Behind-the-scenes fallout, factors in wake of the Flores dismissal. And Bears call Flores

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·6 min read
CHARLES TRAINOR JR/ctrainor@miamiherald.com
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Fallout from Brian Flores’ Dolphins dismissal in the wake of an NFL Network report that he will interview for the Chicago Bears head coaching job:

Flores already was essentially running the Dolphins building, according to a source in direct contact with Dolphins management.

But he wanted even more control, the source said. He wanted the authority formalized, to eliminate the contract annoyance of general manager Chris Grier having final say on the draft and free agency.

He wanted more power in everything, final say on virtually everything. He wanted more people to report to him.

He already had full authority to pick a coaching staff and planned to make more changes, beginning with the offensive staff. At least one of the offensive coordinators was expecting to be dismissed, if not both.

What’s strange about this is that Grier — who likes to avoid conflict — basically gave Flores everything he wanted. There wasn’t a single player on the roster that Flores didn’t sign off on. And yet Grier’s deference still wasn’t enough to appease Flores or sooth tensions between the two.

As one Dolphins person said, people need to stop blaming Grier entirely for the personnel moves that didn’t work out the past three years and blame them both equally. And both deserve credit for the ones that worked out.

There were plenty of examples of Flores demanding his way on things that weren’t necessarily under his domain.

He lobbied for the dismissal of Matt Taylor, the team’s top football media relations person, last spring, over the objections of the two executives who wanted to keep him, including team president Tom Garfinkel. Flores got his way, as he usually did.

Miami Dolphins firing coach Brian Flores is an unjustified travesty of a clown-show owner | Opinion

There were plenty of players who liked and admired Flores, and let’s be clear about that. But his arrogance and bristling personality rubbed some the wrong way.

A close associate of multiple young Dolphins said the players complained to him that “he doesn’t understand dealing with men. He’s not approachable.”

When Flores saw one young player in recent months, he told him: “Don’t come to my office talking about playing time.” The player had no such intentions.

But multiple sources said he treated players different ways; a veteran such as Jason McCourty wouldn’t be treated with that same heavy hand. “He was stern with some but joked around with some guys,” the source said. “It was hard to read him.”

One veteran complained that Flores would pass him in the halls and never say hello, never even acknowledge his presence. He asked his friend why he wanted to work in a place like this.

Some players were puzzled by Flores’ livid reaction to media stories. When a trainer for a Dolphins player who had sustained an injury tweeted an update on the players’ injury after the 2020 season, the agent was immediately called and threatened with unspecified consequences if he didn’t delete the tweet.

Why was this a big deal, when the season was over? Was there a competitive advantage lost?

Other players were threatened with consequences if they revealed their injury status to reporters.

When a story leaked about a potential offensive line change, Flores stormed into the meeting room and demanded to know who leaked it. Nobody said a word. But that was his primary concern that morning.

As for the relationship with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, a source confirmed that angry words were exchanged during the Tennessee game, as two media outlets have reported. Flores was furious with how Tagovailoa was playing and let him know. Tagovailoa resented Flores’ tone and his way of talking to people.

But a very close associate of Tagovailoa said their working relationship was generally fine and that Tagovailoa doesn’t dislike Flores, joking that their dynamics were good enough for Tagovailoa to send him a Christmas card. That source said the two men could have continued working together and that the Tennessee incident wasn’t uncommon in the NFL during the heat of a poor performance.

I asked someone who has worked with both Grier and Flores why Grier keeps surviving but the coaches (Adam Gase, Flores) take the fall.

That source said Grier has aligned himself with Garfinkel — who has Ross’ ear — and Grier’s ability to get along with people and be a good soldier carries weight with owner Stephen Ross.

Grier also is respectful to the owner. An unidentified Dolphins person leaked to a local columnist after Flores’ dismissal that Flores disrespected Ross, but I have no corroboration of that. A similar story was planted after Gase’s firing, suggesting that Gase blew off Ross.

That’s important to Ross — perhaps more important than Grier’s (and Flores’) personnel mistakes during the past three years.

Ross believes that Grier has upgraded the roster significantly and is fine with overlooking the mistakes, including the selection of Charles Harris over T.J. Watt, Noah Igbinoghene over a running back and the Tagovailoa/Justin Herbert decision.

Again, Flores was involved the Igbinoghene and Tagovailoa decisions and on board with both. But it’s easier for Ross to keep the long-term employee with the pleasant demeanor — the one who treats him royally — than the only that’s perceived as difficult to work with.

What about a CBS report that Flores preferred Herbert over Tagovailoa?

Flores has told NFL people he’s a “height, weight, speed guy,” which led to speculation that he preferred Herbert.

But a league source insisted both Grier and Flores were on board with drafting Tagovailoa, who was Ross’ preference. Ross didn’t order them to pick Tagovailoa, however.

Like many from the Bill Belichick coaching tree, Flores prioritized secrecy.

He called me fuming one day in 2020 when I reported — 20 hours before game time — about the likelihood of an offensive lineman entering the following day’s game against Arizona in the second quarter.

He was livid and insisted that nugget of information could help the Cardinals strategically, though I didn’t understand why because the Cardinals knew that lineman might play.

That said, he was always respectful and civil with the media.

The above anecdotes might suggest that Flores’ dismissal was justified. To be clear, the view here is that it wasn’t.

Flores made mistakes in staff hires (especially with his 2021 offensive coordinators and offensive line coach) and he has only himself to blame for not fostering a better relationship with Grier.

But he generally maximized the talent on the roster, which is the top priority for any coach.

I’m not sure how many coaches would have extracted five wins from that woeful 2019 roster, and the 19-14 record the past two seasons was at the high end of this roster’s ceiling.

If Ross wants to fire him for not making the playoffs in three years or his role in bad personnel decisions or his coaching staff missteps, that’s one thing. But firing him because of communication and collaboration, the two factors Ross cited publicly?

Dumbfounding.

“The move is stupid. I’m pissed off about it,” ESPN’s Marcus Spears said.

And ESPN’s Ryan Clark said: “Who the hell ya gonna get? Is he gonna motivate the locker room? Is it a quarterback whisperer? This team fought through adversity. Who is the upgrade?”