Brian Flores Has Some Unfinished Business Before the Next Step
ATLANTA (973espn.com) - There is one more hurdle for Brian Flores as the New England Patriots' de-facto defensive coordinator before the Brooklyn native heads a little further south to take on the latest rebuilding project for the Miami Dolphins.
Flores, the 37-year-old linebackers coach and defensive play-caller for Bill Belichick, will stay inside the AFC East as the next head coach of the Dolphins and don't expect any Josh McDaniels-like 180s this time.
Flores, 37, who has spent his entire NFL career learning under Belichick, first as a scout before starting on the coaching staff as a special teams assistant and slowing moving up from there, is planning on making things more competitive for the Pats sooner rather than later.
When Matt Patricia left for the top job Detroit, Flores wasn't given the title of defensive coordinator but he was given the responsibility and being that close to Belichick, the guy who has tortured Miami and the rest of the AFC East for the past two decades was enough for Stephen Ross.
Flores will also reportedly tab Patrick Graham as his defensive coordinator and Chad O’Shea as his offensive coordinator. The former started his NFL coaching career with the Pats in 2009 and spent seven seasons there while the latter has spent the last 10 years coaching New England's wide receivers.
In other words, Miami is about to look a lot like Foxborough with better weather.
Previous Belichick lieutenants haven't had much success away from their micro-managing boss with names like Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, McDaniels, and Patricia [so far] floundering away from the so-called "Patriot Way."
The lone exception is probably Bill O'Brien, who has gotten some traction on both the college level at Penn State as well as in Houston with the Texans, although even he was on the hot seat early in the 2018 season before a big turnaround.
Then there was McDaniels eschewing his second chance after being initially hired by the Indianapolis Colts last year and then unceremoniously leaving them at the altar all because Belichick finally promised to open his "world" for him.
“Bill Belichick said to him, ‘I want you to be by my side. I am going to open my world to you,’” ESPN's Mike Reiss said at the time. “‘Show you how I view roster building, how I look at financials and the salary cap.’"
Never mind that McDaniels claimed the same kind of thing before he got the Denver job a decade earlier, it sounded good and gave a little glimpse into the closed world of Belichick, whose real right-hand man is Ernie Adams, his director of football research and most trusted sounding board.
For the Dolphins the question has to be how do you copy a structure you don't have the blueprint for?
Flores described the Patriot Way in the lead-up to Super Bowl LIII:
“It means putting the team first,” he said. “It means being selfless. It means ignoring the noise around and just focusing on our team. There’s a lot of noise, there’s a lot of distractions, that’s our world now – social media. There’s information everywhere. So it’s about banding together and not letting anyone distract us and keep us from our goals.”
It's also about roster building, however, and getting players who buy into the system. This is the third consecutive Super Bowl for the Pats and most NFL observers will tell you they were the less-talented team in all three trips.
According to one long-time NFL personnel man here in Atlanta, Belichick differs from his peers in one significant way, a willingness to mold his game plans from week to week by focusing on the upcoming opponent's deficiencies.
For other coaches, the thought of games being about "us" and focusing on execution and "what we do" has become a cliche. If an NFL game is a 100-yard sprint, Belichick starts with a 10-yard lead because of his willingness to trust his players.
One week the New England offense may be a power-running group and the next it might be spreading the field. On defense, Andy Reid spent the two weeks leading up to Super Bowl XXXIX preparing for one front and got another.
"He wants high IQ guys," the former personnel man said. "You hear other coach's talking about simplifying things all the time. Bill wants players who can ingest a different game plan each week and understand why it's being done and he will often walk away from a more talented player if they can't keep up."
It's ironic in an analytics-driven era, IQ is often ignored and the Wonderlic Test even vilified but it's hard to quantify football intelligence anyway, at least until the right person sees it.
One obvious team statistic that can help to identify smart and disciplined play is penalties and New England has been a bottom five team in penalties assessed in three of the past four seasons.
Flores, like every other Pats assistant who has moved on, already has the key to Belichick's world. The real test will be if he has the confidence to use it.
“Bill gives me advice every day,” Flores said. “I learn something from him every day. Whether it’s an interview, or third down, or red zone. Scripts or whatever. I get advice from him every day. I keep saying this over and over, but I’m humbled and fortunate to have been around him for 15 years.”
-John McMullen is a national football columnist for Extra Points Media and 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen