The almost annual torment of Super Bowl Sunday produced a cruel twist for the New York Jets and their beleaguered fan base. Not only did they have to endure an unprecedented sixth championship for their No. 1 rival, but they saw their most beloved player, Joe Namath, present the Lombardi Trophy to the New England Patriots. It wasn't his fault -- it was a hat-tip to the 50th anniversary of the Jets' historic Super Bowl victory -- but it still had to be soul-crushing.
The Jets' No. 2 rival also was celebrating. The Miami Dolphins on Monday hired the latest star pupil from the Bill Belichick Finishing School: defensive whiz Brian Flores, who completed his degree by befuddling the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII. It sets up a fascinating case study between the Dolphins and Jets, both of whom -- along with the Buffalo Bills -- have been eating the Patriots' dust for two decades.
In their attempt to overtake Belichick and Tom Brady, the Jets bought into the leaguewide trend by hiring the offensive-minded Adam Gase -- a Miami cast-off. The Dolphins bought into the Patriot Way, bringing one of Belichick's top lieutenants to South Beach.
Offense vs. defense. Recycled head coach vs. fresh face. Mediocre record (23-25) vs. winning pedigree.
Flores has more box-office appeal than Gase because he has the unmistakable glow of a Super Bowl championship, which makes it easier for the folks in the marketing department, but the reality is Flores is a bigger question mark than Gase.
For all his promise, Flores is the product of a system and a culture that does everything well except produce head coaches. Have you studied the branches of the Belichick coaching tree? It has yielded the likes of Eric Mangini (a groan from Jets fans), Charlie Weis, Josh McDaniels, Romeo Crennel and Bill O'Brien, the only one who has achieved success on his own.
A year ago, the Detroit Lions thought they were getting a chip off the 'ol Bill in Matt Patricia, but The Pencil was a mess and finished 6-10. One of his veterans complained about his draconian ways to a Jets player after their blowout loss to New York ... and that was only Week 1, for crying out loud.
This doesn't mean Flores will turn into another Patricia. But it doesn't mean he won't. Flores is walking into a tough situation, one that was created in part by Gase, who went 13-19 over his last two seasons. The Dolphins will reportedly dump quarterback Ryan Tannehill and begin to rebuild, which means they could look a lot like the 2017 Jets.
Flores, 37, is considered a bright coach with strong leadership traits, but he knows only one way, having spent his entire career under one man. This smacks of the Jets and Mangini in 2006. He, too, grew up under Belichick, landing the Jets gig when he was only 35. Owner Woody Johnson was so desperate to emulate the Patriots that he and his right-hand man, former general manager Mike Tannenbaum (later Gase's boss in Miami), convinced Mangini to defect. They got one terrific year out of out the so-called "Man-genius" before it all went to pieces.
The Jets learned a hard lesson: You can hire a Belichick Mini-Me, but that doesn't mean you're getting Belichick. And that's the thing about Flores that makes him a wild card.
Though he definitely called the defensive plays for the Patriots, who made the high-scoring Rams look as inept as the Jets, it would be naive to think Flores was solely responsible for the brilliant game plan. Make no mistake: Belichick played a significant role. Always has, always will.
Nevertheless, the Dolphins decided weeks ago they were willing to wait for Flores, deciding they'd rather rob from the greatest coach in history than follow the offensive trend. For a change, the Jets went with the crowd. (Six of the eight head-coaching vacancies were filled by offensive-minded coaches.) Flores and Gase went head-to-head twice as playcallers last season, with Flores owning the first meeting (a 38-7 win) and Gase needing the "Miami Miracle" in the rematch to pull out a 34-33 victory -- his last as the Dolphins' coach.
In two or three years, we'll know whether either of the perennial also-rans got its coaching hire right.