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By now, the name “Brian Flores” is known to just about anyone who even remotely pays attention to the NFL or sports in general.
The former Patriots assistant and Miami Dolphins head coach dropped a bomb on the sports world this week, announcing a lawsuit accusing the NFL and multiple teams of racial discrimination in its hiring practices.
In the new filing, Flores details what he believes is a pattern of being overlooked for head coaching jobs despite his qualifications, as well as being pressured to compromise his integrity at the behest of Dolphins ownership.
As the country gets to know Flores the plaintiff, here are a few things to know about Flore the player and coach whose football story has strong New England origins.
Flores’s parents emigrated from Honduras and settled in Brownsville, New York, where he and his siblings were born and raised.
He has since described their apartment and neighborhood as tough places to live, noting that they sometimes had to walk up 20 flights of stairs to their public housing unit because their elevator didn’t work.
The coach also says crime and violence were frequent in Brownsville growing up, with his younger brothers even being victims of muggings. That’s why his parents made sure to keep Flores and his family invested in their school work and focused on a better life.
“They worked hard, extremely hard,” he said of his mother and father. “We didn’t grow up with a lot but what I did grow up with — and I feel like this is lost in a lot of the stories — is that I had a great childhood.”
Once upon a time, Flores was a star football player in his own right. He even plied his trade not far from Gillette Stadium for a few years.
After standing out at Poly Prep in New York, Flores turned down a few college offers to play at Boston College. He started out as a defensive back at BC before switching to linebacker to finish out his time.
He even crossed paths with BC legend and NFL MVP Matt Ryan, now of the Atlanta Falcons, as a fifth-year senior during Ryan’s freshman year. “[Flores] was just tough, a tough football player,” Ryan said of Flores, who terrorized the young scout-team quarterback early in his career.
But injuries derailed any chance Flores had of going pro. In particular, he suffered a quad injury just before his final Bowl game with the Eagles and never played another down of football.
Just because Flores couldn’t play football didn’t mean he wanted to leave the game behind, though.
After serving as a mentor to young defensive players on the Eagles, like future NFL linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Flores decided to shoot his shot to getting into coaching in the NFL.
He recalls writing a letter to every NFL team looking for an opportunity. Only one answered: the Patriots.
“I knew that there had been some contact between Bill Belichick and [former BC head coach] Tom O’Brien, who had played for Bill’s dad, Steve, a longtime assistant coach at the Naval Academy,” Flores explained.
“I got the interview, and I guess I must have done a pretty good job with it, because I got a job with the Patriots as a scouting assistant.”
Flores then ground away for several years in the scouting office, putting in long hours both as an assistant and later as an actual pro scout for the team.
By 2008, he had captured enough eyes to earn a role with the coaching staff as an assistant with the special teams, offense and defense. Then, in 2012, Belichick brought him on as the team’s safeties coach, and the rest — with Flores eventually becoming a linebackers coach and defensive play caller before securing his first head coaching opportunity — was history.
Flores’s hiring as the Dolphins’ head coach ahead of the 2019 season put him in a special company on a number of fronts.
Of course, the longtime Patriots assistant became one of the few Black head coaches in the NFL when he got the job. In fact, he was one of just three when he was hired, along with then-Chargers coach Anthony Lynn and Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin.
But he also became just the fourth head coach of Latino ancestry in NFL history, following in the footsteps of pioneers Tom Fears, who coached the New Orleans Saints in the 1970s, and Tom Flores, who won two Super Bowls as head coach of the Oakland Raiders in the early 1980s.
With Flores’s firing, only Tomlin and Washington’s Ron Rivera remain among the ranks of Black and Latino coaches, respectively.
On paper, Flores’s ouster was surprising. Miami rebounded from a rough first year in his tenure to go 10-6 and 9-8 over the next two seasons. Though they missed the playoffs in both seasons, it was still the first time the Dolphins had achieved consecutive winning seasons since 2002-2003.
Not long after news broke, though, reports began to trickle out of Miami that Flores was difficult to work. ESPN’s Jeff Darlington reported his relationships with general manager Chris Grier and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa had “deteriorated to a pretty bad place” and that his frequent staff turnover on the offensive side of the ball worried Dolphins brass.
But other Miami assistant coaches have taken issue with that characterization.
“I’ve worked with Brian Flores for 3 years and this story that he is ‘hard to work with’ is news to me,” cornerbacks coach Charles Burks said on Twitter, adding that Flores’s “demanding, detailed” style was “the Standard of coaching in the NFL.”
“Unfortunately, if you’re a “Black Man” this can lead to a “Smear Campaign” keeping you from other opportunities…I’ve experienced nothing but accountability, direction, and inspiration from Brian Flores. He was and IS a true leader of Men.”
Dolphins defensive backs coach Gerald Alexander said Tuesday that Flores’s lawsuit increased his respect for the former head coach.
“Today confirmed he’s one of the best leaders I’ve ever been around,” Alexander said. “Respect the experience that I had with him as a position coach on his staff the last 2 seasons and the courage he’s displayed with the news of today and what that can mean for his own career in the coaching profession.”
Additionally, Flores has leveled allegations against Dolphins owner Stephen Ross of offering extra money to lose football games in order to improve Miami’s draft position and illicitly meeting a prominent quarterback (which may have been Tom Brady) in violation of NFL tampering rules. Those factors, the ex-coach claims, earned him the ire of Ross and the organization and led to his firing.
In addition to his main claim that he learned the Giants were hiring Brian Daboll several days before he was brought in to interview for the New York job, Flores also added he had a similar experience with the Denver Broncos in 2019.
In his suit and in television appearances, he described multiple Broncos executives, including president of football operations John Elway, showing up to his interview “completely disheveled” after what seemed like a night of heavy drinking.
Flores said the substance of the interview made it clear Denver “never had any intention to consider him as a legitimate candidate for the job.” The Broncos subsequently hired longtime defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who was fired this offseason after three straight losing seasons and a 19-30 record.
Aside from his challenges getting a head coaching job in the NFL, Flores has also been up front about his experiences as a Black man and the need to combat racism both in sports and in society at large.
“I’ve lived this,” he said in 2020 after multiple instances of police violence against Black Americans, including the murder of George Floyd, made national headlines. “I’ve had guns pointed at me by police officers. This is not something I take lightly.”
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