The morning after Super Bowl 53, New England Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores will board Stephen Ross’s private twin-engine jet and fly with the Miami Dolphins owner to South Florida. That will mark the end of Flores’s days with the Patriots dynasty and the beginning of his time as the new Dolphins head coach.
Whatever the reasons Ross eventually gives for hiring Flores, it’s obvious the Dolphins are undergoing a major revamping of their organization. And the overhaul will give the Dolphins a significant and obvious New England Patriots look.
So it’s fair to say the team that has been among the many to be victimized by the Patriot Way this century is now trying to take from the Patriots and perhaps import the Patriot Way to Miami.
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Flores will take over as the Dolphins’ 13th head coach next week after spending his entire 15 NFL seasons with the Patriots. Multiple reports say Flores will hire Patrick Graham as his defensive coordinator and Chad O’Shea as his offensive coordinator.
Well, Graham broke into NFL coaching with the Patriots in 2009 and spent seven seasons in New England through 2015. He and Flores will implement a multiple defense that will draw fundamental concepts and perhaps more from the Patriots.
O’Shea has coached 16 NFL seasons, the last 10 of them with the Patriots coaching wide receivers. And O’Shea is expected to institute a lot of concepts he learned in New England which will make the Dolphins offense seem similar to New England’s -- with the obvious exception of the guy playing quarterback.
The Dolphins are also expected to hire George Godsey to be on O’Shea’s offensive staff. He started his NFL coaching career with, you guessed it, the Patriots in 2011. He remained there through the 2013 season.
Are you seeing the recasting of the Dolphins as a Patriots experience here? You should. Because it’s about to happen.
And on its face this doesn’t seem like a bad idea.
It’s actually quite logical.
The Patriots have been the NFL’s dominant franchise for nearly two decades. They’ve been the class of the American Football Conference, winning 10 Lamar Hunt trophies since 2001, and they’ve owned the AFC East with 10 consecutive titles and 15 of the past 16.
So this idea of taking from the Patriots to try to win like the Patriots makes sense. It makes much more sense than, say, bringing in people who worked for the Jets. (Another story).
It makes sense trying to copy the Patriot Way.
But what exactly is the Patriot Way?
“It means putting the team first,” Flores said this week during a break in preparation for the Sunday’s Super Bowl against the Los Angeles Rams. “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.”
O’Shea has witnessed the Patriot Way longer than his new boss. And he describes it this way:
“We don’t talk much about the Patriot Way because I don’t think it’s something you talk about,” O’Shea said. “It’s something that obviously shows up on the field and that is the players know their role. Everything’s built on individual accountability. I believe that. Everybody’s trusting each other to do their job and do it at a high level.
“It’s your job to go do it. I don’t think it’s complicated. It’s something that’s easier said than done. You have to have the right commitment.”
Yeah, it’s way more than that. Way more than either of those descriptions.
Aside from having players with the right commitment that ignore, say, Twitter, the Patriot Way is also about having the right type of player.
And this is where it gets interesting.
The truth of the matter is the Patriots have for years put together rosters that seemed flawed. And with seemingly flawed rosters they’ve won five Super Bowls.
One NFL source who previously worked for the Patriots said one secret is New England finds smarter and often more highly motivated players than other teams.
“If you’re talking intelligence, we loved great players who are smart. That was easy,” the source said. “But you can’t always have it all. If it comes down to a great player who isn’t smart versus a good player who is smart, we’d usually pick the good player who is smarter.
“Because we believed those players could be developed and reach a higher ceiling than the dummies who were stronger, faster and could jump higher but couldn’t figure out how tie their shoelaces, much less figure out what the right technique or assignment was.”
It’s hard to quantify a team’s intelligence because there are no publicly disseminated statistics for blown assignments on offense and defense. But this we know:
A staple of the New England offense and defense is to adapt and even change week to week. Plays used one week might be replaced by new ones next week. Players vital to this week’s game plan are subordinates or simply inactive next week.
The Patriots love to mix things up week to week and sometimes even within a game.
It takes smart players to adjust to that requirement. It takes thoughtful players to understand and accept shifting roles.
Now, check the NFL penalty statistics the last few years. That statistic can be used to measure discipline and, yes, smart play. New England has been top five in fewest penalties per game in three of the past four seasons.
And they are traditionally in the top 10 fewest penalized teams.
So can this stuff be borrowed? Can the Dolphins become sort of like the Patriots by adding a handful of former Patriots coaches?
“I think a lot of teams do a good job of building culture,” Flores said. “The Rams are one of them. Sean McVay has done a great job over there. They’ve got a great team. You can see the camaraderie they have on the field. You see guys putting the team first. I know a couple of guys over there, Aqib Talib and others, in the locker room.
“Those guys are tough guys, those guys are good people.”
Yes, but good culture is not necessarily the Patriots’ culture. And teams have failed miserably thinking they could copy New England’s success by hiring New England coaches.
In 2017, the Detroit Lions were 9-7 to follow another 9-7 record and playoff appearance in 2016. That was deemed not good enough so the Lions hired Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia to bring the Patriot Way to Motown. He was hired by general manager Bob Quinn, who spent the first 15 seasons of his career in the New England front office before moving to Detroit in 2016.
So a Patriots GM hired a Patriots coach.
The Lions finished 6-10 in 2018.
And the truth is there’s a litany of Patriots coaches or personnel men who were supposed to carry the Patriot Way to new teams but failed in the assignment.
Maybe it’s because none could bring Tom Brady. New England owner Robert Kraft, who bought the team 25 years ago and had the franchise in the Super Bowl before Brady, is surely a part of that.
Perhaps and more importantly to the establishment of culture and a coaching staff and a personnel department, maybe the failure was in that Bill Belichick remains in New England.
“I think the most important thing to any of that is you have to have a strong leader, and I believe we have that in Bill Belichick,” O’Shea said. “He holds everyone accountable on a daily basis. He’s never going to waver from that.
“He’s never going to set his sights on anything but the highest level. He has high standards. He’s very demanding. I can’t say enough great things about Bill Belichick and what he’s done here in my time here of building a winning football team and I think it’s all based on individual accountability. Everybody doing their job.”
Well, Flores is a Belichick pupil. He’s seen how it works.
“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 and it’s incredible.”
It’ll be more incredible if Flores learned how to bring the Patriot Way to Miami.