Brian Flores told a Pittsburgh Steelers spokesman this week that he was politely declining interview requests since the questions almost assuredly would focus on his high-profile return to Miami and his unresolved civil suit that involves the Dolphins, his former employer.
Flores apparently has extended that ban to the Steelers locker room as well.
Inside linebacker Myles Jack can attest. Jack calls the 41-year-old Flores, who is in his first year with the Steelers, the “total package” and a “cool person” and someone “you can talk to about stuff outside of football.”
But not just any stuff outside of football. Jack has tried broaching the topic of Flores’ landmark suit that was filed Feb. 1, less than a month after he was fired by the Dolphins and nearly three weeks before he found work with the Steelers.
Flores wouldn’t bite.
“He doesn’t bring it into work,” Jack said. “Even if we try to mess with him and bring it up, he won’t talk about it. He keeps it to the main thing.”
That main thing, of course, is winning football games, which the Steelers will try to do again Sunday night after ending a four-game losing streak a week earlier. The Steelers take a 2-4 record into the game while the Dolphins are 3-3 in their first year without Flores as head coach and are riding a three-game losing streak.
The crux of the Flores lawsuit alleges racial discrimination in the NFL’s hiring practices and specifically targets the Dolphins and two other teams. Flores contends that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross order him to “tank” games early in his three-year tenure to help the team’s draft positioning. He also believes he was unfairly fired after three seasons and a 24-25 record that included the Dolphins winning eight of their final nine games last year.
Now, Flores is on a staff that has one of the NFL’s few minority head coaches in Mike Tomlin and an African-American defensive coordinator in Teryl Austin. While Austin hasn’t joined the lawsuit, he has said he supports what Flores is trying to accomplish.
Still, Austin said Thursday, the suit hasn’t seeped its way into the meeting and coaching rooms at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
“That’s his (thing),” Austin said. “He’s got his deal that he’s working through. When we’re in this building, it’s football. That’s the way it always is.”
Flores also apparently won’t let his return to Miami become a rallying cry for his players.
“He’s been the same, surprisingly,” Jack said. “We’ve been messing with him, but he’s the same even-keeled guy. He’s just trying to beat the Dolphins and get another win.”
In his eight months since joining the Steelers as a senior defensive assistant who works with the team’s linebackers, Flores has crafted a reputation as a no-nonsense coach, someone who is demanding and expects accountability from his players.
That’s hardly surprising considering Flores comes from the Bill Belichick coaching tree. He began as a scouting assistant in 2004, got his first on-field job as a special teams assistant, then coached safeties and linebackers before the Dolphins hired him in 2019.
“He’s just a brilliant mind,” defensive captain Cameron Heyward said.
One of the ways Flores has grabbed the linebackers’ attention is with a system of grades the assigns to each player based on how they performed each week. Flores doesn’t exactly grade on a curve.
“If you’re not Superman, you’re going to get a bad grade,” inside linebacker Devin Bush said.
Bush made the play that kept the Steelers’ 20-18 lead intact against Tampa Bay, reaching around receiver Chris Godwin to knock down Tom Brady’s 2-point conversion pass with 4:38 remaining. On his grade sheet, Bush said he didn’t get a “plus” next to the review of the pass breakup.
“It’s expected,” Bush said.
Earlier in the game, Jack leaped high in the air and got his fingertips on a pass, deflecting it past its target in the end zone for an incompletion.
“He said I didn’t jump high enough on that,” Jack said, smiling, “so I guess I gotta do some more calf raises.”
Jack, who also is in his first year with the Steelers, appreciates the type of instruction that Flores provides, even if he doesn’t always agree with the grades assigned to his play. But that, Jack said, is the beauty of Flores.
“He gives an honest opinion on what he feels about how we played,” Jack said. “He’s always extremely honest. He doesn’t pull back punches. We can have a discussion about anything in there if we don’t agree on something. He’s 100 percent open to us.”
Jack is signed with the Steelers through 2023. He wonders if Flores will be back for a second year, too, or if another team undeterred by the civil suit will give Flores a second chance to become a head coach.
“We tell him all the time, ‘Coach Flores, don’t forget about us when you continue on your endeavors,’” Jack said “Hopefully, he’s here, we’re all here and we’re all here forever.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .
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