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Whitlock: Firing of Brian Flores illustrates the outdatedness of evaluating NFL coaching decisions based on race

Op-ed
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As is tradition, the NFL fired a bunch of coaches Monday morning, a day after its regular season concluded and ownership looked to blame someone for failing to meet expectations.

The Broncos kicked things off Sunday morning, dismissing Vic Fangio a day after Denver wrapped up its season with a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Twenty-four hours later, the Bears dumped Matt Nagy, the Vikings pink-slipped Mike Zimmer, and most surprisingly, the Dolphins discarded third-year coach Brian Flores.

The Flores firing will get the most attention. Miami finished with a winning record, 9-8, and ended its campaign with a victory over the Patriots. Plus, Flores is black. And we know how corporate media loves nothing more than to accuse NFL ownership of racism.

NFL owners are Trump supporters. What could be more racist than voting for Donald Trump over black icons Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden? NFL owners provided January 6 insurrectionists with the flagpoles and moose heads they used to try to overthrow our government and assassinate Nancy Pelosi.

Let me stop the sarcasm and make my serious point.

In the world of sports, there’s nothing more complicated and treacherous than NFL head-coaching decisions.

That’s why there’s nothing more bothersome than the simple-minded discussion of those decisions along black-white racial lines.

NFL owners want to win because winning further inflates their egos, celebrity, and feelings of masculinity. Skin color is no longer a driving force when it comes to serving an owner’s ego on a football field. He’s not picking a wife, a girlfriend, or a mistress.

He’s picking someone skilled at two things: 1) motivating young men with lots of discretionary money and free time; 2) managing a team of older men who assist the head coach in motivating young men.

The job requires tremendous savvy. Most of the people talking about the job on corporate media platforms, Twitter, and Facebook lack the kind of savvy necessary to be a successful football coach at any level.

That’s why the discussion of NFL head coaches is so stupid and fixates on race. There was a time when race played a major role in who could lead an NFL franchise. That time has passed. The same way there used to be a time when the skin color of the quarterback mattered, the skin color of the heavyweight boxing champion mattered, the skin color of the president and vice president mattered.

Things have changed here in America. Unfortunately, there are people who have built careers and social media brands pretending nothing has changed and we’re still locked in the 1920 and ’30s.

The truth is that the firing of Brian Flores proves how much things have changed.

Flores is out of a job today because the black general manager of the Miami Dolphins, Chris Grier, out-politicked Flores.

Miami-based ESPN NFL reporter Jeff Darlington tweeted the most pertinent information on the Flores firing.

“The decision to fire Flores can be summed up with one word: Relationships. His relationship with Grier and (quarterback) Tua (Tagovailoa) had deteriorated to a pretty bad place. Along with constant staff changes, owner Steve Ross no longer saw Flores as a healthy fit in Miami.”

Let me translate that for you. Grier has a better relationship with the Dolphins’ owner than Flores. A year ago, Grier stayed put at number five in the draft and selected Tagovailoa one spot ahead of Chargers star quarterback Justin Herbert. It was a risky pick. Tua is undersized and a bit injury-prone.

Grier tried to acquire the number-one overall pick from Cincinnati, presumably to select quarterback Joe Burrow. The Dolphins had three first-round picks in 2020. Whatever the trade package, it wasn’t enough to persuade the Bengals to relinquish Burrow.

Grier struck out on Burrow and Herbert. Tua is a disappointment.

Grier, like most people, is loyal to his decision. Grier and Tua are a package that Flores seemingly can’t enthusiastically support. Grier used his superior relationship with Stephen Ross to fire Flores, who has back-to-back winning seasons. Flores is the first Dolphins coach to record back-to-back winning seasons in nearly two decades.

What happened between Flores and Grier, two black men, is commonplace in the NFL. Relationships rule decision-making. At that altitude, relationships are often ruled by ego and personality, not race.

It’s a game of politics. Treacherous politics.

The prevailing sentiment is that Flores will get a second chance to lead an NFL team, perhaps as early as this off-season. NFL decision-makers can easily see what happened to Flores. The media will try to blind sports fans with race.
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