By Wyatt Taylor and Stephen Juza
On Monday, the Miami Dolphins officially named New England Patriots defensive play caller Brian Flores as the team’s next head coach. Flores will become the fourth major defensive assistant to leave Foxborough for an NFL head coach position in the Bill Belichick era. Despite New England’s consistent success, none of the first three (Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, and Matt Patricia) have translated that success to their new teams.
In hopes of ensuring that Coach Flores avoids the same failures of his forebears, we decided to take a look back at the philosophies employed by the three prior poached Patriots. Despite their best attempts, we explain why it may be hard to replicate Belichick’s success.
The Belichick era has been marked by a set of organizational philosophies collectively known as the “Patriot Way.” The organization focuses on in-game fundamentals and a “next man up” philosophy. Belichick’s teams tend to avoid external coaching replacements, choosing instead to promote from within. This system ensures that each replacement will enter his new role understanding what is expected of him.
Crennel, Mangini, and Patricia each attempted to replicate this philosophy. Those coaches filled their first staffs using Belichickian principles - focusing on offensive and defensive line coaching and coaches with previous working experience with the Patriots and Belichick1. Yet despite their best efforts, they have not proven to be successful head coaches. The important question that Brian Flores should consider is “Why not?”
We suggest that this failure to translate comes from these coaches replicating the wrong parts of the Patriots success.
Belichick’s coaching philosophies are often rightfully compared to legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. Both men demanded much of their players - discipline, selflessness, and humility - but the two coaches are alike in another way: they build their on-field system around their players’ strengths, rather than forcing players to adapt to the existing system.
Wooden famously won his first two NCAA championships at UCLA with undersized, quick players. Despite his success with such a system, Wooden did not shy away from recruiting talented center Lew Alcindor. Realizing the potential of such a player, Wooden discarded his previous system in favor of one revolving around Alcindor’s skill set. The UCLA Bruins would go on to win seven championships in a row, and eight of the next nine titles, using a number of different playing styles.
The current Belichick/Brady era Patriots dynasty displays similar flexibility to the UCLA dynasty of the 1970s. Initial Patriot success featured a young, game-manager version of quarterback Tom Brady and a staunch defense. In 2007, the Patriots quickly morphed into an offensive juggernaut behind the signing of Donté Stallworth and trades for disgruntled Randy Moss and under-utilized Wes Welker. Next, the Patriots crafted an innovative offense featuring two talented rookie tight ends, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. This year’s team has made a star out of running back James White, who functions as a pass catcher almost as much as a traditional running back.
This systemic instability occurs because the Patriots tend to judge players based on specific skills. Rather than focus on past production, Belichick tends to collect players who can do certain roles especially well.
The takeaway for Flores, and any other incoming head coach, is that the Belichick/Patriot Way consists of both tangible and intangible aspects, and that both aspects are required for the other to be effective. Flores’ predecessors in leaving Foxborough have consistently shown that simply installing the Patriot system, and hiring coaches familiar with that system, does not necessarily lead to victory.
Rather than an immediate overhaul of existing structures, Coach Flores should consider which players and coaches that he can work with and sway towards his way of doing things. Emulating the Patriot Way is a long-term process, despite the temptation otherwise.
1Patriot Coaching Connections:
Maurice Carthon, Offensive Coordinator, previous Patriots running backs coach
Dave Atkins, running backs coach, previous Patriots offensive backs coach
Randy Melvin, defensive line coach, previous Patriots defensive line coach
Bob Trott, defensive assistant coach, former Patriots secondary coach
Jeff Davidson, offensive line coach, previous Patriots assistant offensive line coach/tight ends coach
Cory Undlin, defensive quality control coach, previous Patriots defensive assistant coach
John Lott, retained as strength & conditioning coach, former Jets assistant with Belichick
Andy Dickerson, defensive quality control coach, previous operations intern
Markus Paul, director of physical development, previous assistant strength and conditioning coach
Jeff Davidson, offensive line coach, previous Patriots and Browns offensive line coach
Harold Nash, head strength and conditioning coach, former Patriots head strength and conditioning coach
George Godsey, quarterbacks coach, former Patriots tight ends coach and Texans quarterbacks coach under Bill O'Brien
Sean Ryan, quarterbacks coach, previous Texans quarterbacks coach