MINNEAPOLIS - One of the surprises of the NFL’s coaching carousel was Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores getting an opportunity to interview for the then-vacant head coaching job in Arizona.
In this league, it is essentially unheard of to go from a position coach to a head coach but not only did Flores earn that interview, by all accounts he knocked it out of the park. The job eventually went to Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, but Flores made a strong impression and will find himself on the short list next year should the Patriots keep winning.
“B-Flo is an unbelievable coach,” said Pats defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. “He’s very driven. Very smart. Incredibly detail oriented. He wants to improve. He wants to learn. He does those things daily. I love working with him.”
Heady praise for the soon-to-be Lions frontman. Flores, 36, is flattered by all the chatter, and in true Patriot fashion, gave it right back. But it was interesting to note that the former Boston College product said getting to this point has been an arduous process.
“You work so hard for so long,” Flores said. “This is my 14th year here. I’ve put in a lot of hours. A lot of time. Worked on my craft. A lot of people would say they are infinitely a great coach; I wasn’t. I had to work at this. I’ve gotten better year after year after year. That’s kind of been the hallmark of me as a coach and what kind of coach I want to be. I’ll continue to do that and we’ll see where it all ends up.”
With Patricia coaching his final game for the Pats on Sunday, inquiring minds want to know: who’s the next man up?
Flores appears to be the front-runner, groomed to eventually ascend and become the defensive coordinator. But if you were expecting Flores to dive deep into the subject, you obviously don’t know how things work with this team. The entire staff - from coaching assistants to position coaches to the two departing guys (offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is headed to coach the Colts) - wouldn’t admit that anything was going to change.
“Well again, we've got a lot of great coaches on this staff,” said Flores. “We’ll see how that goes. I think they’re all capable if Matt goes…if he [Josh] goes. Hopefully, he doesn’t.”
I chuckled. Flores didn’t, even when pressed further.
“I’m gonna do what’s best for the team,” he said. “If that means getting coffee and dry cleaning - which I’ve done - if that means getting water, I’ll do whatever is best for the team, whatever coach feels is best for the team.”
In writing a story on Flores last month, it is very evident the players are big believers in both Flores the coach and Flores the man. They raved about his ability to boil down volumes of information into a digestible series of points that allows them to play fast. That speaks to Flores’ past at BC, where as a Division I athlete he knows just how hard this game can be.
“There were times where I got a lot of information - maybe too much information - but in football, you want to try to get an advantage any way you can,” he said when I asked him about how much his days a player influence how he coaches. “I just try as best I can to give them a few things, the big ones - you gotta get the big stuff right - whatever it may be for the game plan. Just try to get that information to them so they can play at the level they’re capable of.”
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Patricia sees that daily.
“You can see the respect he has from the players and part of that respect comes from his ability to communicate to them the things they need.”
That respect is also earned by the way Flores has presented himself to the players. They don’t just know him as a coach, he’s an actual person not just some automaton repeating the same phrases at them from July until February. The players know his wife. His kids. His brother. That may seem a mere footnote to what makes Flores the coach that he is until you actually talk to him about it. It was here that his passion really came through.
“I think in order to get the most out of them you need to connect - especially players in this day and age,” he told me. “That’s just my personal feeling on that. That’s been my approach. But at the same time in this game, you’ve got to be disciplined, you’ve got to be hard on guys, you’ve got to tough on them to get the best from them. How do you do both? It’s tough. I would say I spend a lot of time thinking about. And each player is different. I can’t talk to one like I talk to another. It’s like your kids. You gotta coddle some of ‘em, you gotta be a little firmer with other ones. I just try to be honest and transparent with those guys. I just try to be a good person really. They know even when I yell at them, I’m doing what’s in their best interest. Everything I do is in their best interest. I love my players.They know that and I tell them that too.”
They remember that even when Flores fixes his jaw and stares so intensely at them, you “feel as if it’s just you and him,” jokes Duron Harmon, “even if we’re playing in front of 70,000.” Sounds to me like the Patriots have found their man.