INDIANAPOLIS — Brian Flores was early in his career climb — having advanced to coaching Patriots safeties by 2012 — and speaking to his position group when the topic of him one day becoming a defensive coordinator popped up.
Flores remembers his response to the notion more than 10 years later, but it was the words from a player — 2012 sixth-round pick Nate Ebner — that created a ripple effect on his career.
"At the time, I was so focused on them, and I said, 'Hey guys, I'm not worried about that. I'm content right where I'm at,' and he said to me, 'I hope my expectations of you are better than your expectations for yourself," Flores told Voice of the Vikings Paul Allen and VEN's Gabe Henderson on 9 to Noon Tuesday morning at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine. "That was a cool moment. That was the point I realized, 'Hey, maybe I can lead a defensive group. Maybe I can lead the team.' It may have been a little bit of a turning point for me."
Ebner played 133 regular-season games and helped the Patriots go 12-4 in 16 postseason contests, including wins in Super Bowls XLIX, LI and LIII (he was on Injured Reserve for LII).
Flores continued to climb through the New England organization to the point of being hired as Dolphins head coach (2019-21). After spending 2022 as senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach with Pittsburgh, Flores was hired three weeks ago as Minnesota's new defensive coordinator.
That message about expectations is one he's likely to convey when he addresses the defense in mid-April.
Expectations and goals are front-and-center every year at the combine, where 319 draft-eligible players have been invited to participate in meetings, complete on-field timing and testing drills and undergo medical exams.
"As a coach when you're dealing with young men, especially today's society, they're dealing with doubt-fear anxiety — things that the stresses of playing in the National Football League, some guys are just trying to survive," Flores said. "That's something that hits home with them: 'Don't let my expectations be bigger than yours.' "
That doesn't mean he expects every player to show up with all the answers. Instead, he wants them to be prepared with questions.
That will be the case when meeting with prospects this week or when installing his defensive system that intends to boost the Vikings defense.
View photos of current Vikings players during their time at the NFL Scouting Combine from previous years.
"That's the kind of atmosphere I want in the room. I love guys who ask questions. They're supposed to ask questions," Flores said. "We have to have answers as coaches, and guys who are looking for clarity, for an edge. I never want to bog that down. That's the kind of environment we'll try to create in Minnesota in our meeting rooms. Hopefully there's a lot of dialogue. We may throw some questions in there to create some of that dialogue."
Flores appreciated the opportunity to learn under former Vikings Defensive Coordinator Mike Tomlin, who has never had a losing season in 16 years of leading the Steelers.
"There's so many great and positive things I can say about Mike T. First of all, he's a phenomenal human being, but as a coach, and you sit in his meetings, and he's got a nugget every day," Flores said. "He talks to the offense, defense, special teams, he's hitting you with nuggets about life. It's all-encompassing. I like to think I'm pretty good up in front of a room, and I'm sitting there and taking notes, really, on a daily basis. It was such a positive experience, so different than anything I've been exposed to. I think exposure leads to expansion. I learned that in church, too."
Flores had spoken extensively during his introduction about the growth opportunity he envisions after joining Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell's staff. He added more to that Tuesday.
"This opportunity for me is going to allow me to grow offensively from watching Kev' and how he operates. Defensively, being in front of the room and working with our coaching staff to grow individually and collectively as a team," Flores said. "In the kicking game with [Special Teams Coordinator Matt Daniels] and his expertise, seeing a different way of doing things just from a big-picture standpoint."
Flores said his quick onboarding process in Minnesota "has been phenomenal, honestly, and it's not just been players."
"It's been getting to know everyone in the building: players, coaches, support staff. I think within a team everyone's role is important, so I like to go down to the equipment room, to the training room and really meet everyone," Flores said. "It's been a little of watching the tape, getting to know people in the building and seeing the strengths and weaknesses of the players on our team."
Although it will be roughly a month-and-a-half before Flores addresses the full Vikings defense in a meeting, he's already making a mark on the meetings between the Vikings personnel department and coaches. Flores first entered the NFL in New England's personnel department (2004-07).
"It's awesome. I just can't tell you how great it is to be in meetings with him," Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said during a session with Twin Cities media members. "I was joking the other day – he kind of sits back in his chair and puts on his 'Personnel B-Flo.' It's very different. And he's so conversational. He uses that same language that we use.
"It's incredible because ultimately what makes a great scout is the ability to communicate to people very clearly, who have never seen the player, what they do. What it's gonna look like, how they derive their value, and he's really good at that," Adofo-Mensah added. "He's also really open-minded. We talk a lot about the glass being half full, so when you watch players, it's not just picking apart what they can't do; it's what can they do? How do we hide the stuff that maybe they don't do so well, or even develop it? He is so of that mind. He loves to mold and fit his defense to the personnel and scheme. He's incredibly talented; I don't think you need me to tell you that. He's already been a head coach in this league – and a successful one, at that. So I'm just really happy to work with him."
Earlier in the day, Adofo-Mensah had been asked about the Flores hire by Peter Schrager on Good Morning Football.
"B-Flo. Man, that's a special guy. Right from the interview process, you immediately see his football acumen," Adofo-Mensah told Schrager. "And it's in that way that the great ones talk – they're not trying to impress you; they're just really sound and fundamental and make things simple. … Just the energy he provides our building, we didn't just need his football energy. We needed his on-field, day-to-day energy that's going to be great for our players."
Flores again was a topic during Adofo-Mensah's podium media session.
"People use the term 'scheme.' I use the term 'system.' I think the great coaches have systems," Adofo-Mensah said during his podium session. "He has a system built foundationally from his time in New England that's coming out, but also, he built a system understanding personnel, knowing what is typically available in the draft, free agency, and the different resources you need, so his system allows us to really think big picture in all of those things, now how you get specific with it, we're going to meet this week.
"We've been meeting all these weeks, different scenarios — 'This is what could happen. This is what could happen.' He just wants to know what could happen, and then, 'I'm going to give this the best chance to win with,' " Adofo-Mensah added. "Whatever happens, he's great in that way. Like I say with Kevin, they both allow me to do my job at a high level. I can't do my job at a high level if they don't have those understandings for things. If they walk into my office and say, 'Hey, we need this.' Well, now I have no leverage. I can't go and do anything, but these guys understand the big picture, and I'm so fortunate and blessed to really be able to work with them."