Brian Flores will now be a head coach, and he showed why
The Patriots’ defensive playcaller could open doors for other assistants of color
ATLANTA — What Brian Flores did to the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII was tantamount to acing a final job interview. And although Flores, the New England Patriots’ defensive playcaller, had already done more than enough to become a head coach, his closing act with the Patriots should impress any prospective employer.
On Monday morning, Flores and his family are scheduled to take a private jet to South Florida, where the Miami Dolphins will introduce him as their next on-field leader. Let’s just say he’ll begin his new position on solid footing.
The Dolphins are excited – and understandably so – about beginning a new era under a man whose defense stifled the high-powered Rams offense throughout the Patriots’ 13-3 victory at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Flores designed a strong game plan that clearly confused Rams quarterback Jared Goff. The Patriots won their sixth Super Bowl championship, matching the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most in NFL history, and Flores is moving on from the only organization for which he’s worked.
He’ll be missed, Patriots president Jonathan A. Kraft said.
“Brian’s been with us 15 years and he’s a true professional,” Kraft said as players and coaches celebrated around him in the visitors locker room. “He works incredibly hard. He’s a man of high character, high intellect and he burns to compete.”
What did Kraft think of Flores’ performance on his final day at the office?
“They scored 3 points,” Kraft said. “They were [second] in scoring in the league and they scored 3 points.”
Flores deflected both Kraft’s praise and questions about his big promotion.
“The players did a great job of giving ’em different looks,” Flores said. “We talked about stopping the run, we talked about limiting big plays … defending the deep part of the field.”
At Flores’ direction, the Patriots checked all the boxes.
Now, he’s about to check one: NFL head coach.
In this nearly completed NFL head coaching hiring cycle, Flores is an outlier.
The man expected to lead the Dolphins doesn’t look anything like Rams offensive whiz Sean McVay. While most teams that had openings were obsessed with finding the next McVay, the Dolphins took a road less traveled these days, focusing on a defensive-minded coach of color. And apparently, the Dolphins are getting one heck of a leader.
Flores, who turns 38 on Feb. 24, is described as an outstanding teacher who both commands respect and gives it when earned, several Patriots players said. His best attributes are his smarts, mettle — he’s from one of the toughest neighborhoods in New York – and ability to persuade those under him to strive toward a common goal. Flores, they add, is an even better man than he is a coach.
From all accounts, he’s the type of person who’s capable of shouldering a lot, which is good. Because besides his task of returning the Dolphins to prominence (they’ve earned only two playoff berths in the past 17 seasons), Flores also will be counted on to take up the mantle for assistant coaches of color. Flores, the son of Honduran immigrants, is the only nonwhite who has been tapped to fill any of the eight head-coach openings this cycle.
Many minority coaches are frustrated about what has occurred, and how Flores fares with the Dolphins could have a big effect on whether doors open for them next year. In a perfect world, Flores’ performance would impact only Flores. Coming from where he does, however, Flores knows overcoming challenges only makes one stronger.
“Coach Flo isn’t the type to back down from anything,” New England linebacker Dont’a Hightower said. “He sees something that has to be done, something that has to be [overcome], and he just figures out how to do it. No matter what the situation is, no matter whether anyone else thinks about it, coach Flo just goes to work.”
For 11 years, Flores has been grinding as a Patriots assistant, learning from arguably the greatest coach in the history of professional sports: Bill Belichick. The former Boston College linebacker initially worked in New England’s scouting department, joining the organization after graduating in 2004.
Flores served four seasons as safeties coach and the last three as linebackers coach. This season, Belichick also promoted Flores to be the team’s primary defensive playcaller after Matt Patricia left to become the Detroit Lions head coach. New England gave up an average of 20.3 points per game, ranking seventh in the league.
Although the terrain was bumpier than usual for the Patriots to reach the Super Bowl, they appeared in the title game for the ninth time in the Belichick-Tom Brady era. The transition from Patricia to Flores on defense was generally smooth because players already knew what to expect from him, said defensive end Trey Flowers.
“He demands high expectations from you,” Flowers added. “He demands precision. He demands a standard of excellence. But he also demands that from himself. Some coaches … you don’t get the sense they’re really in it with you. Not coach Flo. He does the work right there with you. So you really want to do it for him. You have that confidence that what he’s telling you is right. When you keep seeing he’s right, it makes it [the bond] stronger. That’s what great coaches do.”
Flores’ path to coaching occurred faster than he envisioned. Or wanted, for that matter.
An injury cut short Flores’ dreams of an NFL career, but his upbringing helped him remain on an upward trajectory despite the setback. As my colleague Ian O’Connor artfully explained back in March, Flores’ toughness was forged in the crucible that was the housing projects of the Brownsville neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. To make it anywhere, one had to first make it out of there. Raul and Maria Flores raised their five boys right. They refused to lose them to the streets.
Flores eventually excelled at football, which provided his opening to daylight. His background as a solid college player helped him ace his current role.
“He knows how it is,” safety Patrick Chung said. “He’s going to put us in situations that are best for us, which makes them the best positions for the team.
“He teaches us. He’s not a coach who says, ‘It’s only what I say.’ He listens also. He understands that we’re better when we’re all working together.”
It’s a theme Flores conveys often.
“If things go right, they go right for all of us. But if they don’t go right, they don’t go right for any of us,” Hightower said. “He puts himself right in it with you, so you know … you know that accountability is there.”
In Miami, Flores will be the third head coach owner Stephen Ross has hired in 10 seasons and the franchise’s first one of color (in 2011, Todd Bowles served three games as Dolphins interim head coach). Miami’s Chris Grier is now also the NFL’s lone African-American general manager after longtime Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome recently stepped down in a long-planned organizational transition.
At the end of the regular season, Ross, who has displayed a commitment to diversity through his founding of the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality, presided over a sweeping in-house shakeup that resulted in both the head coach’s office being empty and Grier being entrusted with total control of the football operation for the first time.
Flores is Grier’s guy. And Grier couldn’t have chosen more wisely, Patriots safety Devin McCourty said.
“For me, admittedly, I’m a little biased,” McCourty said before detailing how much his former position coach means to him. “We have a great relationship that’s obviously much bigger than football. We’ve been together for a long time. He has been a great guy for me to look up to. He’s a great mentor. He’s also someone who has proven himself.
“In everything he has done here, he has shown that you can count on him. He has proven he’s a great coach. He’s proven he does an awesome job and gets guys to believe in what we’re doing. We all play this game and work in this game to advance and take advantages of opportunities. … I know how hard he’s worked to get here.”
In Miami, count on Flores continuing to push and never back down no matter the obstacles. It’s the only way he knows.