DENVER — Former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores filed a discrimination class-action lawsuit on Tuesday, suing three teams, including the Broncos, for alleged racist hiring practices and injustices in the NFL. The Broncos are vehemently disputing the claims made in the lawsuit and provided a detailed breakdown of the team's meeting with Flores in 2019.
Flores alleges in the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, that teams conducted "sham" interviews with him only to satisfy the league's Rooney Rule, which legislates that minority candidates must be considered for coaching vacancies.
Flores emerged as a candidate for the Broncos job after Vance Joseph, a Black coach, was fired. However, Flores said the interview revealed that he was not a serious contender, alleging in the suit that CEO Joe Ellis and team president John Elway arrived tardy and hungover.
"Broncos’ then-General Manager, John Elway, President and Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Ellis, and others, showed up an hour late to the interview. They looked completely disheveled, and it was obvious that they had drinking heavily the night before," Flores said. "It was clear from the substance of the interview that Mr. Flores was interviewed only because of the Rooney Rule, and that the Broncos never had any intention to consider him as a legitimate candidate for the job. Shortly thereafter, Vic Fangio, a White man, was hired to be the Head Coach of the Broncos."
When the search was happening in real time, the Broncos advanced the notion that Flores was a serious candidate and stressed he was impressive in his interview.
The Broncos said in a statement that Flores’ allegations regarding the Broncos “are blatantly false.” The team also said its process was “thorough and fair.” Read the full statement below:
“Our interview with Mr. Flores regarding our head coaching position began promptly at the scheduled time of 7:30 a.m. on Jan. 5, 2019, in a Providence, R.I., hotel. There were five Broncos executives present for the interview, which lasted approximately three-and-a-half hours—the fully allotted time—and concluded shortly before 11 a.m.
“Pages of detailed notes, analysis and evaluations from our interview demonstrate the depth of our conversation and sincere interest in Mr. Flores as a head coaching candidate.
“Our process was thorough and fair to determine the most qualified candidate for our head coaching position. The Broncos will vigorously defend the integrity and values of our organization—and its employees—from such baseless and disparaging claims.”
Ellis and Elway were not part of the search committee when general manager George Paton hired Nathaniel Hackett last week, though they were permitted to listen in via Zoom at times.
Ellis and Elway will soon no longer be with the Broncos as Elway's contract is expiring and Ellis will retire after helping with the ownership transition.
The Broncos also provided a transcript of Flores’ talk with Denver media ahead of the Dolphins-Broncos game in November 2020 in which he talked about his interview with the Broncos.
“It was great, for me—doing my own background work and learning more about the Denver Broncos and their history, the Bowlen family and the great history that they have there as an organization,” the transcript says. “I was excited to interview with them. I thought it went well. It was great to meet the executives there and spend some time with them. I think Vic is a great coach. They got the right coach and the right people in place. It’s a talented team, that’s for sure. It was a good experience for me personally.”
The Broncos won five division titles and a Super Bowl with Elway in charge as an executive, but his final five seasons were marked by poor play and dysfunction. The team posted four straight losing records and missed the playoffs every year during this stretch — both streaks were extended this past season. The Broncos used 10 starting quarterbacks and were forced to rely on a running back and practice squad receiver at QB against the Saints because of violations of COVID-19 protocols.
Flores views his lawsuit as a way to "effectuate real change is through the Courts, where the NFL’s conduct can be judged by a jury of Mr. Flores’ peers. A judgment that is long overdue." Despite a 24-25 record and finishing this season with eight wins in his final nine games, Flores was fired by the Dolphins with claims he created a toxic work environment.
Flores was viewed as top candidate for several of the nine vacancies. He did not land the New York Giants position, and text messages from Patriots coach Bill Belichick revealed in the complaint showed him congratulating Flores for getting hired when he had yet to interview. The Giants chose Brian Daboll, like Flores, a former Patriots assistant.
"Sorry -- I f---ed this up. I double checked and misread the text. I think they are naming Brian Daboll. I'm sorry about that," Belichick said.
The Giants responded to Flores' claims, releasing a statement on Tuesday.
"We are pleased and confident with the process that resulted in the hiring of Brian Daboll," the Giants said. "We interviewed an impressive and diverse group of candidates. The fact of the matter is, Brian Flores was in the conversation to be our head coach until the eleventh hour. Ultimately, we hired the individual we felt was most qualified to be our next head coach."
Flores also alleged that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered $100,000 for every game lost in 2019 to help improve the Dolphins' draft position.
In a statement Tuesday afternoon, the NFL said Flores' claims were "without merit."
"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," the league said in a statement. "Diversity is core to everything we do, and there are few issues on which our clubs and our internal leadership team spend more time. We will defend against these claims, which are without merit."
There is only one Black head coach in the NFL — Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin — in a league where roughly 70 percent of the players are black.
"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," Flores said in a statement released by the law firm representing him. "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.''