“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” or that’s at least how the saying goes. On February 19th, the Pittsburgh Steelers announced the hiring of embattled coach Brian Flores for the position of Senior Defensive Assistant/Linebackers Coach after his unexpected departure from the Miami Dolphins. While the hiring may have come as a surprise to some, the Steelers organization has always been known to not let outside narratives affect their evaluation of staff as well as players they believe could be an asset inside the hallowed halls of Heinz Field. Below, we’ll take a look at what Flores has done up to this point of his career as well as what we can hope to see out of his unit in the upcoming 2022 season.
What Does Flores Bring to the Table?
Prior to recent polarizing headlines, Flores began his career at the professional level as a scouting assistant for the New England Patriots in 2004. Rising through the ranks of the Patriots scouting department at a rapid pace, Flores was appointed as a professional scout in 2006 before being named as a member of Bill Belichick’s vaunted coaching staff in 2008. Flores was tapped as a defensive assistant for the 2011 Patriots squad that ironically ended up falling in Super Bowl XLVI to his childhood team, the New York Giants.
Flores was given the reins to the Patriots’ defensive play-calling after the departure of Matt Patricia, leading to him being considered as “the next coaching star of the New England Patriots” by ESPN. Flores made good on this prediction by commanding a historic defense that avenged the upset from the previous season against the Philadelphia Eagles. Super Bowl LIII saw Flores shine in potentially his toughest test yet, holding offensive wunderkind Sean McVay’s vaunted Los Angeles Rams offense to a lone field goal in a 13-3 win to earn his fourth ring. Going into the 2019 offseason, Flores was one of the hottest head coach options on the market and the wait was on to see which team would bring him in as their next head coach.
The NFL world and Flores did not have to wait long. The very next day, an all too familiar adversary in the Miami Dolphins hired Flores to be their next head coach. In his first season with an intentionally depleted roster (Dolphin stalwarts Laremy Tunsil, Kenyan Drake, Ryan Tannehill, and Minkah Fitzpatrick were all traded within the first eight weeks of the season) along with rallying cries to “Tank for Tua,” Miami limped to a 5-11 record with a lack of identity heading into the 2020 season. A semblance of this identity began to show with the tank campaign succeeding in taking Tua Tagovailoa with the 5th overall pick in the 2020 draft. Flores led the Dolphins to a 10-6 record with marquee wins over top-tier opponents such as the San Francisco 49ers, Rams, and Arizona Cardinals. The future looked bright.
This past season, Miami took a step back due to injuries and mediocre backup QB play while finishing 9-8. Then on January 10th, in the middle of the postseason, Flores was unceremoniously fired in one of the most shocking coaching moves of the entire offseason. Flores subsequently filed a lawsuit against the NFL, Dolphins, Giants, and Denver Broncos citing racial discrimination and violation of the league’s Rooney Rule among other accusations. This lawsuit stood to ostracize Flores from the rest of the league with many believing he was done coaching at the professional level.
Not so fast said coach Mike Tomlin and the Steelers. Recognizing the talent that other teams in the league were disregarding, the Steelers pounced after a very short negotiation period and brought Flores onto their staff. Flores will be gifted with a defense headed by Defensive Player of the Year T.J Watt, as well as young complementary pieces such as Alex Highsmith and Devin Bush. While Flores will mainly be tasked with maximizing the linebacker core, it will only make his life easier having All-Pro Cam Heyward and reuniting with his former ballhawk in Fitzpatrick to support his unit in the middle of the field. While expected, it is unknown if Tomlin will retain his play-calling responsibilities or delegate them to Defensive Coordinator Teryl Austin or Flores. The impact most expected to be seen will be the development of Highsmith who is going into his third season, and Bush who is hoping to bounce back from a subpar campaign after returning from an ACL injury. Flores will also bring along a keen attention to detail cultivated in New England that will allow the Steelers defense to go into each week knowing how to take away an offense’s preferred game plan. Steelers fans have been clamoring for outside ideas since the days of Dick LeBeau’s legendary defenses, and the organization has finally taken a step in that direction. Only time will tell if this controversial yet enticing hire will be a step in the right direction.
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