The unsurprising rise of Brian Flores

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — A few days after the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl in February 2015, Brian Flores returned home to New York for a day. He showed up unannounced at the childhood homes on Staten Island of his three best friends from high school, even though his buddies hadn’t lived there in years. He even dropped by one of their grandfather’s houses.

Just days after his greatest professional achievement as a Patriots assistant coach, he executed a spree of house calls to thank a few of the folks who helped get him there. It was as unexpected as it was touching to the families of his buddies – Mike Miller, Will Karczewski and Dave Hayes.

“My mom called, and her voice was cracking,” said Miller, a former teammate at Poly Prep Country Day School who is now an NYPD detective. “She said, ‘He wanted to thank us for everything.’ ”

This weekend offers the most daunting task of Flores’ coaching career. He’s New England’s first-year defensive play caller, and he will match wits with Andy Reid and attempt to stop Patrick Mahomes and the electric Kansas City offense. It will begin a flurry of high-profile activity for the low-key Flores, 37, who will either advance to the Super Bowl or head down to South Florida where he’s expected to be named the Miami Dolphins’ next head coach.

To those who’ve seen Flores’ ascent through the three elite institutions where he has spent the past quarter century – Brooklyn’s tony Poly Prep, Boston College and the Patriots – what’s remarkable is how few people are surprised by his steady rise. The kid who showed up to his first high school football workout in a “No Fear” shirt has lived life that way ever since.

That includes his most daring call, which came on spring break in Acapulco during college when he pointed out a girl on the balcony of the bar to Miller.

“You going to talk to her?” Miller asked.

“Talk to her?” Flores replied. “That’s the girl I’m going to marry.”

The story was a hit at Flores’ wedding back in the summer of 2009, as Brian and Jennifer recently celebrated their ninth anniversary and have three kids.

He adapted that linear mindset in rising from decorated recruit to college star and navigating his way from scouting department peon to Bill Belichick’s inner circle.

“That’s the thing about Brian,” said Karczewski, one of Flores’ crew from Staten Island. “There’s no secret sauce. He just kind of outworked everyone.”

Another high school friend, Lance Bennett, calls Flores “a rose out of the concrete,” the son of Honduran immigrants who bloomed from one of Brooklyn’s most notorious neighborhoods to the cusp of one of the most glamorous jobs in America. Last year, Bennett recalled his brother calling him the day news broke that Flores interviewed for the Arizona Cardinals job. Bennett’s brother drove over to the Brownsville housing project where Flores grew up, parked outside and called with a message: “Bro, Brian made it out of here, and he made it big.”

Brian Flores started his career with the Patriots in 2004 as a scouting assistant. He’s expected to be named the next head coach of the Miami Dolphins when the Patriots finish their season. (AP)
Brian Flores started his career with the Patriots in 2004 as a scouting assistant. He’s expected to be named the next head coach of the Miami Dolphins when the Patriots finish their season. (AP)

Opportunity knocks

When former Poly Prep coach Dino Mangiero met Brian Flores for the first time, he was struck by the intensity of the eye contact. It was vice-grip strong, unwaveringly focused directly on what was ahead of him.

He proceeded through his decorated career the same way, appreciative of the scholarship at the posh Brooklyn prep school. “He always had a certain seriousness to him,” Hayes said. “You could feel a strong presence there. There’s a dignity to his presence.”

Flores clicked immediately with a trio of teammates from Staten Island also at Poly Prep on scholarship: Miller, Karczewski and Hayes. They shared ties from T.J. Maxx, Hilfiger knockoffs amid a sea of Lord & Taylor originals. The Staten Island trio came from a working-class background and bonded with someone similarly unaccustomed to a parking lot full of $50,000 cars, a duck pond and meals eaten off glass plates.

“We worked our asses off,” Karczewski said. “We knew where we came from and how good we had it and not let it go. Brian never took it for granted.”

On the field, Flores’ smarts showed up on the first snap. Miller played quarterback, a position he’d never played in a live game. He was terrified lining up under center in their first scrimmage and walked back to Flores who was patting his leg anxiously. He quietly declared: “No one is covering me.” Miller threw Flores a pass in the backfield, and he broke it off 60 yards for a touchdown. The same applied to defense, where Miller would find himself wondering in the secondary.

“Brian what am I doing here?”

“Cover 3,” would be the quick response.

The same smarts and calm that have accompanied his rise in football showed themselves early. When Flores scored, there were no histrionics, just a simple handoff of the ball to an official. And he scored plenty, as he didn’t lose a game in his three varsity seasons and rushed for 1,550 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior.

