Six months to the day after he filed a lawsuit against the NFL and its 32 teams alleging racial discrimination in its hiring practice, the pending litigation was the last thing on Brian Flores’ mind Monday morning at Saint Vincent.
The 41-year-old former head coach who was hired to work with the Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers was looking forward to players putting on pads and tackling for the first time in camp. He was enjoying being sequestered at an off-site campus location for the first time in his 19-year NFL coaching career. He talked of bonding with the other assistants on Mike Tomlin’s staff and sharing philosophies and coaching strategies aimed at improving his new team’s defense.
Flores hasn’t talked about his lawsuit since joining the Steelers on Feb. 19, his hiring coming less than three weeks after he rocked the NFL with a class-action suit that specifically called into question the hiring practices of the Miami Dolphins — his former employer—the New York Giants and Denver Broncos.
Flores, though, said he is firmly where he wants to be this summer.
“It’s awesome for me to coach football,” he said. “That’s what I’m passionate about. That’s what I love to do, all aspects of it. It’s sitting in meetings with our defensive coaches, sitting in our staff meetings, going back and forth with offensive coaches, getting on the field and going through individual techniques with players, getting to those settings where you’re not working with your group … putting the team element together.
“That is what I’m passionate about. It’s fun to be out here. I’m grateful and fortunate.”
Flores was fired in Miami after compiling a 24-25 record in three years. Although he has a sub-.500 record overall, Flores was let go after leading the Dolphins to back-to-back winning seasons. They went 10-6 amid the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, and he turned around a team that began 1-7 last year by winning eight of the final nine games to finish 9-8.
When Flores became available, Tomlin worked quickly to add him to his staff. He will fill the senior defensive assistant role that became open when Teryl Austin was promoted to defensive coordinator.
“He’s a good communicator,” Tomlin said. “He does the things that you value from a coach’s perspective in terms of challenging guys, holding them accountable and leading his group. He’s a hand-in-the-pile guy, so it’s been a good addition.”
Flores said he’s enjoying being afforded the chance to blend in with a defensive staff that includes Austin, veteran defensive line coach Karl Dunbar and linebackers coach Jerry Olsavsky.
“There is not a lack of ideas. I know I’ve learned a lot in a small amount of time here. That is one of the things that is exciting to me. I get to pick the brains of some really strong offensive and defensive coaches.”
Flores already has made an impact on inside linebacker Myles Jack, who joined the Steelers in free agency after spending his first six seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“I pretty much write down everything he says even if it doesn’t necessarily pertain to what we’re learning,” Jack said. “He has a perspective on things coming from being a head coach, and it has really made me look at football in a completely different light.
“He’s showing us what the offense is trying. Being a head coach, he’s going to show you a 360 view of what they are trying to do and how we can beat what they are trying to do. It’s almost like playing Battlefield.”
Flores is appreciative of the chance to work in seclusion at Saint Vincent, where the Steelers will remain for the next three weeks. During his 15 seasons on Bill Belichick’s staff in New England and his three years in Miami, Flores never got to experience training camp off-site.
“There is a lot to it, a lot of camaraderie,” Flores said. “It’s built when you’re sitting in a setting like this and at night guys are spending a lot of time together playing cards or playing Uno or Connect Four. There is a lot of team building and bonding that goes on.”
And Flores gets to be apart of even though his lawsuit still remains unresolved. He said he never imagined not coaching this season but he is glad Tomlin and the Steelers acted quickly to give him a second chance.
“I like to think I can coach some football,” Flores said, smiling. “I’m not surprised at all.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .