Guregian: Brian Flores will break through when it comes to Bill Belichick’s coaching tree

The failure of Bill Belichick’s coaching tree has been well-documented. Somehow, arguably the greatest coach of all time doesn’t have much to show from his stable of assistants.
The lack of success of Belichick’s disciples is confounding, to say the least, with Matt Patricia the latest to flop after just two-and-a-half seasons in Detroit. It just doesn’t compute, that so few of those who have learned under Belichick have gone on to have successful head coaching stints.
But all might not be lost. It appears the tree is on its way to having some fruitful branches down the road.
Brian Flores, who spent 11 seasons as a Belichick assistant, mostly on the defensive side of the ball, has done a great job creating a new culture and turning the program around in Miami. Former Patriots special teams coach Joe Judge in his first year might also be on his way to revitalizing the Giants, but Flores is clearly on the faster track.
He’s the one to bet on for a breakthrough.
His players have bought in, and in terms of building a contender, they’re ahead of schedule. In fact, it’s December, and for the first time in two decades, the roles between the two teams have reversed. The Patriots are playing the Dolphins, per usual, but it’s a more important game for Miami when it comes to the playoffs and seeding.
So instead of the Dolphins being the spoiler, the Patriots find themselves in that role Sunday, even if they’re not mathematically out.
That’s a credit to Flores and the job he’s done since taking over for Adam Gase last year. In a so-called “tank” year last year, the Dolphins went 5-11. This year, heading into Week 15, the Fins are 8-5, and would currently be a playoff team as a wild card entry.
“Flo, he was always a great coach and very respected,” Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore said of Belichick’s former defensive play-caller earlier this week. “He has his guys doing the right thing on the field and off the field, so it’s no surprise that they’re having success over there.”
And even when Flores presumably does the wrong thing, it proves to be the right call.
Case in point, the Dolphins’ Week 13 game against the Bengals.
The Fins were up 19-7. That’s when all hell broke loose. Dolphins receiver Jakeem Grant was on the receiving end of a blatant cheap shot from Bengals wideout Mike Thomas on a punt return early in the fourth quarter. Flores was one of the first out on the field, protesting the hit. It got to the point where he needed to be restrained as he angrily headed toward the Bengals sideline.
In the aftermath, Flores said he wished his emotions hadn’t gotten the best of him. It’s not coach-like to lose your cool, but he wasn’t going to apologize for sticking up for one of his players. He’s tried to instill a fire and passion in his charges. He’s preached having a team-first mentality, much like his mentor has done in Foxboro for two decades.
And he’s backed up his words.
There are no superstars in aqua and orange. Just a family of fierce competitors who will do whatever it takes to win.
“We’re a family,” former Patriots and current Dolphins linebacker Kyle Van Noy said after the Cincy game. “That’s what you do for your family, right? If you saw somebody get hit, you’re going to act a certain type of way.”
Beyond that, much like Belichick, Flores hasn’t been afraid to make unpopular, even risky decisions in order to do what he feels will ultimately be the best for the team. After the first year, he dumped his offensive coordinator, former Pats assistant Chad O’Shea, and also replaced his defensive coordinator, Patrick Graham, another ex-Patriots coach.
And if that wasn’t bold enough, switching to Tua Tagovailoa, after popular veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick had won three straight games, was surely a gamble. In Flores’ mind, going with the rookie, who was taken with the fifth overall pick, and throwing him into the fire Week 8 was the way to go in order to keep the chains moving on the Dolphins transformation, and get a better sense of how Tua would fare in the NFL.
“When you’re genuinely and authentically and sincerely trying to do what’s best for the team, as a leader, you have peace making the decisions you make,” Flores said on a Zoom call with reporters Wednesday. “That was the case with going with Tua, showing that was the best thing for our organization.”
The former Alabama quarterback has had some shaky moments, but has also shown what made him a championship winner in college. The Fins were 4-3 to start the season with Fitzpatrick, and have gone 4-2 since.
Heading into Sunday’s game with the Patriots, the Dolphins are coming off a loss to the Chiefs, but Tagovailoa helped the Fins battle back from a 20-point deficit to make it competitive.
That game is all part of the building process for Flores, as was last year’s December win in Foxboro. The four-win Fins managed to pull off an upset of the Patriots during the final week that resonated for Belichick’s team through the playoffs.
Perhaps, it should come as no surprise Flores doesn’t see any role reversal with this year’s end-of-season meeting.
“I don’t think we’ve really flipped roles. They’re trying to win one game, and we’re trying to win one game. And that’s where we’re at,” he said. “That’s our thought process, and I know, that’s what they’re saying in that building.
“I can see how people would think it’s flipped. But for us, it’s a one-game season. It’s the same for them.”
Asked about the identity his team has established, Flores said while it’s still a work in progress, the team has made strides to build a winning culture.
“I hope people see us as a tough, smart, disciplined football team that competes for 60 minutes,” said Flores. “I think that’s what I think we are. I think we can always improve and get better. I think they work to do that. Hopefully, that’s what other people see as our identity.”
What other people see is a former disciple of Belichick on the path to following in his mentor’s footsteps. There’s still a long way to go, but Flores has the Dolphins pointed in the right direction.

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