Along with knowing the schemes, he had a plan of his own. As scholarship offers poured in, he chose Boston College to stay close to his parents and four brothers with the idea of a better place someday for all of them. “That’s one of those personal things we spoke about many times,” Mangiero said. “What hard work can not only do for you, but for your family and generations of your family.”

Brian Flores, left, took over defensive coordinator duties for the Patriots when Matt Patricia left for Detroit. (Getty)
Brian Flores, left, took over defensive coordinator duties for the Patriots when Matt Patricia left for Detroit. (Getty)

The 20-20-20 Club

There’s a group inside the Patriots that lives in lore in hindsight and infamy in real time. Former Patriots executive Scott Pioli nicknamed it the “20-20-20” club, as entry-level employees in their 20s make $20,000 per year to work 20-hour days.

Flores starred for his final two seasons as a player at Boston College, but an injury in the final regular-season game of his senior year prevented him from attempting to reach the NFL.

And so Flores spent his first four years out of college in New England’s scouting department, sitting at a windowless work station with an oversized desktop computer. He walked by a sign every day that read: “We are building a football team, not collecting talent.”

He dug up news articles and searched prospects’ legal history on LexisNexis and learned both the college and pro personnel side of the football business the four years immediately after college. One of Flores’ most memorable scouting calls came when he loudly touted picking Kevin Durant over Greg Oden in the 2007 NBA draft, accurately nicknaming the later Odenokandi after former Clippers bust Michael Olowokandi.

He’s not a rah-rah guy, but when he speaks you know you need to listen.”– Patriots lineman Deatrich Wise

The 20-20-20 years are grueling mental tests, and Flores passed with his trademark steady demeanor. Flores lived for the time in the attic of a house he shared with friends, sleeping on an air mattress and stashing his few belongings in plastic containers. At one point, Karczewski visited the spartan room and asked his friend, “Are you OK?”

In reality, he was being groomed the Patriot Way. “By the time he became a quality control in special teams,” said a former Patriots employee, “if Bill was being candid he already knew Brian was going to be successful.”

Former BC graduate assistant Ryan Day, now the coach at Ohio State, recalled a distinct “dignity” to Flores, and teammate Ricky Brown joked that Flores’ role with the team epitomized New England’s “Do your job” ethos long before they plastered it on T-shirts.

Brian Flores, with his wife Jennifer and two of his three children, left quite the impression at alma mater. (Photo courtesy of Boston College)
Brian Flores, with his wife Jennifer and two of his three children, left quite the impression at alma mater. (Photo courtesy of Boston College)

“He wasn’t going to stand up on his table and beat his chest over anything,” said former BC coach Tom O’Brien. “He was going to get the job done.”

That included earning a master’s in administrative studies as well as an undergraduate degree in English, and that work ethic transferred over to him rising up the ranks for 15 years in New England.

After four years in scouting from 2004-07, Flores began coaching as a quality control in special teams. He worked with the offense, too, and eventually became safeties coach in 2012 and then linebacker coach in 2016.

“He’s a very smart coach,” said Patriots lineman Deatrich Wise. “He’s real chill, laid back. But he commands the room. He’s not a rah-rah guy, but when he speaks you know you need to listen.”

Along the way, Flores’ boys from Staten Island went from tailgating with the sodas and granola bars Flores snuck out from his office and sitting in the 400-level to noshing on lobster rolls in the Putnam Club. Each incremental promotion brought with it an upgrade.

As the Patriots prepared to play Super Bowl LI against Atlanta in 2017, they were watching NFL Network while pregaming at a bar in Houston when they saw the news Flores was scheduled to interview for the San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator job.

“That was the first time it hit us,” Karczewski said. “Things got serious quick.”

Flores stayed put, his rise from underpaid grunt to the top levels of football was nearing completion. He eventually moved his parents out of Brownsville, earned the de facto defensive coordinator title last year after Matt Patricia departed and will get his shot as a head coach next season when the expected becomes official in Miami.

To those who’ve seen his rose bloom through the concrete, felt his grace and gratitude, there’s a strong feeling he’ll proceed the only way he knows how – with No Fear.

“I think he’ll be very successful,” said Texans coach Bill O’Brien, a former Patriots assistant who worked extensively with Flores. “He’s got an excellent background, from scouting to special teams to offense and defense. That’s the way Bill trains guys. It’s going to help him as a head coach.”

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