Steelers linebacker Myles Jack was a starter for six years in Jacksonville and helped lead the Jaguars to an AFC Championship game.
But he has never understood the game like he has this year playing for assistant coach Brian Flores.
“It’s probably the most clarity I’ve had in my career,” said Jack, whose Steelers host the Patriots on Sunday. “[Flores] just connects the dots on basically how the offense is attacking us and how we can protect ourselves and what they’re thinking on the other side. It’s just a really cool 360 view that he brings the picture together. When he speaks, I try to write down just about everything he says.”
The Dolphins didn’t want Flores, firing him in the offseason after three years as head coach — despite two consecutive winning seasons. And a reunion with the Patriots apparently wasn’t in the cards.
So it’s the Steelers’ gain, with Flores coming on as linebackers coach and senior defensive assistant. His second game comes against New England, where he spent 15 years (2004-18), rising to the role of defensive coordinator.
“I feel really good about having the ability to get his services, if only for a short time,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “It’s a rental. But I’m going to enjoy him while I got him.”
Flores won’t play a snap Sunday, but he will be the most fascinating, and arguably the most important, person in the building.
Flores took a wrecking ball to the league establishment in February, filing a lawsuit against the NFL, Dolphins, Giants, and Broncos. The suit alleges what appears obvious to those on the outside — that NFL hiring practices are biased against minority candidates. The NFL has five minority head coaches out of 32.
Flores should get a hero’s welcome from many of his former Patriots players. Flores was a beloved coach in New England and was part of seven Super Bowls.
Flores also risked his career by taking the NFL head-on for its dismal record on diversity hiring. NFL owners usually don’t look kindly upon people that sue the league.
“I have a ton of respect for him,” Patriots captain Devin McCourty said. “I think him taking a stand is just right down his alley. I think he’s always preached to us, not only as football players but as men, having character and standing up for what you believe in. I shot him a text as soon as everything came out and told him I was behind him and had his back. That’ll never change. I always wish him the best and think a lot of him as a man and as a coach.”
But Bill Belichick may not be so thrilled to see his former pupil. The relationship was already on the wane during Flores’s tenure as head coach in Miami. But it surely was strained this offseason after Flores used Belichick’s errant text message as a pretext to sue the NFL.
Flores said a few weeks after filing his lawsuit that he didn’t have ill will toward Belichick, but surely the incident was embarrassing for Belichick, who was unaware that Flores was going public with the text message. Flores also initially said of the Giants’ decision to hire Brian Daboll, “It was clear that that decision was made with [Belichick’s] influence. That’s part of the problem.”
It’s a shame the Patriots couldn’t find a way to bring Flores back to New England, because they certainly could use him. The coaching staff has been decimated by defections over the past four years, and Flores has everything going for him — he’s young, dynamic, and knows everything about the Patriots’ ways.
Instead, Tomlin is the one who threw Flores a career lifeline, offering him a job three weeks after Flores filed the lawsuit (which, intentionally or not, ruined the Dolphins’ plans of hiring Sean Payton as coach and Tom Brady for the front office and potentially at quarterback).
“I told Flo, give me 24 hours, and I called him back 45 minutes later” with a job offer, Tomlin said.
It was a smart addition. Flores runs the Steelers’ linebackers room but provides the wisdom of someone who has 18 years of NFL experience, has been a defensive coordinator and head coach, and has appeared in seven Super Bowls. The Steelers also gave Flores some ownership in the draft, as he was responsible for drafting linebacker Mark Robinson in the seventh round.
“I’m sure he has a hand in defensive scheme and some things like that,” Jack said. “He’ll do meetings with the defensive line and linebackers, and we’ll go through the run game. So if we get a certain look, I know exactly what my D-lineman is going to do, and I know what I should do. This is the most clarity I’ve ever had, and I feel like he has a lot to do with it.”
Flores also has helped the Steelers’ offense. Starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky said Flores has helped him “all the time” since spring practices.
“Having Coach Flo in our meetings and having him to ask about defenses and what he sees from his perspectives has been huge,” Trubisky said. ”I think him being there gives us a good insight on kind of what they may be talking about and how they may be game planning for us.”
And of course Flores offered his insight this past week to prepare for the Patriots, even though he hasn’t been in New England since 2018.
“He has nothing but respect for them,” Jack said. “He’s not there anymore, but he kind of understands how they’re thinking. I don’t want to give up our scheme but yeah, he’s on top of it.”
Perhaps just as important as the X’s and O’s, though, is that with Flores, the Steelers have a shining example of leadership and how to carry yourself with dignity. He risked his career by fighting the NFL, yet he doesn’t let it affect his work.
“We’ve tried to bring it out of him, but he doesn’t bring it up,” Jack said. “I think one day we’ll have that discussion over dinner. He said we will. But I’ve always got his back. The awareness that he’s bringing, I think it’s important. It’s a conversation that we need to have, and I’m glad he’s bringing it up.”
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.