The Miami Dolphins didn’t just win the Super Bowl, but they just won the guy who won the Super Bowl, which is sort of the next best thing.
You don’t get a ring for getting a person who carries with him the perfume of ultimate success, but you do get a hope that feels real — refreshingly so, and badly needed around these parts.
This once-proud franchise has been peddling false hope to its starving fans for most of the past 20 years in a sad parade of screwy decisions, bad hires, blunders and, mostly, irrelevant mediocrity. Now, at last, the gang that couldn’t shoot straight finally has, it seems.
Brian Flores, new Dolphins head coach, arrived to his challenge Monday feeling less like a hire than a prize.
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Only two Dolphins coaching hires, post-Don Shula, have fundamentally excited fans: Jimmy Johnson in 1996 and Nick Saban in 2005. I believe Brian Flores, in 2019, has a chance to be the third.
“Been a whirlwind 24 hours,” as Flores put it, mildly, during his introductory. “I’m going to do everything we can to build a culture and build a winner here. We’re going to try to make this community proud.”
Miami steals a key component of the Bill Belichick dynasty in Flores, the Pats’ defensive play-caller and de facto coordinator whose game plan dismantled the Los Angeles Rams’ mighty offense in New England’s 13-3 Super Bowl win Sunday night in Atlanta. Flores was the game’s real MVP, his defense not only dominating the Rams’ firepower but also overcoming Tom Brady’s uncharacteristic mediocrity.
Twelve hours later he’s on owner Stephen Ross’ private jet to Miami.
By late afternoon he’s walking into his first head-coaching job and his introductory news conference, his two young boys beaming, his wife, Jennifer, holding and trying to shush and distract, Lilian, 2, who is softly babbling as toddlers do while daddy is at the podium in a packed Dolphins auditorium in Davie.
(You know it a big occasion when reserved seats include the name tags Bob Griese and Dan Marino, the two Hall of Fame quarterbacks sitting elbow to elbow).
“Look at this crowd,” Ross said. “You’d think we just won the Super Bowl!”
Maybe they had, in a way. If Flores turns out to be as great as they hope, it’s a wonderful step.
Not in 53 Super Bowls have we seen better defense than what the Patriots did to L.A., and the Dolphins’ newly minted coach had his hand-prints all over it.
The Super Bowl itself was a boring letdown, a buzzkill for a million parties. The ballyhooed commercials were a bust, the only memorable one the NFL’s own, celebrating its 100th season, a high-brow gala busting out into football mayhem featuring all-time great players. The halftime show was meh.
Nothing stood out, really, except New England’s defense, and the CBS broadcast crew weren’t mentioning Flores’ name or impact nearly enough.
The Patriots’ dynasty is wheezing, at its end. Even with Sunday’s sixth title for Belichick/Brady, you sense change is at hand, a change the NFL needs as it embarks on its centennial season that will end with a Miami Super Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium.
The NFL needs a Next Big Thing as Brady, who’ll turn 42 before next season starts, decides if he’ll continue or retire.
Miami first and foremost is still a really good quarterback away from being able to hoist itself among the on-the-rise teams jockeying for Next Big Thing.
But a strong coaching hire, as Flores seems to be, is the next-biggest step.
He’s also one more reason to doubt all you hear about the Fins tanking in 2019, being intentionally lousy, in order to get a high 2020 draft pick.
“Every week we’re going to go out there with the idea we’re going to win a game,” he said. “But there’ll be some pain, no doubt that that.”
None of this is to say Flores will bring with him an instant turnaround.
We’ll see if the protege’ is bringing any of Belichick’s genius dust with him.
We’ll see if a man turning 38 later this month is ready for the large leap from linebackers coach to head coach. We’ll also see how prepared Flores is to leave the Belichick nest and take over a team without the Patriots talent (to say the least).
But where he’s coming from alone earns a benefit of doubt his recent Miami predecessors neither enjoyed nor proved worthy of.
His climb is a mountain of doubts about the Dolphins, partly fomenting by all the tanking talk.
New Super Bowl odds for next season out of the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook have Miami at 300-1 odds, longest of any team.
Not all are sold on Flores, either, although the doubts there usually are rooted in the fact the Belichick coaching tree hasn’t borne much fruit.
Still, Flores feels he is ready. He presented as a bit soft-spoken Monday, as low-watt on vivacity, but he presented well nonetheless. He seems self-confident, with none of the bug-eyed twitching we saw as Adam Gase introduced himself to Jets fans.
“I wasn’t in a rush to be a head coach. It had to be the right place and the right time and the right feel,” Flores said. “I believe I became the best version of myself, I believe I can now be that on a grander scale.”
Not insignificantly, he becomes only the NFL’s third current head coach of color, and the Dolphins’ first other than interim guy Todd Bowles. Flores, whose parents emigrated from Honduras, also becomes only the NFL’s second current Hispanic head coach, dovetailed with diverse Miami.
“I’m honored by that,” he said.
Flores’ hiring continues a long and dubious Dolphins trend of gambling on new head coaches who have not before done the job in the NFL. Flores is the ninth one of those in a row including three interim guys. I say dubious because it hasn’t worked. Dave Wannstedt in 2000 was the last Miami hire who’d been an NFL head coach previously. Perhaps not coincidentally that also was the last season Miami won a playoff game.
Flores will break that long drought, if he proves to be all his professional lineage suggests.
The AFC East is evolving.
The Patriots, even as they reign yet again, are seeing their grip loosen.
The Jets, with Dolphins discard Gase now the coach, believe Sam Darnold is the franchise QB to carry them.
The Bills are counting on Josh Allen to do the same.
The Dolphins, with their quarterback future unknown, at least have someone now to hang their hope on.
Go to work, Brian Flores.
Be the answer the Miami Dolphins have been searching for for a long, long time.