- The Miami Dolphins have fired head coach Brian Flores after three seasons with the team.
- Flores went 24-25 in his Miami tenure including a 4-2 record against former boss Bill Belichick.
- General Manager Chris Grier kept his job and will help in the process of hiring a new head coach.
While the Chicago Bears’ decision to fire head coach Matt Nagy was expected that isn’t the case with every such move during this offseason. If Nagy’s firing was the most ‘obvious’ move to be made after the end of the regular season, the decision by the Miami Dolphins to fire head coach Brian Flores was surprising, if not outright shocking. Although Flores’ Dolphins were reasonably successful on the field given the depths to which the team had sunk when he took over it now appears that much was going on ‘behind the scenes’ to obviate the head coach’s dismissal.
Flores took over a pitiful Dolphins team in 2019 and made them fairly competitive despite a dearth of high level personnel. Miami would follow a 5-11 record in Flores’ first season with a 10-6 record in 2020 and a 9-8 record in 2021. The back to back winning seasons in Miami are no small accomplishment and you have to go back to Dave Wannstedt in 2002 and 2003 to find the most recent previous consecutive winning seasons. In some ways, Flores’ 2021 performance was the best of his Miami tenure. Miami started the season 1-7 but went 8-1 the rest of the way to grind out a winning record. No other team in the history of the NFL had started a season 1-7 and gone on to finish with a winning record. To be fair, that has as much to do with this being the first year with a 17 game schedule in NFL history as anything else but that shouldn’t detract from what the Dolphins did. At 1-7, many–if not most–teams would have been content to play out the string and angle for a top draft pick. Miami picked themselves up and became competitive.
So why was Flores pink slipped? Dolphins’ owner Stephen Ross explained the decision as one of poor organizational dynamics:
“An organization can only function if it’s collaborative, and it works well together. And I don’t think that we were really working well as an organization [the way] it would take to really win consistently at the NFL level.”
ESPN gave some more context as to the rationale behind the firing of Flores:
As ESPN’s Jeff Darlington reported, Ross’ decision was about relationships and Flores’ inability to sustain them. His time with the Dolphins featured constant turnover — different offensive coordinators in each year, two defensive coordinators and four offensive line coaches, one of whom was fired days into training camp.
The decision to keep Chris Grier as general manager represents Ross picking a side, and his glowing review of the roster Grier assembled serves as an indictment of Flores’ ability to extract the most out of it; that’s a mistake the Dolphins’ next coach can’t afford to make.
As the quote above indicates, Ross thought that Flores’ didn’t get as much as he could have out of what is a talented young roster. Throw in what sounds like some organizational dysfunction and the reasons for the firing become more evident. That hasn’t stopped much of the mainstream sports media from absurd histrionics over Flores’ firing. He’s always been a darling of the sports media back to his time as an assistant to Bill Belichick in New England. There was the inevitable quick rush to infer racism as a factor in the decision. Check out this ‘overgeneralize much?’ article from the Boston Globe that tries to make the case that African-American coaches are subject to ‘higher expectations’ but are kept on a ‘shorter leash’ than white coaches. That’s no doubt news to Urban Meyer and Jon Gruden–who didn’t make it until the end of the season due to off field issues (in Meyer’s case, combined with lousy coaching). Not to mention Vic Fangio, Joe Judge, Mike Zimmer and Matt Nagy–all decidedly white. There’s no doubt that there have been plenty of black coaches not given a fair shake over the years but given Flores’ prickly relationship with his staff, his team’s lack of consistency on the field and assuming Ross’s assessment of his poor organizational skills is correct it sounds like the color of the coach’s skin had nothing to do with it.
The sports media continues to fawn over Flores with Ross’ assertion of poor communication and management skills going in one ear and out the other. NBC Sports’ Mike Florio–a guy whom I usually like–advanced the idea that a NFL team ‘might fire its current head coach for a shot at Brian Flores’? There’s also some wild speculation that Ross sent Flores packing because he was too competitive and too good of a coach–that he didn’t do a full on tank job in 2019. You can’t go more than a few minutes without coming across a ‘the Dolphins will regret firing Flores’ hot take like this one from Chris Simms in which he calls it a ‘huge mistake’. There’s a few takes that Flores ‘overachieved’–a tough sell given his record of 24-25 in Miami–and that Ross fired him to ‘keep him down’, presumably due to his race.
I have nothing against Flores personally and he’ll almost certainly get another shot as a head coach. That said, it’s strange that so much of the pro football media has already fit Flores for his garish gold Hall of Fame jacket. Strictly from a ‘performance output’ standpoint maybe Flores did deserve another year. To suggest unequivocally that the firing is a ‘massive mistake’ requires a lot of ‘selective amnesia’. The Miami Dolphins focused news outlet Phin Phanatic gives us a more holistic picture of Flores’ performance in an article posted before he was fired:
The Miami Dolphins need Brian Flores to overhaul the offense in 2022. The defense needs a tweak and that is about it. The offense is a mess.
