EAGAN, Minn. — It's a little difficult to tell who's more excited to be in Minnesota — Brian Flores or his two boys, Miles and Maxwell.
"Through this entire [interview] process, [for] my boys, it was Minnesota and Minnesota only," the new Vikings defensive coordinator said during his introductory press conference Wednesday at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center. "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.
"I have my own version of the 'Griddy' that nobody probably wants to see here," the 41-year-old Flores quipped.
Flores then added another Minnesota connection, this one involving his daughter, Liliana, during his time with the New England Patriots.
"U.S. Bank Stadium, we were in the Super Bowl there in 2018, and my daughter actually took her first steps at the stadium on picture day at U.S. Bank Stadium. So it's kind of surreal to have this opportunity," Flores said.
Flores joined Head Coach Kevin O'Connell for his first opportunity to speak with Twin Cities reporters after becoming the 18th defensive coordinator in franchise history last Monday. The press conference also coincidentally fell on the one-year anniversary of O'Connell's hiring.
"It's a really cool day for the Minnesota Vikings organization. We're so excited to have the opportunity to introduce Brian as our defensive coordinator," O'Connell said. "Brian's a dynamic leader, someone with an excellent vision for defense, sees the big picture as a former head coach, and I think he's going to bring just a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge to our entire coaching staff.
"He's somebody that I targeted immediately, one of the first people that I reached out to in hopes of getting the opportunity to speak with him and knowing just the possibilities he had not only here but around the league," O'Connell continued. "I knew it would be very competitive to get Brian here, so when we were able to do that, just once again [it shows] how excited I am to be able to add this kind of individual to our organization. He's already had a positive impact here in the short time. I can't wait to get him around our players, and then ultimately nobody better to bring here as we continue to chase that championship standard."
Flores served as Senior Defensive Assistant/Linebackers Coach with Pittsburgh this past season. Prior to that, he was Miami's head coach for three seasons (2019-2021) and spent 15 years with New England in multiple roles.
Flores was still in the mix for several other coaching opportunities prior to accepting the job with the Vikings — including a chance at becoming a head coach again with Arizona — but said he knew Minnesota was the right fit after sitting down with O'Connell, General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips and others.
"I walked out of here and I called my wife immediately and said with all the things that are going on, I felt like this was the place for us, for my family, for me. I think there's a great opportunity for me personally and professionally to grow," Flores said. "[Kevin's] knowledge of the personnel and Kwesi's acumen from a personnel standpoint, I just felt like there was an opportunity for me to grow professionally and personally, so that was a big part in the decision to come here and accept the opportunity to come here if [I was] offered [the position]."
The 2023 season will serve as Flores' 20th overall in the NFL. Though it'll be his first in this role, Flores' upbringing and meteoric rise through the league's coaching ranks has prepared him exactly for this moment.
Boroughs, Boston College & Belichick
Flores' path into football was not an easy one.
He grew up in Brownsville — a Brooklyn neighborhood with one of the highest poverty and crime rates in New York City — and was one of five sons of Honduran immigrants. Flores' parents at times struggled to make ends meet but were driven to provide better opportunities for their children.
It wasn't until Flores was nearly a teenager when he first discovered football, thanks to one family visit from his uncle, Darrel Patterson.
When Flores was 12 years old, Patterson stopped by the family's apartment. A longtime New York Jets fan and a firefighter, Patterson was undergoing cancer treatment and had been placed on medical leave when the Sept. 11 attacks took place. Patterson lost six colleagues that day at the World Trade Center.
Patterson took Flores and his brothers down to a youth football league at a park in Queens.
ESPN's Ian O'Connor wrote in a 2018 article:
"A coach there timed Flores in the 40-yard dash and couldn't believe the kid's speed. He pointed Flores toward a parked van and told him to go inside and pick out the equipment he wanted to use. The young Flores put his first pair of shoulder pads on backwards, and the rest is football history in a basketball town."
Flores attended Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn and never lost a game in three seasons as a running back and safety. He switched to linebacker once he got to Boston College and helped the Eagles to four bowl victories, earning three letters and Big East All-Academic Team honors in 2003.
Unfortunately for Flores, he suffered a torn quadriceps as a senior. While Flores' injury ultimately brought his playing days to an end, that didn't stop his pursuit of one day making it to an NFL sideline.
Flores wrote a letter to an NFL team looking for a job. Then another one. And another.
Pretty soon, Flores had reached out to all 32 teams. Only one responded — the New England Patriots.
Flores joined the Patriots as a scouting assistant in 2004. He spent two seasons in that role before getting promoted to a pro scout position. Flores' hard work and dedication continued to impress New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick, and two years later, he was promoted again, this time to Belichick's staff as a special teams assistant.
It was before that 2008 season where Flores met the then-22-year-old O'Connell, who had been selected 94th overall in that year's NFL Draft.
Though O'Connell was only with the Patriots for that season and the 2009 offseason, his leadership was enough to leave a lasting impression on Flores.
"Guys gravitated to him. He was smart. He was tough. He was team-first. Obviously there was a little bit of competition in the quarterback room there. Just a little," Flores joked. "Obviously it didn't work out, and he moved on, but his leadership, his team-first attitude. He was a great teammate.
"Those are the things I remember. Honestly, we weren't texting back and forth over the years, but when we saw each other at games, we would say hello. I always kept an eye on his career trajectory, and we saw each other in a few games, but always had a lot of respect for the way he went about his business."
O'Connell added Flores' interactions on the Patriots rookies such as himself, Jerod Mayo and Matthew Slater were the most memorable. The Vikings head coach spoke with both Mayo and Slater among others during his evaluation process of Flores and was impressed by their thoughts.
