So, just what do the Miami Dolphins have in first year head coach Brian Flores? While the early returns are by no means complete, it looks as though the team and its long suffering fan base may have struck gold when general manager Chris Grier convinced owner Stephen Ross to make Flores the team’s tenth head coach.
It has to have been a strange journey for Flores. Born in 1981 in the tough Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York (‘Remember them brothers from the hill up in Brownsville . . .’), he spent his early years in the housing projects, in a building in which the elevators often didn’t work, necessitating a long climb up dozens of flights of stairs just to bring in the groceries. He joined the New England Patriots as a scouting assistant in 2004, after graduating from Boston College. His long but steady ascent up the coaching ladder stands in stark contrast to many NFL coaches and front office employees, because he didn’t have any familial connections to get him a job.
You always worry when your favorite team hires a first time head coach who is known for being a stickler for detail and discipline, and for conducting long, physically demanding practices. In 1984, when Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant retired from the Minnesota Vikings, the team hired Les Steckel, who promptly ran the team into the ground with his handbook of new rules and onerous practice sessions. Steckel was so bad that the team decided to eat the remainder of his contract after just one season, and begged Grant to return for one more year until they could find someone else to coach the team. Similarly, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired Greg Schiano in 2012, only to watch the team wilt under the vicissitudes of his coaching style, and he was fired less than two full seasons later. The Dolphins haven’t been completely immune to this problem themselves; Dave Wannstedt was notorious for punishing his teams with hard practices after a loss the previous week.
What sets Flores apart from those coaches is the connection between he and the men toil for him day after day under the hot South Florida sun. I’ve often said that being a coach or manager is somewhat like deciding how far up or down to turn a faucet; the faucet is never all the way up or all the way off, but somewhere in between, and a good coach instinctively knows where that faucet should be set at all times. After watching Flores in action these past few weeks, I’m of the opinion that at least thus far, he knows just how hard he can push his players without losing them or having them tune him out. Having been placed in the unenviable situation of trying win games for a front office that doesn’t necessarily want him to win too many of them his first year, Flores won’t hear any of it. If you want to start an argument with Brian Flores, just try bringing up the subject of tanking in an interview with him. He’ll put that one to rest real fast. If Grier and the rest of the Dolphins’ scouting department can get Flores the players he needs to compete in the rugged AFC East and beyond, this team may eventually have a real chance to return to the upper echelon of the NFL one of these years.