Steve Wilks joins Brian Flores lawsuit, alleges discrimination by Cardinals

Apr 7, 2022, 9:50 AM | Updated: 12:45 pm
Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks speaks to field judge Rick Patterson (15) during the first...

Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks speaks to field judge Rick Patterson (15) during the first half of an NFL football game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)

(AP Photo/John Amis)

Former Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks has joined the race discrimination lawsuit filed against the NFL by former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores.

In Wilks’ claims against the Cardinals, whom he coached in 2018, he says he was “hired as a ‘bridge coach'” and wasn’t given “any meaningful chance to succeed.”

Wilks, who is Black, is currently a defensive passing game coordinator and defensive backs assistant with the Carolina Panthers.

He had been named as an example in the lawsuit originally filed by Flores but now joins it, along with fellow NFL assistant Ray Horton, whose complaint was regarding the Tennessee Titans. Horton coached Arizona as defensive coordinator from 2011-12.

Wilks released a statement to ESPN through his lawyers on Wednesday after the amended complaint was added to Flores’ case, which is filed in the Southern District of New York.

“When Coach Flores filed this action, I knew I owed it to myself, and to all Black NFL coaches and aspiring coaches, to stand with him,” Wilks said. “This lawsuit has shed further important light on a problem that we all know exists, but that too few are willing to confront.

“Black coaches and candidates should have exactly the same ability to become employed, and remain employed, as white coaches and candidates. That is not currently the case, and I look forward to working with Coach Flores and Coach Horton to ensure that the aspiration of racial equality in the NFL becomes a reality.”

Wilks’ claims juxtapose his firing after a 3-13 season with the career track of current Arizona general manager Steve Keim, who is white.

Keim received a contract extension in February 2018 after he helped hire Wilks but was convicted for a July 2018 DUI arrest. Wilks cited Keim’s suspension during the 2018 preseason as a factor that put Wilks in a bad position, according to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio.

The Cardinals responded to the claims with a statement to Arizona Sports’ Tyler Drake on Thursday.

“The decisions we made after the 2018 season were very difficult ones,” it read. “But as we said at the time, they were entirely driven by what was in the best interests of our organization and necessary for team improvement. We are confident that the facts reflect that and demonstrate that these allegations are untrue.”

Florio additionally reports that Wilks claims Keim was involved in negotiations with running back David Johnson during his suspension, and that Keim and owner Michael Bidwill were “pissed” about the team pulling off a road win against the Green Bay Packers. The victory compromised the teams’ chances of landing the first overall pick in 2019, which they eventually earned and used to draft current starting quarterback Kyler Murray.

Keim received another extension this offseason after firing Wilks in early 2019 and replacing him with head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who in three years has gone 24-24, improving his win totals from five in 2019, to eight in 2020 and 11 this past season.

“Mr. Wilks was replaced by a white coach, Kliff Kingsbury, who had no prior NFL coaching experience and was coming off of multiple losing seasons as a Head Coach at Texas Tech,” read the complaint.

The statement says Kingsbury, with a new quarterback in Murray, “has been given a much longer leash than Mr. Wilks and, to his credit, has succeeded.”

Wilks was handed a first-round rookie quarterback in Josh Rosen, who replaced veteran Sam Bradford during that 2018 season but struggled behind a long list of offensive line injuries and limited skill players around him. Under Wilks, the Cardinals fired first-year offensive coordinator Mike McCoy midseason and also dealt with an unhappy star cornerback, Patrick Peterson, who rescinded a trade request mid-year.

The Flores lawsuit filed this February was seeking class-action status and unspecified damages from the league, the Miami Dolphins, the Houston Texans, the Denver Broncos and the New York Giants, along with unidentified individuals.

Flores, 40, was fired by Miami after the 2021 season. He led the Dolphins to a 24-25 record over three years. They won eight of their last nine to finish 9-8 for their second straight winning season but failed to make the playoffs during his tenure.

According to the lawsuit, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross told Flores 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 lawsuit alleged that Ross then pressured Flores to recruit a prominent quarterback in violation of the league’s tampering rules. When Flores refused, he was cast as the “angry Black man” who is difficult to work with and was derided until he was fired, the suit said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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