Brian Flores, longtime coach and the Patriots’ defensive play-caller last season, left New England to become the head coach of the Miami Dolphins.
The Dolphins, who fired head coach Adam Gase after three seasons, finally accepted the “if you can’t beat them, join them” mantra regarding the Patriots. With 16 AFC East titles in the past 18 seasons, New England has maintained a firm stranglehold on the division for almost two decades now.
In true, ridiculous, incestuous AFC East fashion, Gase has already been recycled within the division, finding a new home with the New York Jets and replacing head coach Todd Bowles, who was fired after four seasons.
The loss of Flores looms large after Super Bowl 53, fresh off the Patriots’ defense having completely shut down the second-ranked offense in the NFL. The Rams gained just 260 yards, scored three points, and punted on their first eight drives of the game (and nine of their first ten).
This was also two weeks after the Pat’s D completely shut down the top offense in the NFL for one half, holding the high-powered Kansas City Chiefs attack to just one touchdown across three quarters of play. New England’s defense was absolutely dominant in the postseason, and Flores played a huge role in that success with his coaching strategy.
FLORES AND HIS EX-PATS
There were two surprising aspects about the departure of Brian Flores to Miami.
First, he went to an AFC East rival. When Eric Mangini left New England to take the New York Jets job after the 2005 season, there was serious animosity about going him going to a division rival. Second, Flores took a big chunk of Patriots assistant coaches with him as he relocated south.
He also made two interesting hires, picking up former Lions and Colts head coach Jim Caldwell as assistant head coach, and new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham – who was a Patriots assistant for a long time before departing for greener pastures.
Flores brought in New England wide receivers coach Chad O’Shea as his new offensive coordinator. O’Shea would have likely moved up to the offensive coordinator post this past season had Josh McDaniels not bailed on the Indianapolis Colts and stayed in Foxborough.
Flores grabbed two more Patriots assistants while he was at it, nabbing defensive pass game coordinator and cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer (who may have been a candidate for defensive coordinator in New England with Flores gone) and assistant quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski.
Other assistant coaches Flores brought in that have ties to the Patriots include tight ends coach George Godsey, who was with the team from 2011 to 2013 before joining Bill O’Brien in Houston; Eric Studesville as running backs coach, who was a key assistant in Denver when Josh McDaniels was the head coach; Matt Lombardi as the quality control coach, who is the son of former NFL executive Mike Lombardi (a longtime confidant of Bill Belichick); and former Patriots wide receiver Tiquan Underwood, also a quality control coach.
PATRIOTS’ COACHING NEEDS
The Patriots are reportedly bringing in former Rutgers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano as their new defensive coordinator to replace Flores.
Schiano and Belichick have had a close friendship for many years, and the Schiano pipeline has previously paid off with a high number of Rutgers alumni having success playing in New England (including both McCourty twins and Duron Harmon).
The Patriots will have to fill a number of open positions on their defensive staff. In addition to Flores and the assistant coaches departing with him, the Patriots also lost defensive line coach Brendan Daly, who is joining Steve Spagnuolo in Kansas City. Daly was highly respected in the New England locker room, and represents another significant personnel loss.
Overall, the Patriots now are left with vacancies that include finding a new linebackers coach, cornerbacks coach, and defensive line coach, with only Steve Belichick remaining as a top assistant on the defensive coaching staff.
The talent drain is formidable. Brian Flores has been in Foxborough with the Patriots since 2004, and the New England defensive players raved about him and his role in the success of the defense.
Chad O’Shea is another New England lifer who has been around since 2009, and he is expected to potentially see some looks as a head coach down the road. Josh Boyer has been in New England since 2006, and was credited with developing the young cornerbacks in that time, including Logan Ryan, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones and J.C. Jackson.
Jerry Schuplinski was very involved in developing quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett during his time in New England, dating back to 2013. Daly has been in New England since 2014, and was credited with the development of Trey Flowers into a star.
Bill Belichick has weathered changes to his coaching staff in the past, but never to such a high and widespread degree. This is an opportunity to see if the next generation of coaching assistants are ready to step up and take on a bigger role starting in 2019.
THE NEXT GENERATION
Four low-level assistant coaches who could be in line for promotions include DeMarcus Covington, Atif Austin, Mike Pellegrino, and Brian Belichick. They have had multiple roles as assistants, but with all the openings available now, there will be opportunities for promotion from within the organization.
One or two of these young assistants could find themselves in a new key role in 2019, so get to know their names and backgrounds now before it happens:
Brian Belichick is the youngest son of head coach Bill Belichick, and he spent all of 2017 shadowing defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. Belichick graduated from Trinity College in 2016 and was on the college lacrosse team there.
DeMarcus Covington was previously a co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach at Eastern Illinois University, as well as a defensive line coach at the University of Tennessee-Martin. As a player, Covington starred on the other side of the ball as a wide receiver at Samford University.
Atif Austin has been an assistant on the offensive side of the ball in New England, working with O’Shea and running backs coach Ivan Fears. Austin was previously a wide receivers coach and special teams coordinator at North Dakota State. As a player, Austin was a defensive back at Iowa State from 1999 through 2002.
Mike Pellegrino is another former lacrosse player who converted to football, just like Brian Belichick. He played at Johns Hopkins, and after college had a connection with John Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala, who is also close with Bill Belichick. Pellegrino first came to the Patriots as an intern in college and was hired soon after graduation. He has worked primarily with the Patriots defensive backs.
COORDINATOR MOVEMENT IN THE PAST
The Patriots have lost coordinators before under Bill Belichick; they lost offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel after the 2004 season. When that happened, Belichick promoted Eric Mangini to lead the defense and Josh McDaniels to guide the offense. Both former coordinators made a point not to empty the cupboard of assistants on their way to their head coaching jobs.
The Patriots went 12-4 in 2005, and it took a five-turnover game against Denver in the playoffs to give the Brady-Belichick Patriots their first playoff loss. That offseason, they lost defensive coordinator Eric Mangini to the New York Jets. The separation may have been contentious, but Mangini at least did not bring any coaches with him from New England.
In 2006, the Patriots promoted linebackers coach Dean Pees to defensive coordinator. That postseason, New England had a 21-6 lead at halftime in the AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts, before Pees’ defense gave up 32 second-half points to blow the game.
Pees and McDaniels were together as coordinators until McDaniels left after the 2008 season to take over the Denver Broncos head coaching job. McDaniels, like Mangini, did not bring any assistant coaches with him to Denver.
Dean Pees left after 2009 to go to Baltimore, which resulted in Matt Patricia becoming the new de facto defensive coordinator. After 2011, offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien headed off to Penn State, and Josh McDaniels came back to take over as offensive coordinator.
Patricia and McDaniels stayed together until 2017, when Patricia left to become head coach of the Detroit Lions. Unlike Flores leaving after a dominant Super Bowl win, Patricia went to Detroit on the heels of one of his worst defensive play-calling games, right after the Eagles lit up New England for 41 points in Super Bowl 52.
Despite all these changes over the years, the Patriots have maintained one constant coach on their roster, and it’s the most important one: Bill Belichick. Letting Flores leave with a chunk of his staff means only that Belichick has a plan – even if it might not be easy to discern or digest just yet.
Six Super Bowl wins in less than 20 years earns you that kind of trust and patience from your ownership and fanbase.