FOXBORO -- Brian Flores’ signature moment was captured in the waning seconds of Super Bowl 49. As Bill Belichick eyeballed Seattle’s sideline, waiting for a declaration of personnel, several assistants impatiently looked on, hoping they’d have enough time to react and get their players where they needed to be. When the time came, it was Flores who yelled, “Malcolm, go!” at undrafted rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler. You know what happened next.
"It was definitely the greatest thrill in my football career," recalled Flores. “We had spent so much time preparing for a variety of situations and that was one of them, especially in the red area. We were ready for it. Malcolm made a hell of a play but the entire group was ready for it.”
Currently a linebacker coach, the 36-year old is considered the odds-on-favorite to ascend to the role of defensive coordinator should Matt Patricia leave to run his own program, which seems very likely at this point. But Flores is also getting a seat at the big boy’s table. He interviewed for for Arizona’s head coaching vacancy Saturday. That comes as no surprise to the men he’s coached.
“I’m excited for where he’s at right now,” said safety Duron Harmon. “He’s worked to put himself in this position.”
“Obviously, the football knowledge is 100 percent there,” Jordan Richard said. “But he has so many other qualities that you have to respect.”
For starters, Flores has a wide variety of experiences since joining the Patriots back in 2002. He began as a scouting assistant then became a pro scout before appealing directly to Belichick to join the coaching ranks.
“I wanted to be closer to the action,” he recalled in an interview during last season.
That again required entering at the ground floor. Flores was a lowly coaching assistant, the guy who had to do things like grab the bags and move them from one drill to the next. From there, Flores was special teams assistant, then did some work with the offense, then - finally - a promotion to become the safeties coach from 2013 through 2015. Now he’s coaching a rag-tag bunch of linebackers that have outperformed their overall talent-level.
“Coach Flores is always pushing, always trying to get us to where we need to be. He’s helped me quite a bit,” said Marquis Flowers, acquired at the tail end of August but now a regular contributor on defense.
Flores can relate to his players because he was a pretty good one himself. He was heavily recruited coming out of Poly Prep in Brooklyn, New York, and could have gone to any number of football factories. He chose Boston College, in part because he has a brother with autism and wanted to remain closer to home. He began his career as a safety but eventually moved to linebacker. Not only did he excel on the field but in the classroom as well. Flores was named to the 2003 All-Big East Academic Team, earning his degree in English. He then tacked on a master’s degree in administration for good measure.
“He’s a smart guy,” said Devin McCourty. “But it goes beyond that.”
It’s the ability to translate an outrageous amount of information and present it to his players in a way that works for them.
“I don’t know if it was because he played at BC, was a good player, was out there playing,” said McCourty. “I think that helps him because he knows when you play what you wanted to hear. We hear so much, there’s so much the coaches can tell you, and Bill says it all the time, about how many different things they give to us. But when you can break it down to two things or three things, that helps players to be able to play fast. And that’s always the goal.”
“There’s a lot that we’re doing and in order to be a good coach it’s how do you present it in a way that allows your players to play fast,” said Richards, “Having him as my safeties coach and now seeing him as linebacker coach this past two years, he definitely exemplifies that.”
To be a professional coach for a decade means you must know the X’s and O’s at a very high level. There are hundreds if not thousands of coaches who have that part down cold. But Flores has taken a page out of Patricia’s book. He has learned as much as he can about his players and developed a greater level of understanding and trust that allows him to stand out.
“Each guy he’s dealt with knows him personally,” said McCourty. “I know his wife, I know his kids, his parents, his brother. I’ve been able to have an awesome relationship with him and that ability to be able to relate to players - he’s kinda still fairly young - that gets the best out of us.”
“He kinda comes to you and basically says we’re on even terms,” added Harmon. “We’re all trying to get there, we’re all trying to improve each day. It’s been awesome for me to see.”