Sports | July 31, 2020 8:06 am

Is the Dolphins' Brian Flores Poised to Be the NFL's Next Breakout Coach?

Flores guided the Dolphins from an 0-7 start to a 5-11 finish in his first year as a head coach

Will Dolphins Coach Brian Flores Keep Miami's Momentum Going?
Brian Flores exits the field after a win over the Patriots. (Adam Glanzman/Getty)
Getty Images

Over the next six weeks or so, we’ll be preparing for the kickoff of the 2020 NFL season on September 10 by attempting to answer the most important question facing all 32 of the league’s franchises in order of finish from worst to first. Today’s team, the Dolphins.

No. 28: Miami Dolphins
2019 Record: 5-11

Points For: 306 – Points Against: 494
Projected 2020 Over/Under Win Total: 6

In the first four weeks of last season, all losses, the Miami Dolphins scored 26 points, total. Their opponents — the Ravens, Patriots, Cowboys and Chargers — collectively scored 163.

“You always know that if you put your head down and work hard, things normally turn around and get better,” first-year coach Brian Flores told The New York Times in the midst of that losing streak.

When the Dolphins went on their bye in Week 5, Flores began that turnaround.

Flores, who came to the Dolphins after pulling the strings for New England’s defense on the way to the Patriots winning Super Bowl LIII over the Rams and is entering the second year of a five-year contract, did not have a heckuva lot to work with, since the Dolphins systematically stripped their team of talent last offseason in order to stockpile future cap space and draft picks.

But using the pieces he was left with, including perennial castoff quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, Flores was able to mold the Dolphins back into respectability during the bye. Though that didn’t result in a Week 6 win, it did lead to a competitive game against Washington that was followed by decent showings against the Bills and Steelers.

Then, in Week 9, Flores got his first win as a head coach when the Dolphins knocked off the Jets 26-18 in Miami. That victory was followed by a 16-12 defeat of the Colts in Indianapolis that gave Miami its first winning streak of the year.

The team went on to win three of its final seven games — including a season-ending win in New England that robbed the Patriots of a bye — to finish at 5-11. Not a great record, but considering the team started 0-7 and was forced to churn through an NFL-record 84 players during the season, a somewhat respectable one.

Players took notice of Miami’s strong finish and the Dolphins were able to attract a number of free agents during the offseason, many of them former Patriots, including cornerback Byron Jones, linebacker Kyle Van Noy, defensive ends Emmanuel Ogbah and Shaq Lawson, safety Clayton Fejedelem, center Ted Karras, offensive lineman Ereck Flowers and running back Jordan Howard.

The organization also added loads of talent with its arsenal of draft picks, including three first-rounders in Auburn corner Noah Igbinoghene (No. 30), USC offensive tackle Austin Jackson (No. 18) and Alabama quarterback Tua Tagavailoa (No. 5). All told, Miami added 13 free agents and 11 draftees.

While it remains uncertain if Tagavailoa will be healthy and effective enough to supplant Fitzpatrick as the team’s starter in 2020 — he passed his physical and will not have any practice restrictions once training camp begins — the sky is the limit for the Alabama product and he should be a franchise quarterback for Miami in short order.

Flores, who also made some key subtractions during the offseason by replacing Miami’s offensive and defensive coordinators and eight assistants, will be in a great position to surround Tua with talent, as Miami already has two first-round picks and two second-round picks in next year’s draft. Where exactly a couple of those picks will fall depends on how the team fares this season and if Flores is able to transition the Dolphins from scrappy underdogs into a competitive young football team.

If what Flores was able to accomplish last season with one of the least-talented rosters in the NFL is any indication, the smart money should be on the 39-year-old coach being able to continue the momentum of Miami’s rebuild in 2020 and beyond.