It would be a challenge to name a coach who uses the backup quarterback as a reliever in situations like we saw again late in the Miami Dolphins’ 26-25 come-from-behind win over the Las Vegas Raiders.
Who benches the face of the franchise, the beloved rookie quarterback viewed as the Chosen One for the grizzled journeyman with a gunslinger’s approach?
Nobody is that bold, that myopically focused on delivering wins that they would overlook what the world would say, discussing, debating.
But that is Brian Flores, and that’s why the Dolphins’ coach deserves to be in the discussion for the NFL’s Coach of the Year honor.
Flores has done a phenomenal job this season, leading Miami to 10 wins.
I’m not too proud to admit I was wrong about him.
During his two-year tenure as the Dolphins’ coach I didn’t always believe winning was his top priority, because the franchise’s actions during their rebuild didn’t always reflect that.
Last year, when the Dolphins were pulling every tank special in the book — trading and waiving veteran starters, calling ridiculous plays on offense and defense, starting players they claimed off waivers on Tuesday the very next Sunday — I was convinced he was onboard with the efforts to land the draft spot needed to select a promising young quarterback.
You couldn’t tell me any different, and many tried.
Then the Dolphins started winning meaningless games late in the season. Five of them to be exact, and I was confused.
Everything about the franchise’s maneuvers made the case for tanking, but there Flores was coaching a rag-tag roster to victories.
Fortunately, those five wins didn’t cost the franchise Tua Tagovailoa, whom Miami was lucky enough to select with the No. 5 pick because of the hip injury that ended his college season premature.
While many praised Flores for delivering those five wins with a paper-thin roster, I couldn’t overlook how poorly the team performed statistically.
Except for being one of the NFL’s least penalized teams, there wasn’t a single aspect of the 2019 Dolphins that wasn’t statistically embarrassing.
Luckily, Flores took issue with it too, and changed one-third of his coaching staff. He hired a more experienced offensive coordinator (Chan Gailey) and named his protégé (Josh Boyer) his defensive coordinator.
The roster also got a massive overhaul thanks to owner Steve Ross’ fat checkbook, and the bounty of draft picks Miami squirreled away.
And even though everyone in the NFL was forced to hold the offseason program remotely, the Dolphins didn’t let that stop them from producing early wins.
Then Miami keep winning, delivering 10 of the last 13 games, and its the culture that Flores has built, the top ranked defense that he’s installed, that serves as the catalyst.
If that isn’t Coach of the Year worthy, then what is?
While replacing quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick with Tagovailoa in week eight was the right thing to do for the franchise’s future, I felt the 2020 season, and this team’s chances of getting into the postseason were being sacrificed.
That decision made it seem that wins weren’t Miami’s priority because Tagovailoa wasn’t ready to lead a team to the playoffs, and I’d argue that he’s still not the quarterback that gives the Dolphins the best chance to win.
That’s Fitzpatrick, and he proved that with Saturday’s last-minute victory over the Las Vegas Raiders, where he rallied the Dolphins to score 13 points in the game’s final four minutes.
Yesterday was the second time this season Flores has benched Tagovailoa for Fitzpatrick, hoping that the 15-year veteran would pull a rabbit out of his hat doing the type of magic tricks that got him nicknamed Fitzmagic.
“There’s a lot of people in that locker room who are trying to win,” Flores said. “That’s at the forefront of the decisions that I’m going to make here today and moving forward as long as I am here.”
Making that quarterback switch, ignoring all the messages it sends the players and fan base, proves that wins are indeed Flores’ priority. And more importantly, its evidence that he’ll do what’s necessary to get them.
Doing what’s best for the franchise today and long-term doesn’t always align.
They aren’t always black or white decisions. Sometimes they’re gray and require a balancing act.
But Flores has proven that finding a way to deliver wins is his main priority, and that should be encouraging to every Dolphins fan because it means the right foundation is being laid.
And Flores’ foundation, these 10 wins for a rebuilding franchise, is worthy of national recognition.