‘This is all kind of a dream to me’

Flores’ path to be­com­ing Dol­phins’ coach

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Mike Jones

It hap­pened again.

The el­e­va­tor at the Glen­more Plaza projects in the Brownsville neigh­bor­hood in Brook­lyn in New York City had stopped work­ing. It hap­pened fre­quently.

This time, Maria Flores and her young sons had re­turned from gro­cery shop­ping, loaded down with bags.

Brian Flores re­mem­bers the sink­ing feel­ing when the but­ton didn’t re­spond. He did the only thing he could.

“Got a bunch of bags, who’s walk­ing up the steps? That’s me,” he re­called. “And ob­vi­ously, my mom would fol­low suit. Took a cou­ple trips. … We’d have to walk up 20 flights and walk down. Hun­dred flights of steps like that.”

That was life then.

All these years later, though, very lit­tle about Flores’ life feels real.

Swarmed by re­porters at the chaotic Su­per Bowl Open­ing Night. Pre­par­ing the Pa­tri­ots’ de­fense for the Rams’ pro­lific of­fense. Hold­ing that unit to just three points. Hoist­ing the Lombardi Tro­phy. An in­tro­duc­tion as head coach of the Dol­phins less than 24 hours later.

“This is all kind of a dream to me,” Flores said.

It’s very much re­al­ity, how­ever. Flores turns 38 on Feb. 24, and in 16 years, he has gone from Bos­ton Col­lege line­backer and grad­u­ate to the third-youngest head coach in the NFL.

Flores still sees him­self as the kid liv­ing in that three-bed­room apart­ment in Brownsville, though.

Raul and Maria Flores left Hon­duras for the USA in the 1970s, de­ter­mined to find a bet­ter life. Maria fre­quently had to raise her five boys alone be­cause, as a mer­chant marine, Raul of­ten spent months at a time at sea.

“They worked hard, ex­tremely hard,” Brian Flores said proudly at last Mon­day’s

in­tro­duc­tory news con­fer­ence with the Dol­phins. “We didn’t grow up with a lot, but what we did have … I had a great child­hood. My par­ents, my un­cles, my aunts, maybe we didn’t have a lot of money, but we were rich in love, for sure.”

Flores knew noth­ing about foot­ball un­til his un­cle, who played for the New York fire depart­ment’s team, in­tro­duced him to the game at the age of 12.

“I took it and ran with it, lit­er­ally,” he said. “I was a run­ning back.”

Flores de­vel­oped into a two-way star at Poly Prep Coun­try Day School, where he had re­ceived a schol­ar­ship to at­tend. There he also re­ceived what he con­sid­ers his foun­da­tion for coach­ing.

Dino Mang­iero, Flores’ for­mer high school coach, dis­agreed. He says Flores came to him with some­thing spe­cial. He sim­ply helped cul­ti­vate it.

“A very rare bird. A di­a­mond,” Mang­iero, who now coaches at Mater Dei Prep in New Jer­sey, told USA TO­DAY. “A kid that was an ex­cep­tional ath­lete, ex­cep­tion­ally re­spect­ful and an A stu­dent. Just a rare bird to find an eighth-grader with that kind of ma­tu­rity and re­spect­ful­ness that he was brought up with from his par­ents, and the in­tel­lect . ... He was just a sponge. Two ears and one mouth. He learned at a young age that you should lis­ten as twice as much as you talk, and he was just a very de­ter­mined young man.”

Mang­iero still vividly re­mem­bers the day he re­al­ized Flores would some­day be­come a leader of men.

“Ev­ery­one’s in the locker room cry­ing, ‘It’s too hard! It’s too this! The coaches don’t know what they’re do­ing!’ ” Mang­iero re­counted. “(Flores) didn’t know we were right out­side the locker room and could hear him, and he said, ‘Hey! This is what we’re do­ing. This is why we’re do­ing it. We’ve got to be­lieve in the coaches, we’ve got a plan here.’

