Tom Flores is one of the most iconic figures in Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders franchise history.
Flores, who thought he would embark on a teaching career in Fresno, became the Raiders’ first quarterback when they entered the American Football League (AFL) in 1960.
It marked the beginning of a 56-year journey with the Silver and Black as a player, assistant coach, head coach, color commentator, and employee.
During that memorable run, Flores became the first minority head coach to win a Super Bowl. He also became the first Latino quarterback and minority general manager in NFL history.
To nobody’s surprise, Flores became a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the summer of 2021.
Truly, Tom Flores is a pro football trailblazer in every sense of the word.
Thomas Raymond “Tom” Flores was born in Sanger, CA on March 21, 1937.
According to Flores’ Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement speech in 2021, his father left Mexico as a 12-year-old boy and crossed north of the border to California’s Central Valley. He eventually became a sharecropper to help make ends meet.
Tom Flores told Pacific.edu in 2021 that he and his dad shared the same quiet demeanor. His father, in particular, was somebody who let his hard work do the talking.
Flores and his family had a tough upbringing in the Golden State. He remembered growing up in a dilapidated house that had filthy floors and no indoor plumbing.
Despite their predicament, Flores’ parents made sure he and his brother prioritized their education and participated in various activities.
Flores attended Sanger Union High School in his hometown.
Flores admitted in his enshrinement speech he had no inkling to go to college. The trend back in those days was getting a job after receiving one’s high school diploma.
However, Flores had a change of heart and persevered to earn a college scholarship. He also played many sports and attended as many events as possible during his high school days in Sanger, CA.
Even back then, Tom Flores was passionate about the gridiron.
“I settled on football as my major sport to be productive in,” Flores mentioned in his Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement speech in the summer of 2021.
After Flores graduated from Sanger Union High School, he attended Fresno City College from 1955 to 1957. He played football and baseball for the Fresno Rams during those two years.
Congratulations To Sanger Alumni Tom Flores. It’s about darn time! pic.twitter.com/LA5YDNQckV
— Sanger Apaches (@SangerApaches) February 7, 2021
Flores accepted an academic scholarship from the College of the Pacific (now known as the University of the Pacific) in Stockton, CA in 1958. He suited up for Pacific Tigers head football coach Jack Myers as a quarterback.
Tom Flores loved his new school from the get-go.
“I instantly fell in love with Pacific,” Flores told the University of the Pacific’s official website in February 2021. “It was a smaller school and I’m from a small little town. I cherished my time there.”
Flores didn’t just fall in love with his new school; he also fell in love with Barbara Fridell. They became a couple when the former was a junior while the latter was a freshman. They eventually tied the knot in 1961.
After Flores earned his bachelor’s degree, he remained with the Tigers as one of Myers’ assistants. It officially marked the beginning of Tom Flores’ legendary coaching career.
Myers designated Flores as the coach of the Tigers’ freshman squad. At the time, Tom Flores was also trying to earn his master’s degree from the College of the Pacific.
Flores told the school’s official website in 2021 that he learned a lot about football coaching as a Tigers assistant. He eventually put the program’s focus on honesty and loyalty to good use when he became an NFL coach more than a decade later.
Along with Bruce Coslet (Class of 1968), Pete Carroll ( Class of1973), and Hue Jackson (Class of 1986), Tom Flores is one of four alumni of the University of the Pacific who went on to become prominent NFL head coaches.
Tom Flores ended up only coaching the Pacific Tigers for one season. For the next decade, he exchanged his clipboard for a football helmet and a pair of cleats,
Pro Football Career
Tom Flores had a rough start to his pro football career. He couldn’t find any takers after he graduated from the College of the Pacific in 1958.
The Canadian Football League’s (CFL) Calgary Stampeders released him that same year. Flores returned to the States where he played for a semi-pro football squad called the Bakersfield Spoilers.
Flores tried to enter the National Football League (NFL) ranks in 1959. Unfortunately, the Washington Redskins released him.
At that point, Tom Flores had all but given up on a career as a professional football player. When he accepted a teaching job in Fresno, CA, fate suddenly intervened.
Seemingly out of nowhere, the American Football League’s (AFL) Oakland Raiders invited Flores to try out at quarterback in 1960.
“I had never heard of the AFL,” Flores told Pacific.edu in February 2021. “I had no idea what they were talking about.”
It turned out that Flores’ predecessor as Pacific Tigers quarterback, Eddie LeBaron, recommended him, per the school’s official website. At the time, LeBaron suited up for the NFL’s expansion team, the Dallas Cowboys.
