Why daunting Dolphins rebuild will be done The Brian Flores Way

Hired in February, coach Brian Flores has brought a strong work ethic and motivational one-liners, among many things, to the Dolphins. Miller/Icon Sportswire

DAVIE, Fla. -- Brian Flores often thinks back to those tiny rooms that served as his second home as a young New England Patriots employee beginning in 2004.

In his early years as an entry-level scout and then coaching assistant, Flores shared a work room with men who remain close friends. First it was DuJuan Daniels, a college teammate of Flores' from Boston College, who joined the Patriots as a scout after a Flores recommendation. Then it was fellow coaching assistant and current Dolphins defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, with whom he connected over an office printer.

Those are his bare-bones NFL roots, where the days were long and tough and the reward not immediate. The goal was to prove you could stick in the league.

"We had a lot of scouting reports. Flores and Daniels (now the Raiders' assistant director of player personnel) would sit in a small room and flip a coin to see who would have to write the report," Titans general manager Jon Robinson, then a Patriots scout, said. "If you lost the coin flip, you would have to write the report. It was a part of the grind."

Flores, now the Miami Dolphins' head coach, has graduated from those simpler days. The core values learned of quiet hard work, putting your ego aside and building long-lasting relationships -- all held together by trust -- have helped his ascension.

"Back in those days I was one of the guys; I'm not one of the guys anymore. I'm the guy everybody kind of walks away from," Flores said. "I [still] try to build relationships. I think that's important. That's how you build a team. Our team is starting to do that. When you go through tough times, those relationships, they either get stronger, or they don't [get] stronger. I think last week was a part of that. Hopefully, we come out of this stronger."

As the Dolphins host the Patriots on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (CBS), Flores is tasked with making sure his locker room bonds after the roster endured a veteran exodus one week before Miami's season-opening 59-10 home loss to the Baltimore Ravens. It's a hard job for a first-year coach, but Flores believes his life and Patriots experiences have prepared him to succeed in leading this Dolphins rebuild.

Grim reaper

One of Flores' least-favorite NFL jobs left an enduring impact on him. During his early years in New England, Flores was the "grim reaper" or "Turk" who had to tell guys to bring their playbooks to Coach when they were being released.

"That's where I learned early that this is a tough league to play in," Flores said. "From my perspective, I try to impart that on the players not to take it for granted, that every day counts and you want to make the most of those opportunities because it's a privilege to play in this league."

"There's instances where you do everything right and you work hard and things don't work out. That's part of life, and it ends up being life lessons for some guys."

Flores thought back to that experience around his first cut-down day as a head coach this fall. It also is why he values the mentality of undrafted free agents, who often have a sense of urgency that other players don't. Seven undrafted free agents made Miami's initial 53-man roster this season.

"I don't think New England is an easy place to play. It's not for everyone. And I feel like it's not an easy place to coach," said former tight end Dwayne Allen, who played for Flores in Miami and New England. "But he was able to go about it with grace and patience and also with just his tenacity to want to be great."

Patriots coach Bill Belichick realized those qualities in Flores early as well. He moved Flores from a scouting assistant to a coaching assistant in 2008 after seeing his versatility, demeanor and work ethic become assets for the coaching staff.

Big goals

Flores is a man of motivational one-liners. They often revolve around core values such as punctuality, hard work and trust.

One of his go-to lines for his players, particularly when he feels their confidence wane, is: "I hope my goals and expectations aren't bigger for you than they are for yourselves."

Many Patriots and Dolphins have heard this mantra, but the moment that made the saying hit home for Flores was when Patriots safety Nate Ebner flipped it on his position coach in 2013 or 2014 during a team meeting.

"[Ebner] asked me: 'Hey Coach, when you're calling the plays one day, are you going to call this or that?' I told him: 'Nah, that's not in the cards for me,'" Flores recalled. "He says to me, 'I hope my goals for you aren't bigger than your goals for yourself.' That's a memory I've thought about a lot. That night, I thought to myself, ‘You know what? He's right,' and I took a whole new outlook on things from there."

Four or five years later, Belichick handed Flores defensive playcalling duties. Flores thought of Ebner's words. And in 2019, he was hired as Dolphins coach. He again thought of Ebner.

The challenge for Flores, as for all other Patriots assistants-turned-head coaches, is to not be a Belichick clone. That's something he made clear was important when he took the Dolphins job in February.

"I'm my own man. I'm Brian Flores," he said then. "I learned a lot from Bill, but I'll also be different than Bill. I'll put my own style on how we do things here."

Dolphins players said they watched New England film this offseason to prep for their new offensive and defensive schemes.

"The way practice is run, the way we're working, how hard we work -- it's all similar to being up there," cornerback Eric Rowe said.

Through six months in Miami, Flores has shown his own personality. The early pains of the rebuild might delay how quickly the culture is fully established, but the roots are there.

"I'm going to try to get our team to work hard, play together, play with good fundamentals and technique, play as a team, try to put the team first," Flores said. "That's a hard thing to accomplish as a coach. That's my goal. You can call it whatever you want. You can call it ‘Patriot Way,' but to me, it's just trying to coach and play good football."