EAGAN, Minn. (AP)Brian Flores interviewed for at least four jobs this offseason, even one for head coach.
No matter how big the rebuild might be in Minnesota, his two sons weren’t deterred: Vikings defensive coordinator was surely the best fit for their dad.
”They didn’t care about any of the other opportunities. They’re big Justin Jefferson fans, so when we accepted the position, there was a lot of Griddy-ing going on in my house,” Flores said, referencing Jefferson’s signature touchdown groove. ”And I had my own version that nobody wants to see here.”
Flores can name his tune and his dance – plus, probably, his price – if he finds a way to fix a defense that was one of the easiest in the NFL to move the ball against in 2022.
”You get a gut feeling – I think we’ve all kind of had those – that this was the place for me and my family,” said the 41-year-old Flores, who’s married with three children.
His daughter even took her first steps inside U.S. Bank Stadium at a team event the week of the Super Bowl he coached in with New England five seasons ago.
One year removed from his messy firing as Miami’s head coach and the fallout that led to a still-pending lawsuit, Flores appeared quite comfortable with the current state of his career at an introductory news conference Wednesday at Vikings headquarters next to head coach Kevin O’Connell. Flores was hired on Feb. 6.
”I’m where my feet are. I’m very excited to be here. I think any other opportunities that present themselves in the future, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” said Flores, who interviewed for Arizona’s head coach vacancy and defensive coordinator openings with Atlanta and Cleveland.
Flores filed a class-action lawsuit last year alleging racial discrimination by the Dolphins and the NFL, a case still tied up in the court system. Flores, who is Black, was joined as plaintiffs by Steve Wilks and Ray Horton. He said Wednesday he couldn’t comment specifically about the lawsuit.
Flores built his resume over 15 seasons and four Super Bowl titles with the Patriots organization, the last eight as a defensive assistant. The Patriots won it all four years ago with Flores as a first-time defensive play-caller, and they jumped from 17th to seventh in the league in opponent passer rating while tying for fifth with 28 takeaways.
”I want the closest resemblance to my personality as the head coach of this team to be articulated in how we play,” O’Connell said, ”and I think Brian coming in here will give not only the similar football backgrounds and philosophies, but also just the mindset of being ultra-competitors.”
Flores spent three years as coach of the Dolphins and was a senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach in 2022 for Pittsburgh. He has replaced Ed Donatell, fired by O’Connell after their only season together.
O’Connell also formally interviewed Sean Desai, Mike Pettine and Ryan Nielsen for the job of reviving a defense that ranked second-worst in the league in yards allowed and fourth-worst in points allowed. O’Connell clearly wasn’t on the same page with Donatell down the stretch about how much the Vikings needed to adjust their rush and coverage strategy.
”I left out of here feeling like there was a shared vision,” Flores said. ”He’s aggressive offensively. I’m aggressive defensively. That kind of philosophy was aligned.”
With safety Harrison Smith, cornerback Patrick Peterson, inside linebacker Eric Kendricks and outside linebackers Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith, the Vikings have a core that’s accomplished and savvy but expensive and aged.
Those five players have been picked for the Pro Bowl a combined 21 times, but only Hunter (27) is under 30. There’s almost no way the entire quintet will remain for 2023, with the possibility that more than one would be cut for salary cap relief. Peterson and the other two starting cornerbacks, Duke Shelley and Chandon Sullivan, will all be free agents next month.
Hunter, Kendricks and Smith, in particular, were either not the right fits or slow to transition to the new scheme after Donatell installed a 3-4 base system that was heavier on zone pass coverage and lighter on blitzing than the Vikings were previously in the 4-3 scheme run by head coach Mike Zimmer. Flores prefers a 3-4, but has operated a defense more like Zimmer’s than Donatell’s, with more man-to-man coverage and frequent extra pass rushers.
The lack of contribution to the defense from recent drafts has become a glaring problem. From 2017 through 2021, at the direction of general manager Rick Spielman, they drafted a total of five defensive players in any of the first three rounds. Only two are still with the team: cornerback Cameron Dantzler and outside linebacker Patrick Jones.
Dantzler, a third-rounder in 2020, has been hampered by injuries and finished the season as a backup. Jones, a third-rounder in 2021, played in 26% of the snaps on defense in 2022.
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