“We’re on to Cincinnati.”
Those famous words were grumpily mumbled by Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick in 2014, after an early-season loss to Kansas City left the Boston media anxious to ask the then-three-time Super Bowl-winning head coach about the long-term implications of such an uncharacteristically unsettling defeat.
Belichick responded to the chirpings of his decade-long dynasty in decline in the manner in which he always handles criticism–by keeping the press on a need-to-know basis, and resolving any and all conflicts in-house, never show signs of weakness to the outside world.
What happened next is common knowledge among football fans. The Patriots won the Super Bowl that very same season, won it again two years later, and came close the year after that.
On those Patriots teams, Belichick relied on a plethora of different assistants and coordinators to power the New England playoff machine and maintain the level of success to which Pats fans had become accustomed. Dating back to the 2001 season, when Tom Brady and Bill Belichick had their first chart-topping collaboration, rival franchises with vacant head coaching spots came bounding to Foxboro to court the genius’ understudies, including the Browns. When New England beat Philadelphia in Super Bowl XXXIX to complete its first wave of championships, Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel was considered one of the most desirable coaches on the market. The Browns, fresh off of four underwhelming years of Butch Davis, hired Crennel to take over beginning with the 2005 season, at which point he ensued to put up four more underwhelming years of Cleveland head coaching. The man he was replaced with, former Jets Head Coach Eric Mangini, had also come from the Patriots and Belichick. Mangini was quickly scooped up by New York when he became available in January 2006, but his tenure in green and white failed to work out as he’d hoped, and he looked to Cleveland as his chance at redemption. In two seasons with the Browns though, Mangini only posted a record of 10-22 before being fired.
The Browns aren’t the only team to have had trouble replicating the Patriots’ good fortunes by bringing in a Belichick disciple. In addition to the aforementioned Jets, the Broncos failed to get their money’s worth with Josh McDaniels, who eventually skedaddled back to his rightful place at the side of Belichick. Bill O’Brien, who was with Belichick in New England from 2007-2011, went 15-9 as the Head Coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions, then took the HC job with the Houston Texans in 2014. Of all the men to come from the Belichick Tree of Coaching, O’Brien has probably been the most successful, although that isn’t saying much. He’s taken the Texans to the postseason thrice over his five years in this position, but outside of this year, 2018, they’ve never had a prayer of making any noise in the playoffs upon arrival. O’Brien’s record with the Texans thus far is 42-38, a winning percentage of only .525. That’s alright, but not exactly Belichick-esque.
Other pupils of The Irritable One to go on to try their hand at head coaching, whether it be in the pros or college, include Charlie Weis, Matt Patricia, and Mike Vrabel, who didn’t coach with Belichick, but actually played under him and later coached with O’Brien in Houston. None of the men with roots in the Belichick Tree of Coaching have come close to producing the level of excellence Belichick and Brady have in New England. Some have been decent, but none have been great.
So what’s different about Brian Flores?
Well, Flores has been with the Patriots much longer than any of those other guys were. Brian Flores joined the Patriots all the way back in 2004, when he took a job in the scouting department after an injury kept him from playing in the NFL. Within a few years, Flores transitioned into coaching with New England, starting small as an assistant before moving up the ladder to a positions coach. He was the Safeties Coach from 2012-2015, Linebackers Coach from 2016-2018, and, in 2018, after embracing play-calling duties on the defensive side of the ball following th departure of Matt Patricia, unofficial Defensive Coordinator.
Flores has been a part of that Patriots winning culture since 2004, meaning Bill Belichick respects both his football knowledge and work ethic. On paper, Flores should turn out to be a great head coach in the NFL. In fact, the Arizona Cardinals interviewed him before the season even started.
This offseason, more teams are intrigued by the 37 year-old’s coaching philosophy and potential. Darren Hartwell of NBC Sports Boston wrote that Flores would be meeting with the Miami Dolphins on Friday, the Green Bay Packers Friday, and the Denver Broncos Monday. He also said Flores would meet with the Cleveland Browns, who are currently missing a head coach after their old one, Hue Jackson, got fired, then made like Belichick and was on to Cincinnati (quite literally, in this instance). However, the Browns interview will be held on a date TBD. Logically, it would make sense for the Browns interview to come in the next few days like those of other teams, given that the Patriots have the #2 seed in the AFC and thus have a bye this week. As Browns GM John Dorsey said in his press conference Monday, he wouldn’t be giving out details on the team’s interviews until after the fact. However, some information on interviews with other coaches, such as former Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy, has already leaked.
Thus far, nothing has come out surrounding the date and time the Browns will be sitting down with Flores. His Patriots pedigree will certainly earn him some respect with John Dorsey and the Haslams, and his energy and persona could mesh well with the team currently in place in Cleveland. But will that be enough to propel Flores to the top of the Browns’ board of prospective coaches? Will he be able to “wow” Cleveland’s front office enough to warrant greater consideration over someone familiar like Gregg Williams or Freddie Kitchens or someone with a more prestigious reputation among the NFL community like McCarthy or Bruce Arians? And if hired, will Flores be able to rise above the ominous glow of the Belichick Coaching Curse and lead this young, extremely promising Browns team to its first title since 1964, ending decades of frustration and heartache?
The answers to those questions remain to be seen.
But one thing’s for certain: no matter who the Browns do end up picking to be their next Head Coach, he couldn’t possibly be worse than Hue Jackson.