By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (CBS) — “Malcolm, go!”
Those were just two words, uttered by a coach simply doing his job on the sideline, captured by NFL films cameras and microphones. Those two words introduced Brian Flores to the world. And now, within the upcoming weeks, the world will know him as the defensive coordinator for Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots.
It’s been quite the ascent for Flores, who made it out of a tough neighborhood in Brooklyn to play football at Boston College, earn a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, and establish a coaching career for the most successful franchise in the NFL. He’s risen steadily, his future is bright, and he’s on a fast path to becoming a head coach in the league.
It’s that last point that likely won’t help the Patriots much in the long term, unless Belichick plans on walking away in the coming years. But for the time being, with current defensive coordinator Matt Patricia set to take over as the head coach of the Lions after this Sunday’s Super Bowl, Flores is next in line for the job in Foxboro.
And according to just about everyone on the team and the coaching staff, there should not be much of an adjustment period.
“All of the defensive staff to me, these guys work extremely well,” Patricia said this week. “B-Flo, Brendan Daly, Steve Belichick, Josh Boyer, Mike Pellegrino, DeMarcus Covington, all these guys work extremely hard to prepare their players, to understand what we’re doing from a scheme standpoint. They all have extremely strong backgrounds in different areas that they’re able to teach the entire team. And B-Flo is the same. I think he’s a guy that has a tremendous background overall of everything we do from an organizational standpoint, from scouting, to offense, to special teams, to defense, the back end, the front end, all of that. So he has that great knowledge and experience to help him. He’s a student of the game, he learns, and he’s just trying like all of us to improve every time we’re out there.”
Of course, it’s possible and even likely that Patricia hires some of those coaches when building his own staff in Detroit. But if Flores indeed assumes the role of Patriots defensive coordinator in New England, that deep background gained from years in the Patriots system should put him in position to avoid any major growing pains as the Patriots continue to contend for Super Bowls.
Flores is currently the linebackers coach, and he’s done a magnificent job in leading a group of non-stars that lost Dont’a Hightower early in the season and managed to finish the year in the top five in points allowed. He’s helped Kyle Van Noy become a critical player on a Super Bowl-caliber defense, and he’s properly utilized guys like Marquis Flowers and Elandon Roberts in ways that play to their individual strengths.
“He doesn’t coach, ‘Do it like this, or else,’” explained Flowers, who joined the team midseason via trade with Cincinnati. “It’s more like he coaches to benefit the player. He coaches to benefit me. He coaches me with my skill-set, how I should do compared to how another dude can do it. And when you got a coach like that, man, it’s tremendous.”
Getting to know each player has been paramount to the success of the linebacking group. Van Noy has improved significantly since Detroit gave up on him. Flowers and Eric Lee now get regular playing time after their previous teams didn’t deem them worthy.
“Coach Flo, he’s an amazing coach,” Van Noy said. “He’s hungry. He’s talented. He knows how to teach. He does a really good job of getting the most out of you. Whether you like it or not, he gets it out of you. It’s awesome to be around a coach that always wants the best for you. That makes you want to play harder for him.”
Lee said he spends more time in meetings with Daly, who’s the defensive line coach. But the coaches work together, and Flores has been immense in helping him catch up to speed after he was signed by the Patriots in late November.
“If there’s any questions I need answered or there’s something I don’t understand, having [Flores’] perspective is always comforting and also beneficial in the long run, just from understanding the game scheme and everything like that,” Lee said. “He puts it in perspective and I appreciate that from a coach.”
Flowers, who also joined the Patriots after training camp, expressed gratitude for Flores helping him get up to speed.
“Huge. Huge. Coach Flores helped me out tremendously from the first time I got here,” Flowers said. “He just helped me learn the playbook, and he helped me become a better linebacker in this league. He’s tremendous. He knows it well, he loves to coach, he loves coaching us. He loves the coaching part. There’s no such thing as a bad question with Coach Flores. And with Matty P., with all of them. When you’re able to ask them that, they reassure and they help you out.”
The numbers bear out that this isn’t empty praise. Van Noy recorded 38 total tackles and one sack in his 30 games played with the Lions. In 25 games with the Patriots, he’s recorded 120 tackles and eight sacks. Flowers had just 15 total tackles in 32 games as a member of the Bengals. In half as many games with the Patriots, he’s recorded 32 tackles and the first 3.5 sacks of his career.
Obviously, much more goes into that than just one position coach. But the one thing that figured to sink the Patriots’ Super Bowl chances this year was the loss of Hightower. Flores made sure that would not happen.
If there’s one thing Flores won’t be short on, it’s experience. He joined the organization all the way back in 2004, serving in a variety of duties before coaching the safeties from 2012-15 and coaching the linebackers over the past two years.
The Patriots have ranked in the top 10 in points allowed every season since 2012, and the challenge once Patricia leaves will be to avoid a slide similar to the one that followed Romeo Crennel’s departure after the 2004 season. In 2005, the Patriots dropped second in the NFL in points allowed to 17th, and they dropped from ninth in yards allowed to 26th. That 2005 season was Eric Mangini’s lone season in the role of defensive coordinator in New England, and the defense stabilized after that under Dean Pees.
Now, assuming Flores fills the office vacated by Patricia next week, the weight will fall on Flores’ shoulders to keep the Patriots train rumbling forward at full speed. He’s certainly got enough fans within the building at 1 Patriot Place who believe he’ll be able to do it.