Flores got the nod from the Raiders after he beat out ten other aspirants at training camp.
When Flores finally made the expansion Raiders’ roster as a quarterback in 1960, he officially began a 23-year journey with the Silver and Black as a player and coach.
Tom Flores revealed in his Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement speech 61 years later that his mother cried when he told her he would become a pro football player. She expected he’d become a teacher all along.
However, she also felt proud of him because he had pursued his passion for football – the same reason why he eventually earned his gold jacket and bust in Canton, OH, per ProFootballHOF.com.
According to Flores’ 2003 book, he and his Raiders teammates stayed in the Miramar Hotel – a hotel that resembled an old retirement home – in Santa Cruz, CA.
The team provided the players with food and a television in their hotel rooms. Since Flores and the other Raiders couldn’t stand the Miramar’s terrible food, they went out to eat pizza or other food that met their standards.
Flores and his teammates scrimmaged at nearby Santa Cruz High School. Oakland head coach Eddie Erdelatz kept his practices short – an average of one hour or so in the morning and another hour or so in the afternoon.
The first and original Raider who’s broken barriers and achieved success from the AFL to the NFL still is not in the Hall of Fame.
Tom Flores was not just the @RAIDERS quarterback but was a vital instrument to the team and the leagues.
Let’s give Flores what’s due @ProFootballHOF pic.twitter.com/YnLyZqQUSX
— ʜᴀᴍᴘᴛᴏɴ ʀᴏᴀᴅs ʀᴀɪᴅᴇʀs ᴄʟᴜʙ (@HRRCVA) February 3, 2018
The early 1960s Raiders ran at full speed during their training camps. If one player didn’t do a drill fast enough, Erdelatz made him do it again by himself.
It came as no surprise then when the Raiders surpassed other AFL teams in terms of fitness levels. Although they weren’t the most talented squad, they could outlast the opposition on the gridiron.
Oakland held some of its practices at Alameda Naval Base back in the day. Since the facility was next to a runway, the deafening sound of a jet taking off often made the Raiders stop their practices momentarily.
Flores held his own as Oakland’s signal caller. He had 11,635 passing yards and 92 touchdowns from 1960 to 1966.
When Flores missed the entire 1962 AFL season due to tuberculosis, some of Al Davis’ peers told him to sign a new quarterback. Davis promptly turned down their suggestions, per Flores’ 2003 book.
At this point in Flores’ pro football career, he had a dilemma with his two sons.
Flores’ sons Mark and Scott always asked him where he was going when he left for work. Their dad told them he was going to play football.
The two boys then asked their mother Barbara why their dad didn’t stay home and play football with them.
Tom Flores had to re-word his answer whenever they asked him where he was going. He told them he was going to work from there on out.
When Davis took over as Raiders’ head coach prior to the 1963 AFL season, his son Mark – the current Las Vegas Raiders owner – was a fixture at team practices.
The naive eight-year-old’s desire to play football made some of the Raiders players – including Flores – consider him a nuisance in team practices.
Davis often ran toward the field, took a football, and kicked it before running through a Raiders team scrimmage.
His exasperated father Al gave Mark the dagger look and told him to go away. The older Davis then shook his head, mumbled, and grinned after Mark left.
One day, some perpetrators who Flores refused to name in his 2003 book got so fed up with Mark Davis that they taped him up and tied him to a chair in the locker room. To young Mark’s credit, he never cried during the harrowing ordeal.
— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) August 7, 2021
Mark Davis was Flores’ presenter for his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction in 2021.
The Raiders averaged barely six wins per year in their first seven seasons from 1960 to 1966. Regrettably, they never made the postseason with Flores under center.
At this point, Tom Flores’ tenure as Raiders quarterback was nearing its conclusion.
Raiders’ part-owner and general manager Al Davis had been trying to acquire Buffalo Bills No. 2 quarterback Daryle Lamonica for months prior to the 1967 AFL season.
Davis eventually got Lamonica and wide receiver Glenn Bass from Buffalo in exchange for quarterback Tom Flores, who was an AFL All-Star in 1966, and wideout Art Powell.
Flores went on to spend three seasons with the Bills from 1967 to 1969. After Buffalo released him midway through the 1969 AFL campaign, Kansas City Chiefs head coach Hank Stram signed him.
Lo and behold, Flores’ release from the Bills became a blessing in disguise – he earned a Super Bowl ring with the Chiefs after they beat the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV, 23-7.
