There remain very few Black head coaches in the NFL and even fewer general managers. Therefore anything that these select individuals do comes under intense scrutiny. While there aren’t many willing to just come out and say it in this fashion. the very controversial strategy it seems that the Miami Dolphins are adopting could have a negative domino effect on the future prospects of Black coaches and general managers, even though the strategy, if indeed it is a plan, ultimately had to be approved by the team’s owner Steve Ross.
Brian Flores is the new Dolphins head coach, the latest off the Bill Belichek staff to get a head job. Flores came out of last season’s Super Bowl with more glory than anyone except Belichek and QB legend Tom Brady after devising a game plan that shut down the high powered Los Angeles Rams offense. He could conceivably have waited for a better opportunity, and there were those who advised him to do so. But when there are only 32 head coaching jobs available and one comes along, if you pass on it, particularly given the league’s less than admirable track record in hiring Blacks to supervise teams, chances are you won’t get too many other chances.
The fact that Flores received this chance at Miami also didn’t happen by chance. The Dolphins also have one of the rare Black general managers in Chris Grier, who ditched Adam Gase (now the New York Jets head coach) to hire Flores. Grier has subsequently traded 2016 first round draft choice left tackle Laremy Tunsil, 2017 first round draft choice safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and Kenny Stills, the team’s best wide receiver (and also most outspoken player who continues his weekly kneeling protests with Houston). In exchange for this the Dolphins get seven picks in the 2020 draft and several in 2021.
Flores of course openly disavows the notion that his team is deliberately trying to lose (“tanking” in today’s popular lexicon). “My message is always the same,” he told USA Today last week. “Come to work, get better, we improve, we learn from our mistakes.” Going into Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys the Dolphins were outscored 102-10 in the first two weeks. The Patriots had Brady throwing touchdown passes up 37-0 last week, something that some felt was a deliberate attempt at embarrassing the Dolphins and Belichek’s former defensive coordinator, but Flores didn’t buy into that either.
The tanking phenomenon has become acute, partially because it’s worked and partially because the way professional sports operates, teams that consistently remain in the middle of the pack never get better. There are two ways to quick success: draft picks and free agency. Bad teams get high draft choices. Good ones have to be super savvy in their picks, and also nab a free agent or two, or pull off a slick trade. The Houston Astros in MLB went through a trio of 100-loss seasons. Now they’re looking at a third straight 100-win season. The Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA were famous for “the process,” which simply meant stripping the team totally bare of talent, being horrible and then drafting wisely for a couple of seasons.
As odious as it seems for pro teams to deliberately lose, there are currently no provisions that seem able to stop it. The NBA draft lottery hasn’t ended it, even when they shifted to a system of weighing the balls differently. MLB and the NHL also have nothing in place to stop it. What makes it worse is fans of these teams are paying full price while the organizations go out and intentionally drop games.
But more importantly in the case of Flores and Grier, if indeed the Dolphins opt to blow the season, how it will affect both their futures and the chances of other Blacks who want to be coaches and general managers down the line? It’s definitely something to closely watch in the coming months.