The year was 2008. Brian Flores was elevated from his scouting role and became a full-fledged assistant coach with New England, in what would be Mike Vrabel’s final season playing linebacker for the Patriots.
So, officially, Flores coached Vrabel.
Flores doesn’t remember it quite that way.
“I didn’t coach Vrabel,” Flores said. “I would say he probably more coached me as a young guy in New England when he was there and he was a player. He was pretty much a coach on the field then. I certainly didn’t coach him but I have a lot of respect for him.”
Semantics of who coached whom notwithstanding, there’s no debating that Flores and Vrabel will both be coaching on Sunday, when Flores and the Miami Dolphins visit Vrabel and the Tennessee Titans in a game with massive playoff implications for both teams. A Miami win would put the Dolphins (8-7) on the brink of the playoffs; a Tennessee win would give the Titans (10-5) the AFC South title.
And to hear Vrabel tell it, not only did Flores coach him in 2008, but they’re still coaching one another now.
“I know that was, I am sure, tongue in cheek,” Vrabel said of Flores’ recollection of that 2008 season. “Brian is very intelligent. I have continued to bounce ideas off of him even though we are competitors in the offseason. There are guys that you trust in this league.”
For Vrabel, Flores is one of them.
The 2008 season was an anomaly for the Patriots; Tom Brady tore his ACL in Week 1 and was gone for the season, and New England still finished 11-5 but wound up missing the playoffs — the only time that happened in a 17-season span between 2003 and 2019. Vrabel got traded to Kansas City after that season and played the last two years of his career with the Chiefs before starting out on his coaching path.
But Flores and Vrabel forged a bond that season, and it has gotten even stronger over the years.
“I think his toughness, his acumen, I think that shows up and you see it in the way his team plays,” Flores said. “He’s somebody I call a friend. I have a great deal of respect for him. ... I think they’ve done a lot of really good things over there building a team, building the culture. A lot of things that we would like to emulate.”
The Dolphins tend to follow the unofficial NFL script following a game; take 24 hours to celebrate a win or lament a loss, then get back to work on the next opponent. Playing a Monday night game earlier this week — a win at New Orleans — didn’t allow Flores that window, as he had already started looking at the Titans before the Dolphins-Saints game happened.
And just a few minutes after that win in New Orleans went final, Flores made clear he had already turned the page to this week and the matchup with Vrabel and the Titans.
“The game ahead is going to be as tough as any game we’re going to play,” he said.
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