Brian Flores is latest Patriots assistant turned NFL coaching candidate. Can he break losing trend for Belichick coaching tree?

The scramble to hire NFL coaches each January inevitably leads to Bill Belichick’s doorstep.

The Patriots’ 20th year head man has seen nine assistants hired away to lead other NFL franchises, and as the Broncos search to replace Vance Joseph, their focus has turned to another New England assistant.

Brian Flores, 37, is the Patriots’ linebackers coach in his first season as defensive playcaller. Broncos’ general manager John Elway, CEO Joe Ellis and other club officials completed an interview Saturday morning with Flores one day after he spoke with the Dolphins and Packers about their respective vacancies. The Browns have also requested an interview. But buyers beware.

The Belichick coaching tree boasts an impressive limb count.

Few branches sprout success.

Only three of nine former Belichick assistants who got NFL head coaching jobs have career records above .500. Al Groh, who worked under Belichick during his stint as the Browns’ head coach, went 9-7 with the Jets in 2000 before resigning to coach in college. Mike Vrabel led the Titans to a 9-7 record this season.  Bill O’Brien, over five seasons with the Texans, is 42-38. 

The collective coaching records in the NFL of the remaining six disciples — Romeo Crennel (Browns/Chiefs), Eric Mangini (Jets/Browns), Josh McDaniels (Broncos), Matt Patricia (Lions), Nick Saban (Dolphins) and Jim Schwartz (Lions) — is a whopping 122-197. However, to simply dismiss Flores’ coaching potential based on history isn’t fair either.

Flores, a New York native who played linebacker at Boston College, broke into the NFL in 2004 as a Patriots’ scouting assistant and was given pro scouting duties before the 2006 season. He transitioned to an on-field role two years later and was then elevated to oversee safeties (2012-15) and then linebackers (2016-18). Through his seven seasons as a position coach, New England ranked inside the NFL’s top-10 for fewest points allowed. The 2018 Patriots (11-5) won their 10th consecutive AFC West title with a defense that ranked No. 21 in yards allowed (359.1), No. 7 in scoring (20.3) and No. 5 in total takeaways (28).

Flores broke down his coaching philosophy in an interview with ESPN in December..

“I think leadership is about being honest,” Flores said. “It’s about being transparent. I think it’s about putting yourself in the shoes of others. I also think it’s about being tough on people, having high expectations, having a high standard and not letting off that standard. I think you can do that specifically with players — you can be tough on them, expect a lot from them, but not be somebody they despise.

“I think it’s important to connect to people. When you can do that, I think you can get more out of them. That’s part of my leadership style. It’s a combination of building trust and building that connection so you can be tough and they know it’s out of love.”

Hiring Flores might give some Broncos fans pause considering the similarities between his rise and that of Joseph; a long-time defensive position coach with only one season of play calling duties and no previous head coaching experience. Pairing Flores with a veteran offensive coordinator, possibly Gary Kubiak, would lessen concerns over the learning curve.

Interviewing Flores fulfills the Broncos’ need to satisfy the Rooney Rule, established in 2003, which requires NFL teams interview at least one minority candidate for a vacant head coaching position. There were eight minority head coaches in the NFL to begin the 2018 season. But the firings of Joseph, Hue Jackson (Browns), Todd Bowles (Jets), Steve Wilkes (Cardinals) and Marvin Lewis (Bengals) now leaves the league with only three; Mike Tomlin (Steelers), Anthony Lynn (Chargers) and Ron Rivera (Panthers).

Don’t mistake Flores as simply an interview obligation, however. Patriots’ players have raved about his coaching ability in recent interviews with masslive.com.

Defensive tackle Malcolm Butler: “He never really lets his emotions get to him. He collects himself. And he just calls it like it is. He focuses on getting the job done rather than any of the extra stuff.”

Defensive end Trey Flowers: “Once you have success, then you’re allowed to trust him and play more freely and go out there and make plays. Because you know your coach is going to put you in the right position.”

Cornerback Jason McCourty: “I love playing for Coach Flores.”

Whether Flores thrives with the Broncos, Dolphins, Packers or Browns, or needs to wait for a head coaching opening, it seems he’s destined for bigger things.

“I have goals and things I want to do personally, but that’s for down the line,” Flores told ESPN. “Right now, my focus is on this team, and this season, and helping this team win any way I can.”

BELICHICK COACHING TREE

Longtime Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick has witnessed nine former assistants become NFL head coaches. Here’s how their winning percentages stack up.

Al Groh, Jets: 9-7 (.560)

Mike Vrabel, Titans: 9-7 (.560)

Bill O’Brien, Texans: 42-38 (.520)

Nick Saban, Dolphins: 15-17 (.460)

Eric Mangini, Jets and Browns: 33-47 (.410)

Josh McDaniels, Broncos: 11-17 (.390)

Matt Patricia, Lions: 6-10 (.370)

Romeo Crennel, Browns and Chiefs: 28-55 (.330)

Jim Schwartz, Lions: 29-51 (.360)

Total: 182-249 (.420)

*Records through Week 17 of the 2018 season provided by pro-football-reference.com

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