As the NFL grapples with the fallout from former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores’ lawsuit that the league “remains rife with racism” and is uncommitted to its goal of coaching diversity, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday that he was “proud” of the team’s hiring practices.
Harbaugh was asked to comment on Flores’ lawsuit, filed Tuesday in federal court, and the Ravens’ staffing decisions at the introductory news conference for new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald. Macdonald, who is white, was hired over several Black candidates, including Ravens defensive line coach and run game coordinator Anthony Weaver and pass defense coordinator Chris Hewitt.
“I really haven’t prepared any thoughts on that other than to say that I’ve been a part of the hiring practices here,” Harbaugh said. “I learned the way it’s been done when I first got here, way back in 2008, because [owner] Steve Bisciotti, to me, that’s what he does. He made his fortune hiring people. (Bisciotti founded Aerotek, a staffing and recruiting company.)
“I think nobody’s more thorough and covers every base more than Steve Bisciotti, and I feel like that’s the way this organization is grounded — on his philosophies and how he does it. And I think we’ve been great at it. I think we’ve been very thorough, very diverse, very fair, very open in what we’ve done, and I’m kind of proud of that.”
Under Harbaugh, who was hired in 2008, six of the Ravens’ seven offensive coordinators and all six of the team’s defensive coordinators have been white. Jim Caldwell, who is Black and served as offensive coordinator for part of the 2012 season and all of the 2013 season, is the one nonwhite hire. Seven of Harbaugh’s 16 assistant coaches and quality-control coaches are Black.
Jerry Rosburg, who is white, served as Harbaugh’s special teams coordinator from 2008 until his retirement after the 2018 season, when Chris Horton, who is Black, took over.
In Flores’ lawsuit, he sought class-action status and unspecified damages from the NFL, the Dolphins, the Denver Broncos and the New York Giants, along with unidentified individuals.
Flores, 40, was fired last month by Miami after leading the Dolphins to a 24-25 record over three years. They went 9-8 in their second straight winning season but failed to make the playoffs during his tenure.
In a statement released by the lawyers representing him, Flores said: “God has gifted me with a special talent to coach the game of football, but the need for change is bigger than my personal goals.”
“In making the decision to file the class action complaint today, I understand that I may be risking coaching the game that I love and that has done so much for my family and me. My sincere hope is that by standing up against systemic racism in the NFL, others will join me to ensure that positive change is made for generations to come,” he said.
In a statement, the NFL said it will defend “against these claims, which are without merit.”
It added: “The NFL and our clubs are deeply committed to ensuring equitable employment practices and continue to make progress in providing equitable opportunities throughout our organizations. Diversity is core to everything we do, and there are few issues on which our clubs and our internal leadership team spend more time.”
The lawsuit alleges that the league has discriminated against Flores and other Black coaches for racial reasons, denying them positions as head coaches, offensive and defensive coordinators and quarterbacks coaches, as well as general managers.
According to the lawsuit, Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross told Flores he would pay him $100,000 for every loss during the coach’s first season because he wanted the club to “tank” so it could get the draft’s top pick.
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The lawsuit alleged that Ross then pressured Flores to recruit a prominent quarterback in violation of the league’s tampering rules. When Flores refused, he was cast as the “angry Black man” who is difficult to work with and was derided until he was fired, the suit said.
The Dolphins issued a statement, saying: “We vehemently deny any allegations of racial discrimination and are proud of the diversity and inclusion throughout our organization. The implication that we acted in a manner inconsistent with the integrity of the game is incorrect. We will be withholding further comment on the lawsuit at this time.”
The lawsuit said the firing of Flores was typical for Black coaches who are not given the latitude other coaches receive to succeed. It noted that Flores led the Dolphins to back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2003.
Last week, the Giants disclosed to third parties that they had decided to hire Brian Daboll as their new coach even when they had not yet had their scheduled meeting with Flores, the lawsuit said.
“Mr. Flores was deceptively led to believe he actually had a chance at this job,” the lawsuit said, adding that he had to endure a dinner with the Giants’ new general manager knowing that the team had already selected Daboll.
The lawsuit also cited a message Flores received three days before his scheduled Giants interview from New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, which at first told Flores he’d heard that Flores was “their guy.” But the lawsuit said Belichick apologized and corrected himself, saying he’d misread the text and now realized Daboll was chosen.
Associated Press contributed to this report.