Life experiences can be humbling, oftentimes those experiences force us to evaluate, if not change who we are and how we operate.
The 2021 Miami Dolphins season needs to be that for coach Brian Flores because only his maturation will allow this franchise to reach its potential, getting off the mediocrity merry-go-round the Dolphins have been on for two decades.
At least while under his leadership, which will likely be extended one more season based on how this season’s team finished (9-8) as a result of Sunday’s 33-24 season-ending win over the playoff-bound New England Patriots, delivering the franchise’s first back-to-back winning seasons since 2002-03.
“Every experience you learn from them, good or bad. That’s kind of how I try to approach everything. I’ve learned a lot this year about myself, this team, players on our team, the people in our building,” Flores said, speaking about a Dolphins team that rallied back form a 1-7 start to win eight of the season’s final nine games.
“I think that there will be time to reflect on it and see that there’s certainly some things that I’ve learned,” said Flores, who has a 24-25 record as a head coach. “I’d like to think I’ve grown a little bit. Hopefully that’s the case for everyone.”
Miami’s win over the Patriots — a game the Dolphins controlled from the kickoff — produced the franchise’s first sweep of New England in 20 years. It also gave hope that Flores’ team can play with the big boys, the league’s playoff-bound teams after last week’s humbling loss to the Tennessee Titans.
But the inconsistent play that plagued the Dolphins all season, the stagnant offense that scored fewer than 21 points 10 times, an erratic special teams unit that hindered more than helped in 2021 — was also his fault.
The team’s 1-7 start was on him because as he often reminded the media, getting this team to maximize its potential and clean up its error-prone play, was his responsibility.
Miami’s defense didn’t find its groove until midseason. That unit couldn’t seal two games where they were given a lead in the fourth quarter earlier in the season.
And the offense never got out of third gear, and finished 2021 as one of the NFL’s worst in yard production and scoring.
Miami’s offense — with or without Tua Tagovailoa as the team’s starting quarterback — held this team back all season, and that’s on Flores because he made too many questionable hires.
If Flores doesn’t make some major changes to the offensive coaching staff, it’s likely going to wreck another season and likely cost everyone their jobs.
The Dolphins need a proven, polished offensive coordinator. One with a track record of building efficient units that rank in the top half of the league.
Flores needs to find a veteran offensive line coach to replace Lemuel Jeanpierre. Someone who can groom that unit’s youngsters and create an offensive identity.
And position coaches must get more out of young talents like Tagovailoa, Preston Williams, Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed, Hunter Long, youngsters who fell short of living up to expectations this season.
No matter what Miami’s decision-makers do at quarterback — whether they stick with Tagovailoa or shipping draft picks to Green Bay, Seattle, Houston, San Francisco or Minnesota for one of the veteran quarterbacks that are likely to hit the trade market this offseason — Flores has to make better hires than he has the past three seasons.
And don’t expect that to be easy because the word around the league is that Flores is a difficult man to work for, and that has to be addressed by some introspection and personal growth on his part.
But there are signs of hope, like how this team responded to its 1-7 start, mirroring Flores’ focus and consistency, which served as the catalyst for the rally back to relevance and respect.
That’s how resilient, mentally tough teams handle their business and it’s a reflection of Flores.
“Flo has done a great job helping us stay together and not really worry about the outside noise, and focus on the outside noise,” said Tagovailoa, who finished the season with a 90.1 passer rating. “I think he’s done a great job helping us get to where we’re at this year. Obviously the first half wasn’t what we wanted or what we expected. But like I said, I’m very pleased with how we finished this season off.”
Now the question is where does Flores’ team go from here?
The Dolphins better use a large portion of Miami’s pace-setting $74 million in cap space to rebuild the offense. And I wouldn’t rule out a scorched-earth restart for that side of the ball.
Jaylen Waddle and Robert Hunt should be the only offensive players who consider buying instead of leasing because everyone else’s future should be uncertain based on how that unit performed in 2021.
While most of the problems were a byproduct of the offensive line’s struggles, turning to Duke Johnson to carry the running game at the end of the season is just a reminder of how many bad decisions were made regarding talent evaluation on that side of the ball during the offseason.
Flores and the Dolphins can’t afford another offseason of poor decisions that deliver a putrid product.
Source: Berkshire mont