“He’d started rep­re­sent­ing the coaches in the locker room. It showed lead­er­ship and it showed courage. It’s not easy to do that when ev­ery­one is go­ing one di­rec­tion and you go the op­po­site and say, ‘We need to back the coaches and back the pro­gram.’ ”

Flores earned a full schol­ar­ship to Bos­ton Col­lege, where he grad­u­ated with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in English and a mas­ter’s in ad­min­is­tra­tive stud­ies. Mang­iero be­lieves Flores could have had a suc­cess­ful ca­reer on Wall Street. But his pas­sion for foot­ball re­mained.

An in­tern­ship with the Pa­tri­ots, which en­tailed fetch­ing cof­fee and dryclean­ing or­ders, turned into a scout­ing as­sis­tant po­si­tion. As a pro scout, Flores as­pired to be­come a gen­eral man­ager. But when the pre­vi­ously un­de­feated Pa­tri­ots lost to the Gi­ants in Su­per Bowl XLII, he felt the urge to be even more di­rectly in­volved and ap­proached Bill Belicheck about join­ing the coach­ing staff as an en­try-level as­sis­tant. From there, Flores climbed, thriv­ing in every po­si­tion he held, in­clud­ing the past sea­son when he served as New Eng­land’s de­fen­sive play-caller as well as lineback­ers coach.

“Brian called a great game as he has all year,” Belichick gushed af­ter the Su­per Bowl. “He’s done a tremen­dous job for me. In the time that he’s been with this or­ga­ni­za­tion he’s worn I don’t know how many different hats. Scout­ing, qual­ity con­trol, spe­cial teams, de­fense, safeties, lineback­ers, de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor. He’s done a lot of things and done them all well.”

Flores cred­its his mother’s de­mand for ex­cel­lence and per­sis­tence for his ap­proach to every task.

“My mom and my dad raised me to be strong, con­fi­dent. They in­stilled core val­ues that I still be­lieve in to­day. In­tegrity, honor, char­ac­ter, be­ing hon­est, telling the truth, work­ing hard,” Flores said on me­dia night. “Work­ing hard. That’s been my mantra I’ve lived by my en­tire life.

“My mom was big on ed­u­ca­tion, so I tell the story of (when) I was learn­ing how to read — I re­mem­ber this very vividly. … I’m sit­ting there and I told my mom, ‘I’m go­ing to do this to­mor­row.’ She grabs my ear, pulls me and says, ‘No, we’re go­ing to do this right now.’ So that’s the en­vi­ron­ment I grew up in. It started there.”

Flores still draws strength from his mother, espe­cially as she bat­tles breast can­cer.

“She’s fight­ing. She’s fear­less, and I got a lit­tle bit of that from her,” he said last week. “She’s an idol to me and I can’t say enough good things about her.”

Mang­iero de­scribed Flores as “a very de­ter­mined young man,” and his in­ter­nal strength will surely be nec­es­sary as he joins gen­eral man­ager Chris Grier in un­der­tak­ing what could be an ar­du­ous re­build­ing project in Miami.

Flores said he will build his coach­ing mes­sage on three pil­lars he learned from his par­ents, Mang­iero and Belichick: hard work, com­mit­ment and loy­alty. As his jour­ney con­tin­ues, Flores hopes to honor those who molded him as he in­spires oth­ers.

“Hope­fully I can be an ex­am­ple for kids like me that you can do it,” Flores said. “I’m sure there are kids in the projects right now, and I hope they don’t feel hope­less, be­cause they shouldn’t. Be­cause I’m sit­ting here right now, talk­ing to you about mak­ing the dream come true.”

DUSTIN PEDROIA BY BRIAN FLUHARTY/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

CHRISTO­PHER HANEWINCKEL/USA TO­DAY

Duron Har­mon cel­e­brates with Brian Flores af­ter the Pa­tri­ots’ Su­per Bowl win.

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