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Zulgad: Vikings’ success on defense didn’t stop league owners from ignoring Brian Flores for head coaching jobs

Brian Flores orchestrated such an impressive turnaround by the Minnesota Vikings’ defense this season that many assumed he would be one-and-done as the team’s coordinator. Flores’ name was bandied about by various media outlets as a potential head coaching candidate and, at the very least, the thought was he would get an interview or two.

But nearly a month after the Vikings’ season ended, and with six of the eight head coaching openings in the NFL filled, Flores’ success in making a woeful defense respectable appears to have had little impact on the league’s owners and top executives.

The Vikings were not believed to even had a request from a team to interview Flores. The Seattle Seahawks and Washington Commanders have yet to make hires, but Flores isn’t in the mix for either of those jobs.

It would be one thing if several of the teams looking for coaches, a list that also included the Panthers, Raiders, Chargers, Falcons, Titans and Patriots, had all gone with offensive guys, but that wasn’t the case. The Raiders took the interim tag off former linebackers coach Antonio Pierce, the Falcons hired Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris and the Patriots promoted inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo in what turned out to be a previously agreed upon succession plan.

So why was Flores’ success ignored?

It doesn’t take much to connect the dots on this one. First, Flores is still involved in a legal battle with the NFL that dates to February 2022, when he sued the league and a few teams, stating the NFL was “rife with racism,” particularly when it comes to the hiring and promotion of Black coaches. In July, Judge Valerie Caproni ruled in Manhattan federal court that she wouldn’t change her decisions to allow Flores to put the NFL and the Broncos, Giants and Texans on trial over claims that he and other Black coaches face discrimination. Caproni had ruled last March that Flores would have to pursue his claims against the Miami Dolphins through arbitration.

Flores had been coach of the Dolphins for three years, going 24-25, before being fired after the 2021 season.

It’s not shocking that Flores suing the league would make it very difficult for him to get a head coaching job, but not even an interview?

NFL owners likely will claim they didn’t consider Flores based on what happened during his time with the Dolphins. It was no secret that there were issues between Flores and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, and former Dolphins veteran QB Ryan Fitzpatrick said on the Prime Video pregame show this season that Flores “broke” Tagovailoa and that new coach Mike McDaniel had to restore “his confidence.”

Flores, who spent 11 seasons on Belichick’s coaching staff in New England, wouldn’t be the first assistant to have a rocky start in his head coaching career before receiving a second chance.

It’s difficult to deny the success, Flores had coordinating the Vikings’ defense. The team went from 31st in total defense under Ed Donatell in 2022 to 16th this season (388.7 yards per game vs. 333.2). The pass defense jumped from 31st to 24th, the rush defense from 20th to eighth and the Vikings went from tied for 28th (25.1 a game) to tied for 13th (21.3) in scoring defense. The Vikings also made a big move in the DVOA metric, going from 24th to 11th in the NFL.

The defense did fall off late, surrendering 30 points per game during a season-ending four-game losing streak. Minnesota had given up 18.6 points in its first 13 games and went 7-6 in that time. The loss of versatile cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. didn’t help, but it also became clear offenses were making adjustments to some of Flores’ unique looks.

The Vikings aren’t going to complain about retaining Flores, especially since there will be a greater familiarity with what he wants to do. The return of star pass rusher Danielle Hunter, who is set to become a free agent, would be huge and there will be an expectation the personnel will be upgraded.

If Flores can work his magic again in 2024, and if his lawsuit is settled, one has to think owners won’t continue to ignore him next winter.

Judd Zulgad is co-host of the Purple Daily Podcast and Mackey & Judd podcast at www.skornorth.com.

Story originally appeared on Vikings Wire