If you want to be inspired and believe that perhaps something good can still happen for the Miami Dolphins in the years ahead — even after those many years behind were full of disappointment — then spend an hour with the team’s presumptive head coach, Brian Flores.
I was able to do this amid the din of Super Bowl 53’s media night late Monday. And as fans roared, and music blared and the NFL’s two best teams soaked in the glitzy atmosphere, the message from Flores was an oasis of stability and sanity and hope that hit all the right notes.
In his first media interviews since agreeing to become Miami’s next coach, this young man of 37 years spent about 60 minutes talking of his rise out of poverty and his climb within the Patriots organization. Flores quoted Bible scripture (Proverbs 27:17) and Bill Belichick.
He talked of his parents Raul and Maria — poor Honduran immigrants — whose struggle in a new country kindled a fire within him to reach for a better life.
There was football talk from Flores, whose defense is about to meet perhaps its stiffest test of the season in the Los Angeles Rams. But this also felt like a life chat.
And the entire time it sounded smart and thoughtful.
Flores, you should know, is something of an overnight sensation in that he has never been a head coach, or even a coordinator, but the Dolphins have an agreement in principle to make him their next head coach.
Flores would not confirm that or discuss his next employer in Miami out of respect to his current employer in New England.
“I would say, I love the guys on this team,’ he said. “To think about anything else aside from this game is a disservice to them. That’s not me. That’s kind of where I’m at.”
But even in avoiding the topic of taking the Miami job, Flores showed integrity in handling the task at hand first before jumping to the next few years.
Flores went on to talk about an upbringing that showed his perseverance and work ethic. He told the story of personal triumph that in many ways is a great story about America and an example to some who might not see their American experience as being great right now.
That part first, because that’s the beginning and truly does set the stage for that time in 2004 Flores sent all 32 NFL teams a letter asking for a job while offering to work for free.
The Flores tale begins in Brooklyn’s Brownsville section that was, before recent work toward renewal and perhaps even gentrification, a depressing, violent, poverty-stricken swath of about one square mile that includes building after building of government housing.
Flores grew up in the projects. His family was on welfare. And food stamps.
“The elevator used to be broken. So we’d walk up 20 flights of steps,” Flores recounts. “We’d go shopping, I would get there, ‘Oh, elevator’s broken, who’s walking up?’ It’s me with a bunch of eggs. My mom would follow suit. Sometimes I’d take a couple of trips.
“Neither of my parents ever played football. No one in my family played football. I got into the game by chance. My uncle was a fireman in New York and played for the fire department’s football team. He got me involved in the game and I just ran with it — literally. I was a running back.”
Flores was only 12 years old. But he already had a sense he needed something — sports, education, a good break — to free himself from poverty’s clutches.
“Start with the people I’ve been fortunate to be around,” he said, “I have start with my parents. I have two great parents. My mom, my dad. They’re strong, confident. They instilled core values in me that I still lean on today — integrity, honor, character. Doing it the right way, being honest, telling the truth, working hard. Working hard — that’s been my mantra my whole entire life.
“My mom was big on education. I tell the story every once in a while. I was learning how to read. I remember this very vividly: To learn how to read I’m sitting there and I tell her, ‘Mom I’m going to do this tomorrow.’ She grabs my ear and pulls me back and says, ‘No, we’re going to do this right now.’ That’s kind of the environment I grew up in.
“Those tough times motivated me to excel in school, to excel in sports; To work hard to try to pull my family out of that situation. And I think that was a very important thing for me growing up. It kind of lit a fire in me to work hard and get myself in the position I’m in now.
“So to go from there to where we are now, sitting here media night at the Super Bowl. It’s a dream.”
The position Flores is in now doesn’t resemble poverty or lack in any way. He’s wearing a Rolex watch now. He’s about to sign a multi-million dollar contract with the Dolphins next week.
But that didn’t just happen overnight. The recent sensation, you see, has been 15 years in the making inside the New England pipeline of football people.
Flores entered that pipeline after graduating from Boston College. He spent five years in Chestnut Hill, playing linebacker four of those and graduating with a Master’s degree in Administrative Studies.
After he graduated Flores knew he wanted to remain connected to football somehow, so he wrote a letter to all 32 NFL teams asking for a job.
“There were a few other teams that got back to me,”Flores said. “I’m not going to name them. But it wasn’t all 32 teams, I’ll tell you that much.”
The Patriots obviously responded and gave Flores an interview with then-personnel man Scott Pioli, who later became the general manager in Kansas City and now works in the Atlanta Falcons organization.
