Miami Dolphins  

 

Brian Flores brings direct, unflinching vision to Miami Dolphins

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DAVIE, Fla. -- Brian Flores stood up to greet me as I entered his office on the second floor of the Miami Dolphins' training facility Sunday morning, circling back to grab a bottle of water. There were four sunken chairs aligned in equidistant fashion around a small, circular glass table, and I sat down in the one furthest from the entrance.

Flores looked up and frowned. "You're in my seat," he said, politely but definitively. After I'd gotten up and moved, the Dolphins' rookie head coach added, "There are three doors, and I have to have eyes on all of them."

Like a cinematic mobster in a darkened Italian restaurant, Flores has a need to see who, or what, might be coming at him. As the 38-year-old Brooklyn native tackles his toughest professional test -- and perhaps the stiffest challenge faced by any of the league's six first-time head coaches -- Flores has unflinchingly communicated his vision and, when necessary, asserted his authority.

"I try to be clear and direct," Flores said midway through our interview, which took place before the team's second training camp practice. "That's part of leadership. There's so much gray area in football, with 11 guys on the field that you're trying to (coach).

"I think everyone likes direct. They might not like it in a specific moment, but ... I'm always gonna push 'em to do more. That's just me. I try to be truthful and honest and transparent, and if they don't like it, then so be it. And that's OK. I think they respect that and they know where I stand."

The Dolphins, who haven't won a playoff game since 2000, have a pretty good sense of where they stand in the eyes of outsiders. Coming off a 7-9 season that culminated in the firing of third-year coach Adam Gase, Miami appears to be in full rebuilding mode, with the Miami Herald reporting in January that the word "tanking" was used during at least some of the team's head-coaching interviews.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross clarified the organization's approach in March, saying he was "committed" to a rebuild. Flores, who spent his entire pre-Dolphins coaching career with the New England Patriots, doesn't want to hear the 'T' word -- at all.

"I'm not a big fan," Flores said. "I think the word (tanking) is disrespectful to the game that I love. I think to use that term, for a group of guys to hear that, it's absurd -- when they're out here spending hours in the building, preparing in the offseason, running in the heat, practicing in the heat, meetings, walkthroughs, weights. To put that type of effort in, and the idea that we're not gonna go try to win every game, it's disrespectful to the game that's brought a lot [of happiness] for me and a lot of other people. Especially since this is the (NFL's) 100-year anniversary.

"You want to get me fired up, keep going in that direction."

Flores' career arc has been pointing straight up for the past two seasons. Following the 2017 campaign, Flores parlayed his role as the Patriots' linebackers coach into de facto defensive coordinator duties after Matt Patricia left to become the Detroit Lions head coach. Last January, Flores blew away the Dolphins' brass during his interview, ultimately compelling the team to wait for his services until the Patriots had completed their Super Bowl LIII victory over the Los Angeles Rams.

Though nothing was official, the team had already communicated its intentions to Flores, and news had gotten out that he was the Dolphins' choice. After combining with his legendary boss, Bill Belichick, to stymie the Rams' high-powered attack in a 13-3 victory, Flores celebrated on the Mercedes-Benz Stadium field with his family -- wife Jenny and their three children, sons Miles and Maxwell and daughter Liliana.

Approached by a Boston TV station for a live interview, Flores held 6-year-old Miles in his arms as confetti fell around them.

"Miles wanted to get in front of a camera," Flores recalled, "so I picked him up and one of the reporters said, 'Hey Miles, do you know what happened?' He was trying to bait him into saying, 'We just won the Super Bowl.' [Instead], my son goes, 'We're going to Miami!' "

Oops.

Things happened quickly from there, with Flores skipping the Patriots' victory parade to embark upon his new mission. It's a difficult one, but Flores has overcome obstacles throughout his life and earned admiration from virtually everyone he has encountered in the process.

To say Flores has attacked his new job is an understatement: Since moving to South Florida, he has been to the beach just three times, staying only a couple of hours in each instance. Mostly, he has been in his office or elsewhere in the team facility, attempting to instill a culture that draws in some ways from the Patriots -- the Dolphins' AFC East rival and frequent tormentors -- but which reflects his own personality as well.

