History is unfair and unkind.
This summer six former NFL stars and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones will become the newest members enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Soon afterward that news was announced, an aging but still very astute and proud Hispanic-American man spoke to League of United Latin American Citizens 20th Annual Legislative Conference and Awards Gala.
“Everybody’s journey has to end at some point. Mine hopefully will end … in Canton maybe someday. Maybe not,” the man said, referring to Canton, Ohio, the home city of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
That man was Tom Flores, the former head coach of the Raiders.
The 79-year-old has been nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame eight times, but his name has not made it through the semi-final deliberations.
Once again, former Raiders head coach Tom Flores has been snubbed and he will have to wait another year for an enshrinement that is already long overdue.
In nine seasons, Flores led the Raiders to a 91-56 record (8-3 in postseason) en route to two Super Bowl wins, five postseason appearances and three AFC West titles. He was the first person associated with the NFL to win a Super Bowl as a player, assistant coach and head coach. He also was the first minority head coach in the modern era and the first minority head coach who had such success in the NFL. You’d think that would be enough to get into the Hall of Fame.
Sadly, Flores may be waiting for a phone call that may never come.
To add a measure of perspective the Hall of Fame already contains the busts of Bill Parcells, who won the same number of Super Bowls as Flores and he was inducted in 2013. Dan Marino, a quarterback who career statistics blow away anything that Flores did as a player, never won a Super Bowl but he was inducted in 2005.
Tom Flores was the first minority quarterback to start for a professional football team. In 1960, the inaugural year of the Oakland Raiders, he won the quarterback job and led the team to a 6-8 record. Flores had his ups and downs as a starter for the next few seasons and a bout with tuberculosis nearly ended his life in 1962. Flores had his most productive season in 1966. Although he completed only 49.3 percent of his attempts, he passed for 2,638 yards and 24 touchdowns in 14 games. He was traded to the Bills in 1967 but his season was cut short quickly by a devastating knee injury. Buffalo released him the following year and Flores latched on with the Kansas City Chiefs as Len Dawson’s backup. Tom earned his first of four Super Bowl rings in 1969 when the Chiefs went on to win Super Bowl IV.
He retired after the 1970 season, ranking fifth all-time in AFL passing.
After retiring, Flores rejoined the Oakland Raiders as their receivers coach and he remained in that spot until John Madden retired in 1979. Along the way he picked up his second Super Bowl ring in 1976 when the Raiders destroyed the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI. After Madden retired, Raiders owner Al Davis had a difficult decision to make. Replacing a legendary coach is not easy but Davis was never afraid to make a decision, much less a risky one.
On February 8, 2021 Tom Flores became the first minority head coach in the modern era.
Flores coached the Raiders until the 1987 season, going 83-53 (61% winning percentage) in the regular season and 8-3 in the playoffs. Along the way he guided the Raiders to two more Super Bowl victories in 1980 and 1983. Flores was the NFL’s first minority head coach to win a Super Bowl but America has a very short memory. As the 1980s became the 1990s no minority head coach led his team to a Super Bowl much less won one. In 2007, a pair of minority head coaches made it to the Super Bowl at the exact same time, Lovie Smith of the Bears and Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts. Both were a part of the Flores’ legacy as successful minority head coaches but a span of a generation had allowed many Americans to forget the fact that Tom Flores was the first minority head coach to win in Super Bowl.
In the news media, every reporter seemed to make a big deal that both men were black but lost in that translation was the fact was that Tom Flores was the first minority head coach in Super Bowl history. I don’t recall his name even being mentioned.
Since the 2007 Super Bowl, a flood of minority head coaches has taken their respective franchise to the Super Bowl. In 2008, Mike Tomlin became the second black head coach to win a Super Bowl and one year later Jim Caldwell led the Colts to Super Bowl XLIV. The following year, Tomlin led the Steelers to their second Super Bowl in three seasons and that game would mark the end of minority head coaches in the Super Bowl until Ron Rivera led the Panthers to the big game in 2016.
During the pregame activities leading up to Super Bowl 50, Rivera opened up about the legacy of minority head coaches in Super Bowl history. Rivera understood the legacy of the trail that was paved before him.
When a reporter mentioned that Rivera was the first Hispanic-American head coach to lead a team to the Super Bowl, Rivera quickly corrected the situation by stating that Tom Flores was the first. The room of reporters fell silent, many of them were not even alive or they were very young when Flores won his Super Bowls.
Throughout the week, Rivera has made a point to bring Tom Flores into the conversation.
“Don’t forget about Tom Flores,” Rivera said via CSN Bay Area. “He’s a pioneer.”
Perhaps location helped, Rivera grew up Seaside California, which is just South of San Francisco and attended Cal as a linebacker. He was attending Cal right up the road from Oakland Coliseum as Flores lifted the first of his two Super Bowl trophies as Raiders head coach in the 80s. In 1984 Rivera was drafted by the Chicago Bears just as Flores wrapped up his second Super Bowl win.
Rivera had grown to really appreciate Flores as an NFL head coach and he told reporters that he sees no reason why Flores shouldn’t have already been inducted.
“Oh yeah,” Rivera said. “If you coach this game and have the level of success he had, you should have that opportunity. He really should.”
In 2016, Tony Dungy became the first minority head coach to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Raider Nation exploded in anger and frustration. This shock even found its way into the heart and mind of a Raider arch enemy named Tom Jackson.
Jackson, then a long-time analyst for ESPN, played for the Denver Broncos and against Tom Flores during his entire career. Jackson knew too well that Flores had an enormous impact on the careers of minority head coaches and soon after Dungy gave his Hall of Fame Speech, this former Bronco stood up for the former Raider. “Tom Flores deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.” Jackson stated. For once but Tom Jackson and Raider Nation were in complete agreement.
Why isn’t Tom Flores in the Hall of Fame? Tony Dungy deserves induction but Flores has waited since the late 1990s for induction. As journalist Paul Gutierrez has stated recently “if you’re telling the history of the purportedly inclusive NFL, can you do it without mentioning Flores?”
In 2017, Flores was among the finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame but instead voters chose former Cowboys owner Jerry Jones for induction.
How can a man that was 11-5 against Don Coryell, who was a finalist for Hall consideration last year, as a head coach and 6-0 with the Raiders vs. Don Shula, the all-time winningest coach in NFL history, not be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? In terms of multiple Super Bowl appearances, Tom Flores is undefeated and he is the only minority head coach with multiple Super Bowl appearances without a blemish on his record.
Raider fans are left wondering and after the 2016 season we are looking to wait another year for an induction that may never likely ever come to a man who deserves it.
Unfortunately, history is both unkind and unfair.
Minority Head Coaches in the Super Bowl
Super Bowl XV (1981) Tom Flores won.
Super Bowl XVIII (1984) Tom Flores won.
Super Bowl XLI (2007)—Tony Dungy & Lovie Smith, Dungy’s Colts won.
Super Bowl XLIII (2009) Mike Tomlin won.
Super Bowl XLIV (2010) Jim Caldwell lost.
Super Bowl XLV (2011) Mike Tomlin lost.
Super Bowl 50 (2017) Ron Rivera lost.
(Visited 71 times, 14 visits today)