Writer Brian Miller continues with this insightful analysis of Miami’s problem hiring and keeping good assistant coaches on the offensive side of the ball:
O’Shea was fired after one year. Many fans will say that the offense needs continuity and I agree. That is why Flores needs to do away with the dual-OC system and name one of them the offensive coordinator. If the one who doesn’t get the job is offended, let them leave.
The biggest change he needs to make is at offensive coordinator. In his first season with the Dolphins, Brian Flores felt the Chad O’Shea system was too complicated and while it may not have produced winning football, we can absolutely say that the gutted offense was not in any shape to actually win a lot of football games.
The offense lacks creativity. You will hear me say this over and over again until the predictability ends, a change needs to be made.
Miami has had four offensive coordinators since Brian Flores arrived, O’Shea, Chan Gailey, and the duo of Godsey and Studesville. For all the changes, nothing has worked.
Along with the OC changes, Miami should look for a better offensive line coach as well but the problem there is continuity as well. The Dolphins have cycled through line coaches each of the last three seasons.
The crux of the problem in Miller’s view is the ‘dual offensive coordinator’ system that Flores installed. Not only does this type of scheme never work it also validates to some degree Ross’ assertion of poor organizational and communication skills by the former head coach. While there’s nothing wrong with ‘cutting your losses’ when a hire is obviously a bad fit there’s no reason a first time head coach should cycle through four offensive coordinators in three seasons. This is not only a problem from a theoretical standpoint but is likely the ‘missing piece in the puzzle’ that keeps Miami from becoming a playoff team. Miller continues:
With so many issues on offense, the Dolphins need to make this a focal point of this off-season. The Dolphins can’t continue to rely on their defense to bail out the offense. If Miami can legitimately fix the “O”, they will be a playoff contender next season.
The myopic media love fest over Flores is so pervasive that the New York Post did a little bit of selective reporting to further this narrative. The headline on the following article tries to suggest that the Dolphins roster is shocked and angry that Flores is no longer the head coach:
No doubt that some players feel this way but it does neglect the ‘rest of the story’.
Not every single player spoke up for Flores, however, and two of them were former receiver Kenny Stills and current starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa has infamously had a rocky relationship with Flores, and now, details are starting to emerge about why. According to Stills and other sources involved with the Dolphins, Flores played favorites when it came to players and Tua was never one of “his guys.”
The tension has only gotten worse between the two as it had become increasingly clear that Flores was the driving force behind the Dolphins’ odd pursuance of embattled Houston Texans superstar quarterback Deshaun Watson. When Flores was let go, Stills took to Twitter and attempted to explain why he would not want to play for Flores again.
Comments wanted more details which prompted this post:
More validation of Ross’ indictment of Flores’ ‘collaborative ability’ particularly when considered in context of the owner’s endorsement of Tua Tagovailoa as the team’s QB:
“I have a lot of confidence in Tua and I think you know, the next head coach will work with him or whoever else. But I have a lot of confidence in him. I watched him grow. He’s a fine young man, and he is our quarterback.”
There’s not a coach in the world who can undercut their own starting quarterback–a quarterback well liked by the guy that signs the checks–and preside over a divided locker room split between the ‘coaches guys’ and the rest of the team and keep their job. I’m not sold on Tagovailoa as the ‘answer’ at quarterback in Miami but with only Jacoby Brissett behind him on the depth chart there aren’t a lot of options there. Lest we forget, my opinion–nor the opinion of the collective NFL media zeitgeist–is collectively sufficient to overrule the owner of the team.
Finally, is it *that* far fetched that Flores’ personality and skill set makes him a better fit as a defensive coordinator than a head coach? That’s the first thing you learn when you start following football–college or pro–seriously. You can make a similar case about one of Flores’ former colleagues in New England, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. McDaniels lasted only two seasons as head coach of the Denver Broncos before being fired but he’s done a great job in his current role as New England’s offensive coordinator–as in, he was the OC for all six of the Pats’ Super Bowl championships. McDaniels will probably get some interest as a head coach with so many vacancies–as will Flores. Another example is the recently fired former head coach of the Broncos, Vic Fangio. Like Flores, Fangio lasted just three years as Denver’s head coach but is already in serious demand as a defensive coordinator.
Time will tell if Miami will ‘regret’ firing Flores but to make that assertion with such conviction at this point is absurd. For whatever reason, Flores didn’t get it done on the offensive side of the ball. Nor was he able to hire and keep an offensive coordinator to get it done–perhaps they were the wrong hires but that’s tough to say when he wore out coaches faster than he wears out socks. The possibility that he was ‘undercutting’ the team’s starting quarterback is an indictment of his leadership skills but more importantly not a good move when you need said quarterback to run the offense. Owner Ross will never go into a deep dive explaining Flores’ role in the communications dysfunctions within his organization. Nor should he. That said, an owner firing a coach because continued struggles in one phase of a game is in itself a valid justification. If the other issues raised by Ross are legitimate–and based on everything we know you have to think they are, at least to some degree–he might have saved the Dolphins problems in the future by making a proactive and decisive move despite its unpopularity in the media.