If nothing else, he has been decisive. On Monday, the day after our interview, Flores fired offensive line coach Pat Flaherty, a 63-year-old veteran NFL assistant who'd been hired less than six months earlier, and replaced him with Dave DeGuglielmo, who'd been hired as an analyst during the spring.

"I think the easy decision would have been to do nothing ... and hope that it got better," Flores told reporters on Tuesday. "But I just felt like it was the move for us to make and build moving forward."

During that same interview session, Flores was asked about the training camp competition between veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick -- signed after the team traded incumbent starter Ryan Tannehill to the Tennessee Titans -- and second-year player Josh Rosen, the No. 10 overall pick of the 2018 draft, whom Miami acquired in a trade with the Arizona Cardinals on April 26.

"I would say from a quarterback standpoint, it's pretty clear to me that Ryan Fitzpatrick is leading the way," Flores said. "I think he's done that in a lot of areas from leadership to production on the field, in the meeting rooms, in the walkthroughs."

In other words, his responses to both questions were far more revealing than the answers typically provided by Belichick -- another indication that Flores, unlike some former Patriots assistants and personnel executives who leave for bigger jobs elsewhere, isn't trying to imitate his ex-boss' coarse, insular leadership style.

"Anyone that's met him, or talked about him when we were doing our research -- former players or coaches he's coached with -- will tell you, he's his own guy," Dolphins general manager Chris Grier said of Flores. "He's gonna do it the way he believes in, and he's gonna be who he is."

Said Flores: "I think there's a discipline, a toughness, a respect for the game that I learned in New England that I think is just basic, the way football's supposed to be taught and practiced and preached. Those things that are basically foundational -- hard work, high standards, playing for your teammates, putting the team first -- those things are ingrained in my fabric. How those are expressed, that'll come from me ... who I am as a person. And that's different.

"Everybody's a little bit different. I think it's from your upbringing, it's from your experiences. Occasionally I like to have fun and laugh. More times than not I like to be direct. But ... it's a game. And you want to have fun playing a game. As much fun as you can have playing football, coaching football, that's what we want to see out on the field."

Wide receiver Brice Butler said Flores strikes a good balance between being an authoritarian and an ally.

"He does a great job of separating the on-the-field and the off-the-field," Butler explained after Sunday's practice. "If he yells at you out here, once you walk through that (locker room) door, he might give you a hug. He can talk trash with you, too. He is definitely his own guy. It's refreshing."

Early in training camp, Flores tried talking some trash to the team's wideouts, saying, "We'll see if these receivers can block." Veteran Kenny Stills immediately engaged, reminding Flores that it was he who sprung the block that freed then-Miami running back Brandon Bolden on a 54-yard run in a Dec. 9 home game against the Patriots, which the Dolphins eventually won on a miracle play as time expired.

"You wanna talk about last year?" Flores shot back. "We don't talk about last year!"

The back-and-forth continued between Stills and his coach throughout the drill.

"He talks real, cash-money s---," Stills said admiringly. "He's not backing down at all, and he doesn't freak out if you come at him, either."

In this instance, at least, Flores knew he had bragging rights: As epic as that victory was for the Dolphins, they spent January and February watching the Patriots win their third championship in five seasons, with four Super Bowl appearances during that span.

"One thing he has talked to us about is expanding our thinking and establishing a standard," Stills said. "Instead of focusing so much on those two games against the Patriots every year, we need to shift our mentality and learn how to make them all important."

Such a transformation likely won't happen in instantaneous fashion, but Flores believes there is value in the struggle.

"I think every season, you're gonna deal with ups, downs, adversity, lumps -- call it whatever you want," he said. "There's only been one perfect season in football. It's an imperfect game. So there's gonna be adversity within a game, within a practice, within a meeting, within a walkthrough.

"Every team's gonna take some lumps. Every team's gonna get punched in the face, and you've gotta get back up and go again. That's just part of the game. You need to build that mental toughness in your team as much as you can. It's something we talk about. Yeah, there's gonna be some adversity. That's part of the process."

In other words, Flores can see it coming, like a movie Mafioso watching an unwelcome intruder slip through the door of a darkened restaurant.

Follow Michael Silver on Twitter @MikeSilver.

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