Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin makes a statement with Brian Flores hire

RON COOK
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
FILE - Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores smiles on the sidelines during an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers, on Nov. 28, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. The Pittsburgh Steelers hired the former Miami Dolphins coach on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, to serve as a senior defensive assistant. The hiring comes less than three weeks after Flores sued the NFL and three teams over alleged racist hiring practices following his dismissal by Miami in January.  (AP Photo/Doug Murray, File)

Almost a year ago to the day, Mike Tomlin spoke to me about the dearth of Black head coaches in the NFL. It is the most recent time he has talked about what is a very sore subject for him.

"I don't have an answer for you as to how to make it better," Tomlin said. "The optimist in me says things will get better, but there's been no evidence in the recent cycles to back that up."

I asked Tomlin if he thought maybe he could do more to help the situation. He had not had a Black coordinator on his staff in his first 14 seasons with the Steelers. He had just interviewed Black coaches Hue Jackson and Pep Hamilton for his offensive coordinator's job but ended up promoting quarterbacks coach Matt Canada.

"I always do what is best for our organization," Tomlin said. "I believe in hiring from within in most cases ...

"I'm highly sensitive to it, but I don't regret [not having a Black coordinator]. I've had some good [Black] coaches leave for other jobs. Ray Horton. Scottie Montgomery went back to college. Kirby Wilson was hurt in that house fire."

I thought about that conversion Saturday after Tomlin hired Brian Flores as a senior defensive assistant/linebackers coach, a move that was felt in every corner of the NFL. The hiring came just nine days after Tomlin promoted Teryl Austin to be his defensive coordinator.

Flores and Austin are Black.

Stepping up in two different ways: Two immediate thoughts:

Tomlin stepped up in a big way to help the cause of Black coaches. He also did what was best for the Steelers.

The Steelers have a much better defensive coaching staff today than they did two days ago.

If there was going to be one team to hire Brian Flores it would be the team that helped implement the Rooney Rule.

Good on you Pittsburgh Steelers.

It took some guts for Tomlin to hire Flores, who, after being fired as head coach by the Miami Dolphins Jan. 10, sued the NFL and three teams for racial discrimination. He also accused Dolphins owner Stephen Ross of offering him $100,000 for every loss in 2019 so the team could get a higher pick in the 2020 draft.

Can you say tanking?

At the time of the class-action lawsuit, Flores acknowledged he might not coach again in the NFL despite being just 40 — he will be 41 on Thursday — and leading the Dolphins to their first back-to-back winning seasons since 2003. "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," he said in a statement released by his law firm. "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."

Not surprising Steelers were the team to hire Flores: It was easy to imagine the NFL blackballing Flores just as it did San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick a few years earlier after Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem to peacefully protest police brutality and racial injustice.

But Flores wasn't out of work long. It's not surprising Tomlin and the Steelers were the coach and team to hire him. This isn't the first time Tomlin has made a controversial hire. He brought in quarterback Michael Vick in August 2015, after Steelers backup Bruce Gradkowski was injured in an exhibition game. Vick, a polarizing figure to say the least, had spent nearly two years in prison for his role in a dog-fighting ring. He led the Steelers to a Monday night win in San Diego later that season when Ben Roethlisberger was out with a knee injury.

"I always do what is best for our organization."

Flores, Austin are good coaches: Flores is a good coach. Before being hired by the Dolphins, he spent 11 seasons with the New England Patriots, learning defense from the best in the business, Bill Belichick.

Austin also is a good coach. He had coordinator experience with Detroit and Cincinnati before Tomlin hired him in 2019 as a senior defensive assistant/secondary coach. His defensive backs have talked glowingly about him, notably Minkah Fitzpatrick.

It should be pointed out that Flores and Fitzpatrick did not have an especially good relationship when the two were together with the Dolphins. Fitzpatrick thought the team was misusing him and wanted out of Miami. The Steelers got him out in September 2019, by trading their No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft to the Dolphins.

Clearly, Tomlin doesn't think any past acrimony between Flores and Fitzpatrick will be a problem with the Steelers.

I don't, either.

Tomlin must let Austin, Flores do their thing: I'm more concerned that Tomlin will allow Flores and Austin to fully do their thing with the Steelers' defense. Tomlin had taken over calling the defensive signals from recently retired coordinator Keith Butler. The results were hardly impressive.

This past season, the Steelers had the worst run defense in the NFL. They gave up 41 points to the Los Angeles Chargers, 41 to Cincinnati, 36 to Minnesota, 36 to Kansas City and 42 to Kansas City in a playoff loss. Even worse, the Steelers haven't won a postseason game in five years. They are 0-4 in their past four playoff games, allowing the 42 points to Kansas City, 48 to Cleveland, 45 to Jacksonville and 36 to New England.

Austin could do better.

Flores definitely will help.

It's been a really good month for the Steelers defense.