ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — John Elway is refuting Brian Flores' claim in a lawsuit that his interview with the Denver Broncos in 2019 was a sham and only conducted to satisfy the NFL's Rooney Rule.
“While I was not planning to respond publicly to the false and defamatory claims by Brian Flores, I could not be silent any longer with my character, integrity and professionalism being attacked,” the Denver Broncos president of football operations said in a statement released by the team Thursday.
Elway said he seriously considered Flores, one of five candidates for the job that eventually went to then-Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
Flores, recently fired as head coach in Miami, named the Broncos, Dolphins and Giants along with the league in a lawsuit this week alleging unfair hiring practices in the NFL.
In other developments, civil rights leaders called for a meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Steelers owner Art Rooney II defended the league's commitment to diversity even while acknowledging that the two-decade-old Rooney Rule hasn’t produced more minority head coaches.
Flores said in his lawsuit that Elway, then the team's general manager, and president/CEO Joe Ellis showed up an hour late for his interview at a Providence, Rhode Island hotel, and they “looked completely disheveled and it was obvious that they had been drinking heavily the night before.”
Elway denied Flores' contention he was hung over and just going through the motions to satisfy the league's requirement that teams interview minority candidates for head coaching jobs.
“For Brian to make an assumption about my appearance and state of mind early that morning was subjective, hurtful and just plain wrong," Elway said.
If he appeared disheveled, Elway said, “it was because we had just flown in during the middle of the night” following an interview in Denver with another head coaching candidate, Mike Munchak, “and were going on a few hours of sleep to meet the only window provided to us.”
At the time, Flores was the Patriots linebackers coach and defensive play caller. He was hired by the Dolphins shortly after his interview with the Broncos.
Elway said he enjoyed his 3½-hour interview with Flores and was “prepared, ready and fully engaged ... as Brian shared his experience and vision for our team. It’s unfortunate and shocking to learn for the first time this week that Brian felt differently about our interview with him."
Among developments that drove Flores to file the lawsuit was a string of text messages with Patriots coach Bill Belichick three days before his scheduled Giants interview, leading Flores to believe Brian Daboll already had been chosen as their new coach.
The Giants said in a statement Thursday that their interest in Flores was “serious and genuine” and they were disappointed to learn he felt otherwise.
Flores’ “allegations about the legitimacy of his candidacy for our head coach position are disturbing and simply false,” the Giants said, adding they didn’t decide on Daboll until Jan. 28, one day after Flores’ second interview and daylong visit with the Giants.
“And to base that allegation on a text exchange with Bill Belichick in which he ultimately states that he ‘thinks’ Brian Daboll would get the job is irresponsible,” the Giants said, noting the text exchange occurred a day before Daboll’s in-person interview.
“Giants’ ownership would never hire a head coach based only on a 20-minute Zoom interview, which is all that Mr. Daboll had at that point,” the Giants said. “In addition, Mr. Belichick does not speak for and has no affiliation with the Giants. Mr. Belichick’s text exchange provides no insight into what actually transpired during our head coaching search.”
The most serious allegation in the lawsuit is Flores' contention that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross told him he would pay him $100,000 for every loss during the coach’s first season because he wanted the club to “tank” so it could get the draft’s top pick.
The Dolphins went 5-11 that year and earned the fifth pick in the 2020 NFL draft. The Bengals went 2-14 and selected quarterback Joe Burrow with the top pick. In just his second season, Burrow has led Cincinnati to its first Super Bowl in 33 years. The Bengals face the Rams on Feb. 13.
Like Elway, Ross said he was driven to defend himself publicly.
“I am a man of honor and integrity and cannot let them stand without responding," Ross said. "I take great personal exception to these malicious attacks, and the truth must be known.”
He called Flores' allegations in the lawsuit and a series of television interviews “false, malicious, and defamatory.” Ross said the Dolphins welcome the NFL's investigation into Flores' allegations “and we will cooperate fully.”
“I am eager to defend my personal integrity, and the integrity and values of the entire Miami Dolphins organization, from these baseless, unfair and disparaging claims,” Ross said.
Since the NFL implemented the Rooney Rule in 2003 to boost hiring of minority coaches, 27 of 127 head coaching jobs have gone to minorities. This year, white men have filled the first four of nine head coaching jobs with a fifth, Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell, expected to be hired by the Vikings after the Super Bowl.
Rooney II, whose late father Dan Rooney was the driving force behind the Rooney Rule, released a statement Thursday defending the rule and the league’s commitment to diversity. Rooney said there's been “marked improvement” in the hiring of women and minorities in other key leadership roles on coaching staffs and in the front office.
Mike Tomlin of the Steelers is the only Black head coach in a league where 70% of the players are non-white, and there are no Black owners in the NFL.
“This is an outrage at best, and requires your immediate attention,” the Rev. Al Sharpton and other civil rights leaders said in a letter Thursday calling for a meeting with Goodell to discuss the lack of diversity in owners suites and head coaching ranks.
The letter added that civil rights leaders “are being asked to do everything within our power, including direct action at next week’s Super Bowl, as well as appealing to local municipalities that underwrite and give special considerations to stadiums to pressure the NFL and its owners to get more serious about enforcing the ruling law.”
Packers wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who spoke to AP while promoting Six Star Pro Nutrition, said he applauds Flores for standing up to systemic racism in the NFL.
“It's not just an NFL thing; it's a world thing,” Valdes-Scantling said Thursday. “This happens in everyday society. This happens in corporate America. This happens in every aspect of life. There's systemic racism and I think that's something that needs to be addressed, and I applaud him for standing up for himself and standing up for a bigger cause even though it may (hurt) his coaching career. But you've got to stand for something or you'll fall for anything.”
AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner and Sports Writer Will Graves contributed.
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