Updated: Feb 25
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
When Mike Tomlin was hired by the Steelers in 2007, he basically came out of nowhere and "wowed" the Steelers during his interview. Tomlin, 34 at the time, bypassed Ken Whisenhunt, Russ Grimm and Ron Rivera in the process. Tomlin wasn't hired because of the Rooney Rule, either. Which is often incorrectly stated. Rivera, who is Hispanic, interviewed with the Steelers first.
Whisenhunt, Grimm and Rivera had more experience on their resumes, while Tomlin was a defensive coordinator for just one year. The Steelers saw something special in Tomlin, however. Fifteen years later, Tomlin has yet to have a losing season, which is an NFL record for a head coach to start his career.
According to Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Dolphins had a chance to hire Tomlin in 2007, but he was considered "too hip-hop."
"(Tomlin) interviewed with the Dolphins and they came across from the interview thoroughly impressed, but said, 'You know what, we can't go with him because he's a little too hip-hop,'" Kelly said on the "I Am Athlete" podcast that featured Brian Flores. "Cam Cameron got the job, and Cam Cameron was a colossal failure. Cam Cameron had a bad first interview. They interviewed him a second time and said, 'Ok this is the one that we wanted to give the job to. But (they) couldn't give the job to Mike Tomlin, who at the time hadn't landed the Pittsburgh job (yet), because he was quote on quote too "hip-hop."
Kelly said owners want to hire people who look like them and make them feel comfortable. Kelly then pointed to Flores and said, "You know why he was fired? He didn't make Stephen Ross comfortable."
Flores agreed with Kelly. "I mean, that's exactly why. In my opinion." Flores also said race played a factor.
“I think race played a role in my firing,” Flores said on the podcast. “What I mean by that is, there were things I was asked to do. There were conversations that were had. I was made out to be a difficult person to work with. I think my white counterparts wouldn’t have been asked to do the things I was asked to do.”
Ross wasn't the Dolphins' owner in 2007. It was Wayne Huizenga, but Kelly's statement about the Dolphins not hiring Tomlin because he was "too hip-hop" is certainly interesting. Kelly didn't say whether it was Huizenga who made the comment or not. Just that that's what the Dolphins thought of Tomlin.
Despite a class-action lawsuit against the NFL and three teams over alleged racial discrimination in hiring practices, the Steelers hired Flores as their senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach on Saturday. Flores has no plans to abandon the lawsuit even though he has returned to coach in the league.
In an interview on HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” which will air at 10 p.m. on Tuesday, Brian Flores said “it all happened very fast" in regards to being hired by the Steelers.
Flores said he called Mike Tomlin for advice to get back in the coaching ranks, and he ended up accepting a position as the Steelers' senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach just a few days later. It's a role that he's grossly overqualified for, but it's the best thing for him in the time being so he can become a head coach in the NFL again.
“I actually, you know, was callin’ coach — Coach T, really to get some counsel. I was thinking about the next steps for me just from a coaching standpoint," Flores said via Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
According to Josina Anderson, Tomlin hiring Flores was expected. It's what many coaches behind the scenes were privately calling for. Tomlin is one of just three African-American head coaches in the NFL.
“I’m a very capable coach in this league," Flores said when asked by Gumbel whether Tomlin threw him a lifeline. "But I do feel like he saw a situation where there was a very experienced coach who could help his staff, who was also a Black coach in the league."