Feb 4, 2019

  • Cameron WolfeESPN Staff Writer Close
    • Covered the Broncos for two seasons with the Denver Post
    • Graduate of the University of Houston
    • A native of Jackson, Miss.

MIAMI — Miami Dolphins fans should be hopeful, and maybe even optimistic, that Brian Flores will guide their team to greener pastures.

Flores arrives in Miami riding the high of a Super Bowl victory. Even though it's considered Bill Belichick's defense, Flores was the defensive playcaller of a four-hour coaching masterpiece as the New England Patriots held the Los Angeles Rams — who scored 543 points in the regular season — to three points. It was a brilliant display and a great springboard into a being a head coach.

Of course, the Dolphins aren't the Patriots. Not even close. So Flores' journey to fix the Dolphins might not be quick. It might not be pretty. But the process will be worth it if the Dolphins get back to the "sustained winning" that owner Stephen Ross said he's seeking after firing Adam Gase.

General manager Chris Grier is running the show with total football decision-making power. This appears to be a positive change from previous years when it felt like too many cooks were in the kitchen. Grier's first major decision was to select Flores as his ground-level CEO.

Flores, 37, has his work cut out for him. There's no secret that the Dolphins are rebuilding and it might be multiple seasons before they have the right collection of talent to succeed. Early 2019 odds by several sports books have the Dolphins with the longest Super Bowl odds of all 32 teams — lower than the 3-13 Arizona Cardinals and the 4-12 Oakland Raiders.

It's been two decades without "sustained winning," so what's two or three more years, right?

From talking to several people across the NFL and close to the Dolphins' new head coach, it's clear that Flores believes in much-needed accountable leadership during a time where it will be more important than ever to build a culture that can withstand poor results. The Dolphins must stay true to their promise of patience. They owe Flores that, and Grier, too.

Flores was the choice as coach because the Dolphins were impressed by his presence and his plans to rebuild a team that's often been a collection of disjointed, and occasionally broken, pieces.

Of course, it helped that Flores shares similar philosophies with Grier. Both started the paths to their current careers as low-level Patriots scouts.

The Patriot Way is one of the most successful cultures in the modern era of sports. The Patriots certainly have a place as one of the greatest dynasties in NFL history, as six Super Bowl championships in two decades and eight straight AFC championship game appearances speaks for itself. But it wasn't built overnight, and no coach or GM can simply duplicate that path. Many have tried and many have failed. The lessons each man learned in New England will help make things work in Miami, but the blueprint can't be an exact duplicate.

The Patriots' defense was disciplined, unpredictable and aggressive on the game's biggest stage Sunday night. They created a horde of problems for Sean McVay’s high-powered Rams offense, making running back Todd Gurley a non-factor and confusing quarterback Jared Goff. Flores deserves significant credit for his role in New England’s Super Bowl LIII win. Dolphins fans should feel ecstatic that Flores will bring those qualities and abilities to his new team.

The Dolphins are going with an opposite approach than when they hired Gase three years ago. Three Dolphins players told ESPN they felt alienated or held to a different standard if they weren't one of Gase's "guys." People close to Flores describe him as fair, caring and diplomatic. The Dolphins chose not to follow the NFL trend of chasing a coach with a high-powered offensive scheme. Instead, they hired a candidate whose strong suits are teaching, development and leadership.

That in itself is a calculated risk given the path of the NFL — seven of the eight coaches that made it to the divisional round of the playoffs came from an offensive background.

But it would have been "same old Dolphins" to take the same path as everybody else. They could have taken their shot at one of the hot-name quarterback-whisperers to replace the hot-name quarterback whisperer they just fired. Instead, they chose a man that they thought could lead them to something different.

Nobody knows who will be successful in the big chair until it actually happens. Much like the NFL draft, selecting a coach is more of an educated guess. But you increase your chances by betting on traits you'd want in a leader in any profession.

One NFL executive who knows Flores described him as his own man with his own style and didn't expect he would try to duplicate Belichick — a tactic that has previously been unsuccessful when other Patriots assistants took head coaching positions across the league. A different NFL scout said Flores can "ride your ass or love you up." The typical terms used to describe Flores are that he is genuine, a good communicator and a leader.

Flores will bring a work ethic and relatable background — he's from the Brooklyn projects, born to Honduran immigrants who had to fight for everything to provide a better opportunity for their children. Flores had to fight for everything, too. He's a former Boston College linebacker who never had a chance to play in the NFL because of a torn quadriceps muscle he suffered late in his senior season. He worked the last 15 years in New England, first as a scout, then coaching all three phases — special teams, offense and defense.

Flores is coming off his first season as a playcaller, and the Patriots' defense dramatically improved under him. The defensive scheme he'll bring to Miami will have multiple fronts and it will be flexible from week to week.

Offense, of course, might be a bigger issue. There's no ready quarterback answer, except that Ryan Tannehill is not expected to be the guy. One of Flores' top tasks will be deciding who will run his ship and whether they'll take a shot on a franchise QB in the 2019 or 2020 NFL drafts, or perhaps both.

Patience for Flores is the key of this all. Steve Wilks being fired in Arizona after one season is a cautionary tale, especially for head coaches on the defensive side of the ball.

After firing Gase, Ross said, "We’re going to look to really build this organization based on our needs and if it takes a year or so – two years, three years – we’re going to be there."

Flores likely took this job betting on that to be true. He has a big task ahead of him, but there's reason to believe he'll succeed. He just needs to hope the Dolphins follow through on their promise of patience, even if it takes three or four years to fully execute the plan.

"If you have a vision for what your team wants to be, you stay with it and you build it the right way," Grier said.

Well, the Dolphins have chosen Flores and Grier to lead them toward "sustained winning." Now Ross and company owe it to them to stay with it and build it the right way.

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