The first rule of Tank Club is don’t talk about Tank Club. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross allegedly did, and it could actually take him down as an NFL owner.
The landmark lawsuit filed Tuesday by former Dolphins coach Brian Flores contains an accusation that Ross’s desire to tank in 2019 became sufficiently great to prompt Ross to offer Flores a lucrative incentive to lose games.
Here’s the allegation, at paragraph 14 of the complaint: “In January 2022, Mr. Flores, who spent three years as the Head Coach of Defendant Miami Dolphins, Ltd., . . . found himself without a job. He was fired by the Dolphins after leading the team to its first back-to-back winning seasons since 2003. The purported basis for his termination was alleged poor collaboration. In reality, the writing had been on the wall since Mr. Flores’ first season as Head Coach of the Dolphins, when he refused his owner’s directive to ‘tank’ for the first pick in the draft. Indeed, during the 2019 season, Miami’s owner, Stephen Ross, told Mr. Flores that he would pay him $100,000 for every loss, and the team’s General Manager, Chris Grier, told Mr. Flores that ‘Steve’ was ‘mad’ that Mr. Flores’ success in winning games that year was ‘compromising [the team’s] draft position.'”
After Flores was fired, we speculated that the team’s success may have been the first fissure in the Flores-Ross relationship.
“[T]hat could be where Flores first lost Ross,” we wrote. “Entering the 2019 season, Ross realized that, sometimes, you’ve got to take your lumps. Although the object of a full-season tank job initially was Tua, Ross pivoted to Burrow. However, after a few ugly losses to begin his tenure, Flores apparently ditched and defied the tanking strategy.”
I chose the words “sometimes, you’ve got to take your lumps” because, at the risk of getting a federal subpoena (but, hey, the truth is the truth), I heard him utter those very words in March 2019, at the league meetings in Arizona, in the context of the short-term price of losing games versus the long-term gains to be realized.
At the time, it was believed Ross wanted Tua Tagovailoa. By the end of the 2019 season, Ross had become enamored with Joe Burrow. Burrow’s success surely didn’t help the case to keep Flores, if his allegations about tanking are true.
Regardless of the connection between the owner’s desire to tank and Flores’s termination, the former coach of the Dolphins is alleging that Ross OFFERED HIM $100,000 TO LOSE GAMES ON PURPOSE. That directly assaults the integrity of the game, and in an era of legalized gambling it can’t go ignored or unpunished.
As a high-level employee with another team put it on Tuesday evening, this allegation “is going to ruin Ross. . . . Ross may never recover.”
Indeed, Ross may eventually get ejected from Club Oligarch. Then again, they may want him on that wall, need him on that wall until the Flores litigation ends. Indeed, if Ross forcibly is removed while the Flores case is pending, Ross could decide to give up the goods when testifying under oath.
Meanwhile, Congress may be very interested in all of this.