Facing his first real adversity as a head coach, Brian Flores gets to show why he’s different.
It’s been well-chronicled the adversity that Brian Flores faced growing up. The child of Honduran immigrants, Flores grew up in the poverty-stricken, harsh streets of Brownsville, New York. A former linebacker out of Boston College, Flores was given a chance in the scouting department with the New England Patriots. After 11 years under the Bill Bellicheck ‘coaching tree’, Miami hired Brian Flores as their latest head coach on February 4th, 2019.
Over the next 60 days, Flores would watch as the Dolphins front office would release, or trade away, six starters; including both starting defensive ends (Andre Branch and Robert Quinn), two starting offensive linemen (Josh Sitton and Ted Larsen), and the team’s starting quarterback (Ryan Tannehill. Meanwhile, the biggest free-agent signing would be DB Eric Rowe to a modest contract of 3yrs/16.15M. To say that expectations for the 2019 Miami Dolphins were low is an understatement. However, the roster purging in Miami was far from over….
On September 1st of 2019, a week before the season began, the Dolphins would trade away their Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil and starting wide-out Kenny Stills for T Julien Davenport, two first-round picks, and two second-round picks. A little more than two weeks later, the Dolphins would trade their first-round pick from the previous year (safety Minkah Fitzpatrick) to Pittsburgh for a 2019 first-round pick. At that point, and seven straight losses to begin the season, there was talk that the 2019 Dolphins may be the “worst team in NFL history”. There were zero expectations for HC Brian Flores at that point.
The Dolphins would get more competitive in the second half of the season but the biggest ‘bright spot’ for the team would go into Foxborough and beat the Patriots for the first time in 10 years. Still, the team finished the year 5-11) so thoughts of a ‘rebuilding’ Dolphins team remained.
Fast forward to the beginning of the 2020 NFL season. Even with optimism over a slew of free-agent signings and a successful draft, the Miami Dolphins were considered a ‘team on the rise’ but were still picked by most national pundits to finish between 5-11 and 8-8. Even yours truly summed up the Dolphins prospects this season in my initial power rankings this way:
"If you look at it objectively though you will see a team that has replaced both its offensive and defensive coordinators. As for the roster, it’s quite possible that over half the overall team may be new from a year ago and have as many as 14 new starters heading into week one of the season. While I have no doubt the Dolphins will improve as the season progresses, it will take time for all the new pieces to gel."
With the team continuing their trend from last season, being competitive but losing to good teams, the Dolphins lost 3 of their first 4 games to start the season. Any thoughts of a surprise season were quickly dashed.
However, the team managed to come together with the surprising blowout versus the San Francisco 49ers in week 6. Four more wins, and a QB change, brought the Dolphins record to 6-3 and they were not only in the playoff hunt but one-half game behind the Buffalo Bills for the division lead. Now the team was turning heads and expectations have risen tremendously.
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Now we fast forward to today. The Dolphins are coming off a 20-13 loss to a Denver Broncos team that everybody expected the Dolphins to beat….easily. Miami’s “golden boy” QB Tua Tagovailoa, and frankly the entire offense, looked awful and Tua was replaced in the 4th quarter by veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick.
A ‘one-time blip’? Probably, but for past coaches, these are the kind of losses that would wreck their seasons; and, ultimately, their jobs.
Will Flores be able to make the kind of coaching adjustments that doomed Adam Gase, Joe Philbin, and even Tony Sparano?
Not sure we will learn much from a Dolphins victory with the woeful Jets and Bengals on the schedule the next two weeks but, if they lose, expect things to ‘heat up’ even further in South Florida for the holidays.
While I’m sure the organization has always had high expectations for this season, fans began the year just looking for growth. Now that fans are expecting playoffs, Flores is facing his first real adversity as Dolphins head coach. Let’s see what he does…..