"I'm a person that gravitates to good energy and positive people and people that are passionate about what they're doing regardless of title or role and that was something that I felt right away," O'Connell said. "Speaking to [Mayo and Slater] recently about B-Flo and just the way they speak about the man he is, the impact that he had on them, and there's many, many more stories from people like that that I reached out to just to get a feel of who I remembered watching him from afar throughout his football journey and then hopefully culminating he and I getting to do football together, which I'm so dang excited about.
"That mattered to me, what people I really respect had to say about real time and, more importantly, the willingness to share without really needing to pry all that much about the human, the person and ultimately the impact they had on him was huge throughout the process and getting to learn more and more about this guy," O'Connell added.
Flores continued to move within the Patriots coaching staff, including one-season roles as an assistant offense and special teams coach in 2010 and a defensive assistant in 2011. It was on the defensive side of the ball where Flores found his niche.
Flores was New England's safeties coach for four seasons from 2012-2015 before shifting to the linebackers coach for three more years from 2016-2018. During that seven-year stretch, Flores helped the Patriots reach four Super Bowls — winning three of them (XLIX, LI and LIII).
Two of New England's Super Bowl victories came in dramatic fashion. The first had rookie Malcolm Butler going into the game moments before intercepting Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson at the goal line to secure a 28-24 victory in Super Bowl XLIX. The other came two seasons later, when the Patriots rallied from a 28-3 third-quarter deficit to stun Atlanta 34-28 in overtime in Super Bowl LI.
The following season, a day after New England fell to Philadelphia in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium, Flores replaced Matt Patricia as the team's defensive play caller, but he wasn't officially named the Patriots defensive coordinator.
Taking his talents to South Beach
On Feb. 4, 2019, the day after the Patriots won their sixth title with a 13-3 victory over the Rams, Flores was hired as the Dolphins head coach. He joined unique company in the process, becoming only the fourth head coach of Latino descent in NFL history and was one of the few Black head coaches in the league at the time.
Flores struggled in his first year in Miami, as the Dolphins finished 5-11 and ranked near the bottom of the NFL in nearly every defensive category:
— Yards allowed per play: 6.0 (tied for 27th)
— Turnovers: 16 (tied for 28th)
— Points allowed: 494 (32nd)
— Sacks per game: 1.4 (32nd)
In 2020, however, those numbers dramatically changed. The Dolphins ranked in the top eight in each area, including tied for eighth in yards allowed per play (5.9) and sacks per game (2.6), sixth in points allowed (338) and first in turnovers (29). That led Flores and Miami to post a 10-win season — its first winning campaign since 2016.
The following season, the Dolphins started poorly, going 1-7 in their first eight games. But Flores helped Miami turn things around, with the Dolphins winning seven consecutive games and eight of their final nine on their way to a 9-8 record.
On Jan. 10, 2022, Miami announced that Flores would be fired despite a 24-25 overall record and back-to-back winning seasons. A month later, Flores filed a class-action lawsuit against the NFL and three teams, accusing them of discrimination in their hiring practices.
Flores said he wasn't going to "dive too deep into" the ongoing lawsuit, but when he was asked about it Wednesday, he advocated for his passion surrounding coaching with a foundation of teaching.
"Professionally, I'm a coach, I'm a teacher. This is what I love to do. I was talking with [Viking Entertainment Network's] Tatum [Everett] earlier and you know, my wife's a teacher as well, so we go back and forth about teaching methods," Flores said. "She's the one who told me about IEPs – individual education programs. Basically, every player we have has his own individual program. So, that's what I was put here to do – to coach, teach and make an impact, and that's where my focus always is.
"Obviously, diversity is important to me as well. I'm not going to run away from that," Flores continued. "But when I walk in this building, you see diversity, really, across the board in every department. That's exciting, too. So, those are things that are ongoing. Obviously, the lawsuit is ongoing, but I'm where my feet are. Right now, my feet are right here in Eagan."
View photos of Brian Flores during his first day as Vikings Defensive Coordinator at TCO Performance Center on Feb. 15.
A new opportunity
Shortly after Flores was fired by Miami, he joined Pittsburgh. Led by players such as T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, Alex Highsmith and Minkah Fitzpatrick — who played under Flores in 2019 — the Steelers ranked in the top 10 in the following categories:
— Opponent points per game (20.4, tied for 10th)
— Opponent rushing yards per game (108.1, ninth)
— Passes defensed (82, seventh)
— Interceptions (20, tied for first)
Pittsburgh's run defense limited opponents to only seven rushing touchdowns in 2022, tied for the fewest allowed in the NFL with New England. The Steelers pass defense also stifled opposing quarterbacks, registering the sixth-lowest completion percentage (61.3) in the league.
Highsmith recorded a career-high 14.5 sacks (sixth in the NFL) and tied the league lead with five forced fumbles in 2022. Watt added 39 tackles and 5.5 sacks in 10 games played, and Heyward had 10.5 sacks (tied for 17th in the NFL). Fitzpatrick tied for first in interceptions with six.
While his time in Pittsburgh was short, Flores was grateful for the opportunity, as he took a moment Wednesday to thank the Rooney family, Head Coach Mike Tomlin and General Manager Omar Khan.
Now, Flores is ready for his next chapter in Minnesota.
"I think every situation is an opportunity to learn and grow. Good, bad, there's always, basically, obstacles in our professional lives, in our personal lives," Flores said. "But there's also great situations, great moments with family and friends, professionally in football. There's always ups and downs. I think there's always ups and downs within a season as well.
"I try to use those situations as learning opportunities. 'How do I become better from any situation – good or bad?' And I hope our players see that," he added. "I hope I can be an example of that for other people. I know Kev's dealt with some things in his professional [and] personal life, and I think you overcome and move forward. I'm lucky to be here. I'm excited to be here, and I can't wait to get going."