Former Buffalo Bills coach Mike Mularkey may have offered some damaging evidence playing into a lawsuit against the NFL.
In a 2020 interview that resurfaced this week, Mularkey spoke out about the hiring process he went through with the Tennessee Titans, giving an account that seems to support former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores in his allegation that the league and teams are still discriminating against Black coaches.
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Mularkey and the Rooney Rule
The class-action lawsuit that Flores filed against the league and several teams claims that they were discriminatory in their hiring process. One of the central allegations is that teams are not adhering to the Rooney Rule, which mandates that they interview ethnic-minority candidates for open coaching positions.
Mularkey, who served as Bills head coach from 2004 to 2005, may have given some corroborating evidence. ESPN published parts of an interview that Mularkey gave with the Steelers Realm Podcast in 2020, discussing the way he was promoted from interim head coach to permanent head coach of the Titans in 2016.
In his comments, Mularkey revealed that the Titans had already promised him the job before interviewing Black candidate Ray Horton. Mularkey said he now regrets taking part in the process that he believes subverted the Rooney Rule.
“I allowed myself, at one point, when I was in Tennessee, to get caught up in something that I regret. I still regret it,” Mularkey said. “The ownership there, Amy Adams Strunk and her family, came in and told me I was going to be the head coach in 2016 before they went through the Rooney Rule. And so I sat there knowing I was the head coach in ’16, as they went through this fake hiring process knowing a lot of the coaches that they were interviewing, knowing how much they prepared to go through those interviews, knowing that everything they could do and they had no chance to go that job.”
Horton Joins Lawsuit
Mularkey’s account of his hiring process could now find its way into court. Horton and former Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks joined Flores’ class-action lawsuit, adding an amended complaint with new evidence. Horton’s complaint included Mularkey’s interview.
Horton released a statement on Twitter saying he was “humiliated” to learn that he was never given a fair chance at landing the Titans job.
“By joining this case, I am hoping to turn that experience into a positive and make lasting change and create true equal opportunity in the future,” he said.
But the Titans denied the allegations, pushing back on Mularkey’s claim that the job was promised to him before everyone had been interviewed.
“Our 2016 head coach search was a thoughtful and competitive process fully in keeping with NFL guidelines and our own organizational values,” the team said in a statement, via NFL.com. “We conducted detailed, in-person interviews with four talented individuals, two of whom were diverse candidates. No decision was made, and no decision was communicated, prior to the completion of all interviews. While we are proud of Our Commitment to Diversity, we are dedicated to continued growth as an organization to foster diversity and inclusion in our workplace and community.”