Attention to detail, leadership qualities and character forged by a childhood spent in the housing projects of Brooklyn helped New England linebackers coach Brian Flores vault onto the radar screen of the Broncos, whose executives interviewed him Saturday.
Flores does not have the title of defensive coordinator; he remained New England's linebackers coach in 2018. But he had the responsibility of guiding the defense and calling its plays in the wake of Matt Patricia's departure for Detroit last year. Having play-calling duties without the coordinator title is typical for the Patriots, who did the same thing for two seasons (2009-10) with Bill O'Brien on offense and two more (2010-11) with Patricia. Both earned coordinator titles in their third season as play callers.
Guiding a defense is more than just calling plays, as Flores learned. It's about managing a staff and learning when to lean on each of them.
"I’ve learned we have a really great staff, and the importance of each of their roles, and how the things they do are so vital to our success," he told ESPN.com last month. "That’s been kind of eye-opening. It was a role I had [as linebackers coach] and I enjoyed doing that, but I didn’t realize how important it was until you’re in this spot.
"You lean on guys for their input. They do such a great job helping me with the game plan. A lot of credit goes to those guys and the players we have."
Flores showed he could handle the tough times well, evidenced in the aftermath of the wild final-play touchdown his defense allowed to the Miami Dolphins in Week 14 of last season.
“He’s an accountable coach," New England defensive end Trey Flowers said to ESPN.com in the days after that defeat. “It’s always a next-game mentality; you can’t harp on the past or the last game. You move on to the next, and he showed that from the very next meeting after the game, going through the film and what we did wrong, and then, ‘Now it’s on to Pittsburgh.'"
And while the Patriots are now on to whichever team they face in the divisional round, Flores will spend the weekend preparing for the potential next step in his career. He interviewed with the Dolphins and Green Bay Packers on Friday before moving on to the Broncos. The Browns were expected to interview with Flores later Saturday, according to reports.
If a team hires Flores, they will add a coach with experience in player personnel and all three phases of football. Flores worked four seasons in the Patriots' scouting department before joining their coaching staff in 2008.
New England head coach Bill Belichick has long had his assistants develop skills on both sides of the football, so Flores worked on the offensive side as he worked his way up through the Patriots' sideline hierarchy, serving as an offensive assistant/special teams coach in 2010 after working two seasons as a coaching assistant. He moved up to safeties coach in 2012 after a year as a defensive assistant, then shifted to the linebackers in 2015.
In guiding the linebackers and New England's defense, Flores emphasized tackling fundamentals while working within the collectively-bargained restrictions on contact and full-pad work during practices.
"It’s something we try to practice every day," he said during a Dec. 4 conference call with New England media. "The rules are what they are. We abide by them, but we obviously place a great emphasis on tackling in space, in line.
"We’ve got a myriad of tackling drills where we throw obstacles in front of them, we make them defeat blocks, cut tackles, heel tackles -- I mean, we’re all over the place as far as the different ways you can get a guy down, but they’re all important. I thought the guys did a good job of taking what we practice on the field and trying to execute it in games as a total unit."
Flores' backstory is one of the most remarkable of any NFL coach. Born in 1981, Flores is the son of Honduran immigrants. He spent his childhood as one of five children with his parents in the housing projects of Brownsville, Brooklyn, an impoverished neighborhood known mostly for crime, drugs and danger.
As an ESPN.com profile noted, Flores grew up with four siblings. With his father working in the United States Merchant Marine and often at sea, his mother took care of Flores and his siblings, including his youngest brother, Christopher, who has autism.
"It shaped me in a lot of ways," Flores told ESPN.com last year. "It made me tough. I learned how to deal with adversity, and it motivated me to get out of there. ... It's a tough environment, and there's violence and drugs. But it wasn't the wild, wild West. There are a lot of good people there too. I was fortunate to be around a lot of them."
Academics and athletics were the ticket out of Brownsville for the four oldest Flores children, and Brian flourished in football, eventually earning a scholarship to Boston College. He and three other siblings earned undergraduate degrees, and Brian's success allowed him to buy a condominium for his parents and Christopher in North Attleborough, Massachusetts.
"Myself and my brothers are what our parents dreamed of having when they came to this country," Flores told ESPN.com last year. "We are the American dream."
That dream would reach new heights if Flores soars to a head-coaching job this year.