Brain Flores was the coach of the Miami Dolphins until Miami fired him at the end of the NFL’s regular season. Flores is black.
His firing came as a surprise. Flores’ record with the Dolphins was 24-25, but that’s misleading. Miami went 5-11 in Flores’ first season and 19-14 in his next two. The Dolphins have had only three winning seasons since 2008. Two of them were under Flores.
The firing of Flores raised suspicions of racism in some quarters. But it’s extremely unlikely that the dismissal was race based.
The Dolphins’ owner said that Flores clashed the team’s general manager, Chris Grier. Ordinarily, this rationale for the discharge might sound like a pretext for discriminating against a Black. But here’s the thing: Grier is also black.
Having hired both a black GM and a black head coach, the notion that the Dolphins discriminate on the basis of race in top-level jobs is laughable.
What about the NFL as a whole? With the firing of Flores and David Culley at Houston (he went 4-13 in his only season there), the league is down to only one black head coach, Mike Tomlin of Pittsburgh.
However, there are numerous head coach vacancies. Flores is likely to get one of them. When the dust settles, the league may be back to three black head coaches. Three seems like the right over-under, if you’re a betting man.
Those who allege racism in the hiring and retention of black head coaches like to point out that most NFL players, roughly 70 percent of them, are black. But that statistic has very little bearing on the issue.
The pool of qualified candidates for current head coaching jobs in the NFL isn’t current NFL players. Nor is it former NFL players still young enough to coach, a group among which black representation is probably more like 60 percent.
The fact is that few current head coaches come from the ex-player pool. Of the 14 head coaches whose teams made it to the playoffs this year, I count only two who played in the NFL — Mike Vrabel of Tennessee and Cliff Kingsbury of Arizona. (Both played for Bill Belichick, by the way, and Flores coached under him.) If I’m not mistaken, the other 12, including Tomlin, never played in the NFL. Flores and Culley didn’t, either.
It’s possible that the disparity between the percentage of black head coaches (10 percent last year) and their representation in a properly constructed candidate pool would be statistically significant. It’s also possible that a careful case-by-case analysis of head coach firings would show that Blacks need to perform better than Whites to keep these jobs (although the tired line that Blacks need to be twice as good is surely rubbish).
But citing the firing of Flores and the gap between black representation among NFL players and head coaches doesn’t make out a plausible case of race discrimination.