are only going to go with certain people.
“Hopefully, we’ll get more people like [Ross] who will look at everyone, and not just a small segment who they think are qualified. So I would say that the rule has brought more people to the table in terms of interviewing and awareness. It has put more people in front of owners. But I still think we can do better.”
In Miami, Grier and Flores have a lot of heavy lifting to do. The Dolphins have earned only two playoff berths in the past 17 seasons. The 1973 team was the last to win a Super Bowl. And there isn’t an elite quarterback on the roster.
“There’ll be growing pains,” Grier said. “But in the long run, it’ll work out fine.”
Throughout the NFL, potential candidates of color for the best jobs are counting on it.