Brian Flores goes up against his mentor Bill Belichick for the fourth time in his head coaching career when the Dolphins host the Patriots on Sunday.
Now in his second year in Miami, Flores has the Dolphins looking at the playoffs for the first time since 2016. While the 2020 season is going strong for Flores, his Dolphins tenure didn’t start off well. He lost his first seven games as a head coach in 2019, including a 43-0 loss to the Patriots. Of the 10 Belichick assistants who’ve later become head coaches in the NFL, Flores is the only one to lose that many games to start his head coaching career.
Flores did turn the ship around in his rookie season. He won five of his last nine games in 2019, finishing the year off with an upset win over the Patriots in Foxborough. Even though the result of that day was shocking, former Belichick assistants defeating their old boss in their first season as a head coach is quite common. Al Groh, Nick Saban, Eric Mangini, Josh McDaniels, and Matt Patricia all defeated Belichick’s Patriots in their first year as an NFL head coach. Mike Vrabel, who didn’t coach under Belichick but played under him for eight seasons in New England, also defeated Belichick as a rookie head coach, leading the Titans to a 34-10 blowout win in 2018.
For many of the aforementioned coaches, the early success against their old boss hasn’t translated into positive results as a whole. Mangini and Vrabel are the only ones from that list who made the playoffs in their coaching career. Coincidentally, both of their first playoff games as an NFL head coach came against Belichick. Each had a different result, with Mangini’s Jets losing 37-16 to the Patriots in 2006 while Vrabel’s Titans knocked out the Patriots 21-14 in 2019.
Flores is on the cusp of joining Mangini, Vrabel, Jim Schwartz, and Bill O’Brien as the only former Belichick coaches or players to make the playoffs as a head coach. Flores has guided Miami to an 8-5 record this season, good enough for the seventh-best record in the AFC entering Sunday’s matchup. A win over the Patriots on Sunday would not just move the Dolphins a step closer to a playoff berth, it would also knock the Patriots out from playoff contention, too.
If Flores can win his last three games this season, he would join Vrabel and O’Brien as the only Belichick disciples to have a .500 record or better (he currently has a 13-16 career record) after multiple seasons as a head coach. If Flores falters to end the season and doesn’t make the playoffs, he’ll likely still be in Miami next season as there aren’t any rumors of him getting fired. Only Mangini, Schwartz, O’Brien, Vrabel, and Romeo Crennel have coached three full seasons out of the group of those with Belichick ties. Patricia was fired part-way into his third season as Lions head coach.
So, what’s Flores doing differently in Miami compared to other Belichick disciples that have failed before him? He says that building a good culture is intertwined with bringing in the right people.
“When you talk about culture, to me, culture is about people,” Flores told reporters Wednesday morning. “That’s the case in any organization. It’s about the people within the organization. I can’t force anyone to act a certain way. It’s about bringing the right people in for the Dolphins who are tough, who are competitive, who love to play, who are team first. That’s players, that’s coaches, that’s equipment, that’s nutrition, medical staff, I mean that’s everybody.
“Everyone bands together for really one goal and they do it for each other. To me, I think that word culture gets thrown around but there’s a lot of people that are involved in building that. It’s not just one person and it’s certainly not just me. So we’ve got a good staff here, really all the way around – media, our food catering group – everyone, they work hard.”
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