Pacific alumnus adds title of Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee to trailblazing career
Tom Flores, who began his ground-breaking career in football as the starting quarterback of University of the Pacific in the late 1950s, today became the newest member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The 1958 College of the Pacific graduate was the NFL’s first Latino starting quarterback, first Latino head coach in the Super Bowl, the winner of four Super Bowls as a player, assistant coach and head coach and the second-winningest coach in Raiders history before serving as team president and general manager of the Seattle Seahawks and later a radio broadcaster for the Raiders.
But, beyond all of those achievements, at heart Flores is a Tiger.
Flores came to Pacific in 1958, via Fresno City College, where he played football and baseball. He starred for the Tigers and coach Jack Myers, though an injury to his shoulder slowed him in his senior season.
“I instantly fell in love with Pacific,” Flores said on Feb. 2 during Pacific's recent Tiger Talk event. “It was a smaller school and I’m from a small little town. I cherished my time there.”
At Pacific, Flores also fell in love with the woman who would become his wife. He met Barbara Fridell on campus when he was a junior and she was a freshman. They married in 1961 and the couple is preparing to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary this year.
Following his playing career with the Tigers, Flores began coaching at Pacific and worked toward his master's degree. Coach Myers placed him in charge of the freshman team, despite only being a few years older than many of his players.
"I learned a lot about coaching while working as an assistant at Pacific," said Flores. "The program embraced a culture of honesty and loyalty to its players. I carried those traits with me throughout my career as a coach in the NFL."
In fact, the culture of Pacific's football program has developed many leaders in the National Football League. Flores in one of four Pacific alums who have gone on to be head coaches in the NFL joining Pete Carroll '73, Bruce Coslet '68 and Hue Jackson '86.
Pacific is one of just six universities to have had two alumni go on to win a Super Bowl as a head coach, with Carroll and Flores winning championships.
"We always had a lot of talent on our football teams at Pacific, just not enough depth," Flores said. "But our talent showed through between all of the players and coaches we had go on to successful careers in the NFL."
, his only season coaching at Pacific, Flores was about to take a teaching job in Fresno when he was invited to try out for the Oakland Raiders of the newly formed American Football League. Eddie LeBaron, who had preceded Flores as quarterback for the Tigers, had recommended him.
“I had never heard of the AFL,” Flores said. “I had no idea what they were talking about.”
Flores quarterbacked the Raiders during their inaugural 1960 season, beating out 10 others at training camp to do so. In six seasons with the Raiders, Flores threw for 11,635 yards and 92 touchdowns before he was sent to the Buffalo Bills and finally played for the Kansas City Chiefs. He finished his playing career in 1969 as a member of the Chiefs’ Super Bowl-winning team.
Following his playing career and after nearly two years away from the game, Flores realized how much he missed football. His first professional coaching opportunity came in 1971 when Flores was hired as the Bills’ quarterbacks coach and was there for just one season before joining the Raiders as the wide receivers coach under Head Coach John Madden.
After Madden retired as head coach of the Raiders, Flores became head coach and led the team to a victory in Super Bowl XV, and again three years later after the team had moved to Los Angeles. In nine seasons as the Raiders' head coach, he went 91-56, including an 8-3 playoff record and then later joined the Seattle Seahawks as president and eventually head coach. Overall, Flores finished with a 105-90 record as a head coach while breaking barriers as the first Latino starting quarterback, first Latino head coach in the Super Bowl and first Latino team president in league history.
"I am proud of my part in NFL history as a trailblazer," said Flores. "But, in the moment I never thought of myself as being any different. I always wanted to be remembered as a hard-working, winning coach."
Humility and a strong work ethic were never an issue for Flores, who grew up in the tiny Central California town of Sanger, and was the son of a sharecropper who arrived from Mexico at age 12.
“My dad was a quiet man, like I am,” he said. “My dad was the type that just rolled up his sleeves and got the job done."
It was that mindset that helped Flores as a coach at Pacific and in the NFL.
"It's not hard to do something you have a passion for," said Flores. "Being an NFL coach is a lot of hard work, but it's very rewarding to do something you love."
Flores turned that passion and love for football into over 60 years of experience in the NFL and that time of breaking barriers has all been part of the winding path that at long last has brought him to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where he will be enshrined next summer.
"I am very excited about this moment, but I am also proud to be the first person from Pacific in the Hall of Fame," said Flores. "I've been part of a lot of firsts in my career, but this is an extra special one for me."