Tom Flores gave tribute to Stram in his 2003 book, Tales from the Oakland Raiders Sideline: A Collection of the Greatest Raiders Stories Ever Told. Although Flores’ tenure with the Chiefs was short-lived, he learned the rudiments of coaching football from one of the game’s best.
Flores also tipped his hat off to Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, who he considered one of the best in the AFL.
Tom Flores retired from the American Football League following the Chiefs’ Super Bowl IV victory.
Flores finished his 10-year AFL career with 11,959 passing yards, 93 touchdown passes, and 92 interceptions.
Flores, a bona fide football lifer, then remained on the gridiron and embarked on a memorable 24-year coaching career.
Football Coaching Career
After Tom Flores hung up his cleats and earned a Super Bowl ring following the 1969 AFL season, he went on a two-year hiatus from the gridiron.
According to Pacific.edu, Flores missed the game quite a lot during his time away from the football field.
Flores promptly began his NFL coaching career in 1971 when the Buffalo Bills hired him to become their quarterbacks’ coach.
Flores coached Bills starter Dennis Shaw and his backup James Harris in his lone year in Western New York. Buffalo had a dismal 1-13 win-loss record in its second season in the National Football League.
After Flores’ disappointing NFL coaching debut in Buffalo, he packed his bags and returned to the team he quarterbacked for from 1960 to 1966 – the Oakland Raiders.
Flores became one of Raiders head coach John Madden’s assistants. Flores served as Oakland’s wide receivers coach for the next seven seasons.
Flores observed that Madden’s mood would swing unpredictably during their time together on the Oakland sidelines from 1972 to 1978. Madden could act volatile one moment and then become amiable at the snap of a finger.
Flores considered his boss an incredible competitor who succeeded in coaching at football’s highest level because of his excellent player, clock, and game management skills. Flores also noticed that most of Madden’s players liked him.
Unlike many of their AFL contemporaries who struggled mightily when they joined the NFL in 1970, the Raiders were a juggernaut when Tom Flores was their wide receivers coach.
Oakland averaged nearly eleven wins per year and won five division titles from 1972 to 1978. The Raiders appeared in five AFC Championship Games during that seven-season stretch.
Their glory years in the 1970s NFL culminated in a stirring 32-14 triumph over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI.
Tom Flores had earned the first of his three Super Bowl rings with the Silver and Black.
Flores had also earned a ring as a backup quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs – ironically also against the Vikings – seven years earlier.
— AFL Godfather 🏴☠️👓🏈 (@NFLMAVERICK) February 8, 2017
When Madden retired following the 1978 NFL season, the Oakland Raiders appointed Tom Flores as their new head coach.
It didn’t take long for Tom Flores to make an indelible mark on Raiders history.
Flores helped Oakland win eleven games and make their third Super Bowl appearance in just his second year at the helm in 1980.
After Flores met the media on Tuesday before the big game, he discovered that both of the team buses that were bound for team practice at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA already left.
Flores and two other Raiders players who missed the team buses rode a taxi to Tulane and slogged through a muddy field when they got off. Flores laughed off the whole ordeal after things calmed down, per his 2003 book.
Flores fined Oakland defensive end, John Matuszak, for violating curfew the following day.
When Flores asked Matuszak to explain why he missed curfew, the latter told him he stayed out late on Bourbon Street because he wanted to make sure his teammates made curfew.
Flores had to turn the other way and stifle a laugh because he thought Matuszak was dead serious.
Apart from Matuszak’s shenanigan, Flores fined just two other players in an otherwise quiet week leading up to the Super Bowl.
The Raiders beat Dick Vermeil’s Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XV, 27-10. Tom Flores won his first of two Super Bowl titles as Raiders head coach. He also became the first minority head coach to accomplish the gaudy feat.
Happy Birthday to Tom Flores
Awards As A Player
– Super Bowl champion (IV)
– AFL All-Star (1966)
Awards As A Coach
– 3× Super Bowl champion:
– XI (as assistant coach)
– XV, XVIII (as head coach)
— Raiders Report Mitchell Renz (@MitchellRenz365) March 21, 2020
Shortly after Flores helped the Raiders win their second Super Bowl trophy, he and his wife Barbara flew to Hawaii for a much-needed vacation.
When they returned to the mainland, rumors about the Raiders moving to Los Angeles had reached epic proportions.
That eventually became a reality in the 1982 NFL season. However, the players’ strike presented logistical problems that forced the Raiders to practice in Oakland on weekdays and then fly down to Los Angeles for the games on weekends.