‘I told them I’d work for free so they called me back,” Flores said. “And they didn’t ask me to work for free, which I thought was great. I didn’t make a lot but at the same time, I’d been poor my whole life so what little I made, I felt like I was rich. It was a win-win situation. I really enjoyed that time. Everybody talks about the money but to me it was about the process, it was about learning and getting better and it stayed that way for me.”
Flores rented space in the attic of a former BC teammate’s new house for $400 per month. He slept on an air mattress and at work he ran errands for people in the Patriots’ scouting department.
“Getting coffee, getting dry cleaning, driving guys around. I was just trying to find my way. I slept on an air mattress that year,” Flores said. “But just to be wanted was very humbling. I felt fortunate. It was a great experience for me. I’m very fortunate.”
Despite the menial assignments he was first given, Flores attacked the tasks with gusto.
“I was very good. Outstanding, I would say,” Flores said half-kiddingly. “I could get dry cleaning with the best of them.”
Flores began in the New England scouting department, which immediately had him setting his sights on doing that at the highest level.
“That was my goal, to be a GM in this league,” Flores said. “I got into scouting. I was a scouting assistant for two years. I was an advance scout for two years. And then when we lose the Super Bowl in 07-08, the year we went 18-0, I felt like I wanted to make more of an impact. I wanted to have more of an impact on games, on wins and losses. So I asked Bill to go down to coaching. It was a tough conversation with Scott Pioli.”
Belichick hired Flores as a special teams assistant, a job he held for two years. Then Flores coached on the offensive side as a quality control coach for a year.
“I moved up the ranks and fell in love with coaching,” Flores said. “Being around players you get a chance to make an impact. You get to know them, you get to know their families, you get to know where they grew up.
“To me when you connect with a player, and they trust you, and they know you care about them, you can be as demanding and tough and get on them as much as you want. That’s kind of my style. They don’t like me all the time. That’s the truth. But they respect me and they know I respect them.
“They know I’m going to ask a lot of them to try to get them to be the best version of themselves. I tell every player that whenever I meet them. New player, I’m going to do everything I can to help you become the best you can be. And that’s what I love about coaching. That I can potentially make that impact.”
Flores will have much work to do when he arrives in South Florida. The Dolphins have stumbled for decades and next week Flores joins that lineup as Miami’s 13th head coach.
“I want a smart team. I want a fundamentally sound team,” Flores said. “We’re those things. Bill talks about it all the time. We want to be a smart, fundamentally sound team. Play well under pressure. I think we’re that. That’s what we try to build here. And it’s been a good formula for us. I want to continue doing that moving forward.”
Unlike past Dolphins coaches who arrived as offensive or defensive gurus, Flores doesn’t come to Miami with a reputation for knowing it all. On the contrary. He is the defensive play-caller but not the coordinator on a team Belichick, a longtime defensive mastermind of sorts, calls many of the shots.
So what expertise does Flores bring to New England that should impress you? Does he put that defense together or does it belong strictly to Belichick?
“I think as a staff we put the game plan together. As a staff,” Flores said. “And Bill’s definitely a part of that. He’s the head coach so he’s obviously going to be a part of that. But it’s myself and the rest of the coaching staff – Brendan Daly, Steve Belichick, Brett Bielema. We have a great staff. Everybody has input. Everyone’s got their own little section.
“We kind of brainstorm and put our minds together. We build our game plan around our players and the things they do well. Bill’s definitely a part of that. But, yeah, that’s our game plan process. There’s always sometime where it’s maybe we do this, maybe we do that. And we make that decision as a group.”
There are days on the horizon when Flores and his new team will have a game plan and it won’t work quite as expected. At that point it will be up to him to draw on his experience, his family, his life, really, to get over the difficulty.
But Flores seems to be comfortable dealing with difficulties. You already know his background. You should also know his mother Maria is battling cancer.
“Mom has good days, she has bad days,” Flores said. “But she’s fighting. She’s a fighter. She’s fearless. I got a little piece of that from her. I would never say I’m as fearless as she is because she’s been through a lot. But she’s fearless. She’s fighting. She’s as tough a woman as I’ve ever been around.
“I think I’m a mentally tough person. I think I get that from my mother. She’s as mentally tough a person as I’ve ever been around. Everybody says it and it’s cliché but it’s not how many times you get knocked down, it’s how many times you get back up.
“And I try to impart that on my players and really anyone I’m around.”