The sweetest little scene unfolded on the football field after the Miami Dolphins’ first preseason practice had ended Thursday at the team’s Davie training facility.
Hardly anyone noticed because most of the fans had left, and the huge knot of media was surrounding quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, the last player still out there. This was around high noon, on a day when a freshly laid egg might fry right in the shell.
Out on the field stood a young family. His two young boys couldn’t get any closer to their father, who raised his toddler daughter above his head and then cradled her in his arm. The husband and wife embraced, then she backed up a few steps and snapped a portrait of the family tableau, as if it were a pinch-me moment, or proof that this was real.
This is a big deal. Brian Flores had just finished running his first preseason practice as the Dolphins head coach — as an NFL head coach, as a head coach at any level — and this was a family savoring the moment.
“You go through the whole offseason for today,” Flores had said earlier. “For this.”
No, you go through a whole life and career for this, never knowing if the chance would come,.
Flores spent 15 seasons in the deepest shadow in the NFL, the one cast by Bill Belichick in New England, before the Dolphins finally made him a head coach at 38. And this was the first day of training camp, the start of the preseason, when everything gets real, when actual games start rushing at you like a defensive player busting into your pocket.
The first preseason game is Aug. 8. The regular season starts exactly one month later.
The media and bettors don’t expect Miami to be very good. Flores is too busy living his dream, too busy preparing to win, to pay attention.
Dolfans are wondering if Flores will be a good coach.
What if he’s a great one?
What if the franchise that has not done much the past 20 years has finally struck it big with this hire.
The indications are there, and it isn’t just that Flores grew up in the business with a pretty fair mentor in Belichick, arriving in Miami with four Super Bowl rings himself.
It is the attention to detail and organization you see. It is the impression he is making.
Flores instructed his media department to send out emails alerting reporters and cameramen of a schedule change Wednesday morning. His training camp-opening news conference originally scheduled to begin at 9:10 would start at 9:20 instead.
Flores is maniacal about punctuality. Nothing is more valuable than time, and he thinks it’s a sin to waste it. He did not want to waste the media’s time with a 10-minute wait or to have anyone think he was late.
He showed up precisely on time and sweating, beads dripping down his cheeks. It wasn’t nervousness. He came straight from a morning workout called “The Murph,” which consists of a one-mile run, 100 pullups, 200 pushups, 300 squats, then another mile run.
“But not a whole one, a modified version,” he said, as if apologizing.
Practice would start in 20 minutes, and Flores, wearing a Dolphins ballcap and long sleeves in the searing heat, would be all over the field, a whistle usually clamped in his teeth.
“I’ll be on offense, I’ll be on defense, I’ll check in on the kicking game, I’ll set my eyes on all parts of the team,” he described his regimen. “If I see something I don’t like, I’ll walk over there. If somebody needs yelling at, I’ll be over there. If somebody needs a pat on the back, I’ll be there, too.”
Sure enough: “When you see the head [coach] walk over there, I know, ‘Hey, don’t mess up,’ ” defensive tackle Akeem Spence said afterward. “He challenges guys.”
Fitzpatrick, being challenged for the starting QB job by Josh Rosen this camp, has played for 11 previous head coaches in a meandering career entering its 15th season. When he speaks of Flores, the admiration is palpable.
“A great demeanor. Very genuine. He’s coming from a good place and the right place,” Fitzpatrick says. “He’s got the attention, command and respect of the team, and that can be hard for a first-year head coach.”
He has earned it with stuff others don’t see but the team knows, such as Flores visiting Kendrick Norton in the hospital every day following the recent truck accident that caused Norton to lose his left arm and end his career.
Across town, new Hurricanes coach Manny Diaz has coined the hashtag #TNM, for The New Miami. But that fits the Dolphins, too.
This is only the sixth time in 54 franchise seasons the Fins will enter a season with a different head coach and starting quarterback than the year before.
Most football experts predict the Fins will be pretty bad this season (I’m more optimistic), but Flores already has mastered the blinders-on focus and has instilled in his team a micro, not macro approach. “Improve today” is a mantra.
He wants to hear nothing about tanking to get a high draft pick in 2020, and the new head coach says this to Dolfans who might think that:
“I tell them, ‘Support the Dolphins.’ We’re going to have a tough, smart, disciplined team that won’t beat themselves. We’re going to fight to win every week.”