Tedious as it was, the new Los Angeles Raiders – who boasted of new acquisitions Lyle Alzado, Marcus Allen, and Vann McElroy – went 8-1 in the strike-shortened 1982 NFL season.
Flores guided the Raiders to a stellar 12-4 win-loss record a year later. The Raiders won their third Vince Lombardi Trophy after annihilating Joe Theismann’s Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII, 38-9.
When Flores paced along the sideline with just a minute left and the outcome well out of reach, he ran into defensive end Lyle Alzado, who cried tears of joy and pumped his fist a bit.
Tom Flores had to look the other way. Had he not, he would’ve choked up as well.
Flores recalled meeting Alzado in his office in training camp during the strike-shortened 1982 NFL campaign. The 33-year-old Alzado told him he wanted to retire. However, Flores convinced him to return for his twelfth pro season.
Had Lyle Alzado retired, he would not have earned his first and only Super Bowl ring.
Flores coached four more seasons with the Raiders. Los Angeles averaged nine wins per year from 1984 to 1987. The team never made it past the AFC Divisional Round during those four years.
“I’m proud to be your representative.”
Player. Coach. Now Hall of Famer. Congratulations Tom Flores. pic.twitter.com/weogCdbY8F
— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) February 7, 2021
Flores accepted a front office position with the Raiders late in the 1987 NFL campaign. However, it didn’t last long as he became the president and general manager of the Seattle Seahawks in 1989.
Flores returned to the sidelines to coach the Seahawks in 1992. Seattle averaged just three wins per year from 1992 to 1994 and extended its postseason drought to six seasons.
The Seahawks dismissed Flores at the end of the 1994 NFL season.
Tom Flores had a 97-87 (.527) win-loss record in twelve combined seasons with the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders and Seattle Seahawks.
In Flores’ 2003 book, he refuted some misconceptions about team owner Al Davis.
While many fans thought Davis was a meddlesome owner, Flores thought otherwise. Because Davis had a phone right next to him during games, they thought he used it to relay instructions to the coaches on the field.
However, Flores mentioned in the book that Davis used the phone to receive injury updates. During Flores’ nine-year stint as Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders head coach from 1979 to 1987, he never talked to Davis while he was coaching his players on game day.
Davis, though, sent down suggestions occasionally. Flores also described the fiery Raiders owner as ferociously devoted to his friends. However, he wanted his coaches to be passionate about football as much as he did.
“That’s how I survived as a player, assistant coach, head coach, and broadcaster,” Flores wrote in Tales from the Oakland Raiders Sideline: A Collection of the Greatest Raiders Stories Ever Told.
Two-time Super Bowl MVP Jim Plunkett worked with Flores for nine seasons from 1978 to 1986. Plunkett described Flores as a stoic and quiet coach who never resorted to yelling to get his message across to his players.
If you're talking underrated coaches and QBs, let's start with Tom Flores and Jim Plunkett. Two Super Bowl victories and a Heisman sitting on Plunkett's mantel. Studs. pic.twitter.com/XFho4hDmSG
— Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) December 22, 2021
The Raiders quarterback also thought Flores’ ability to prepare his players mentally and pounce on opponents’ weaknesses were the keys to his success as an NFL head coach, which is not an easy job by any stretch.
After Flores concluded his 16-year coaching stint with the Raiders following the 1987 NFL season, he launched a foundation in Sanger, CA that aimed to provide educational opportunities to students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Flores mentioned in his Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement speech some thirty-three years later that his foundation had already been funded. Consequently, it will continue operating for a long time.
Tom Flores and his wife Barbara have been married for 61 years. They have two sons, Mark and Scott, and a daughter, Kim. The couple has five grandchildren: Brian, Kevin, Jillian, Megan, and Jacob.
Flores worked as a color commentator for the Raiders Radio Network from 1997 to 2018.
Tom Flores became a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the summer of 2021. Flores, who became the first University of the Pacific alumnus inducted into the Hall of Fame, was 84 years old at the time.
Part of Flores’ induction speech reads:
“I want to thank all the players and alumni who worked with me and for me…And as I enter the Hall, I feel like you’re going in with me. You don’t get there alone. It didn’t happen in a vacuum. A lot of people have helped me do what I did in my career.”
Flores is also a member of the University of the Pacific Athletics Hall of Fame, the Fresno County Athletic Hall of Fame, the California Sports Hall of Fame, the California Community College Athletic Association Hall of Fame, and the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame.
Even at 85 years of age, Tom Flores still bleeds Raiders Silver and Black. He’s currently working in the team’s public relations department, per his Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement speech.