So far, head coach Brian Flores is making it clear that he expects a lot out of his players in his first year as head coach. The installation of the T.N.T. (Takes No Talent) wall as a disciplinary measure is also about building team unity. Everyone is in this together, and no one is bigger than the team, not even the coaches. Brian Flores himself runs to the wall when something goes wrong. His words are backed up by action.
“We’re all in this together. I think that’s what a team is." He said this past Friday. "We don’t separate the players and the coaches, the coaches and the scouts, the scouts and the executives – we’re all in this together. The coaches run. I ran yesterday. I think it’s something that if you embrace the team atmosphere, team culture, put-the-team-first type of environment, I think one run, we all run. That’s the kind of environment that we’re trying to create. The coaches, they understand that. This is not a ‘you have to do it.’ It’s a team-first attitude that we’re looking for.”
This sort of talk is exactly what fans are looking for in a head coach. The schemes he's installing are also very involved. There's a lot of movement, players have to be on their toes, because anything could happen at any time. Safeties playing linebacker, corners blitzing while linebackers drop back into coverage, defensive linemen setting up all over the line of scrimmage to take advantage of matchups. The same goes for the offense.
It's much more complicated than schemes of previous regimes, and demands a lot of dedication from players. However, there's something to consider. The Dolphins have gone down this path before.
Flashback to Adam Gase
Since his firing, Adam Gase has already found a way to alienate his new city and team with his arguably insane methods. Once upon a time, Gase was considered one of the brightest young minds in the NFL. But now it's starting to look more like the lights are not all on upstairs. He takes his work seriously, insanely seriously. During his time with the Dolphins, Gase would run to make sure he took care of his staff and players if they were in trouble.
Now compare it to something like this, and one has to wonder what goes on in that mind of his.
Scary. Nevertheless, that work-oriented brain of his had lots of ideas that never came to fruition. He drew up crazy plays, some of which were seen during his three year tenure with Miami. He was supposed to add flavor to an offense that suffered for years under the bland, vanilla ideals of Joe Philbin. At first, it seemed like things would work out that way. Gase cut several players and coaches that weren't getting the job done, and fans cheered.
Then he benched players who were bigger names but weren't performing up to his standards. Also something else fans loved. Clearly, if the players weren't understanding the schemes Gase put in place, they weren't good enough, right?
As time passed, it became apparent that whatever it was Gase wanted, the entire team apparently couldn't grasp it. The longer they couldn't grasp it, the more frustrated Gase became with his players.
Gase calls out players for not trying enough
At the beginning, Adam Gase accepted responsibility when he felt there was something wrong. He blamed himself for shortcomings, and it was a breath of fresh air. Eventually, however, Gase's tune changed. It was no longer his fault, but the players were to blame for the team's inability to capture his vision for the offense specifically.
On October 27, 2017, Adam Gase infamously called out his players - specifically his best players - for not putting forth the effort to understand the offense.
“I don’t think it’s a retain information thing." He said. "It’s we’re not putting the work in. That’s what it comes down to. If you can’t remember it, you shouldn’t be in the NFL. At the end of the day, guys have got to actually take this stuff home and study it. They’re not going to just learn it all in meetings. We’ve got to find guys that will actually put forth effort to actually remember this stuff and really, it starts with our best players.”
Then as Miami prepared to go into the 2018 offseason, Gase called out his players for not taking responsibility again.
“It’s never going to be the way we really want it and the way we keep talking about it until guys really take control of this thing,” Gase said. “There are a lot of things I can do to make things the way we need it, but at the end of the day, player accountability, making sure that everybody is on the same page, you need your leaders to step up, you need them to be vocal, you need them to actually do their part in a leadership role.”
So what did Gase have in mind for the offense? Likely, no one will ever know.
Brian Flores also has complicated schemes
So once again, the Dolphins find themselves with a coach who wants to install very involved strategies. Arguably, it's even harder now than when Gase was in charge.
“It’s definitely going to be interesting because we have a lot of different guys, especially in my case and a lot of guys in the back end’s case that can do a lot of different things and play a lot of different positions." safety Bobby McCain said on Monday. "With this defense, you have to be able to know it all, and know – not everything, but you want to know a lot. You want to know more than you’re supposed to, and it will help you in the long run.”
Once again, the same goes for the offense. Brian Flores comes from a team that thrives on players being where they're supposed to be, when they're supposed to be there. If someone gets off their route or has a lapse in judgment, everyone suffers. Gase overhauled the roster in 2018, and even then the offense wasn't what he envisioned. Why should anyone expect a change in how players process what they're doing? Were they truly just not trying hard enough?
Offensive coordinator Chad O'Shea doesn't have that complaint.
“I can tell this about the offense: it’s a group that’s embraced everything that we’ve asked them to do." He said back in late July. "They’ve worked extremely hard, they’ve been very diligent in the meeting rooms. They’ve come out to the practice field, and they truly have tried to have an edge. It’s a group that wants to prove something. It’s a group that wants to play good, quality football. I’ve been very pleased with their work ethic. I’ve been very pleased with their roles and how they’ve accepted the team approach here.”
What's the difference?
So here's the million dollar question. Why are players apparently capable of understanding Flores's schemes, but not Gase's? Naturally, everything is speculative until the Dolphins get into game action, but things project to go well so far all the same. So what's the difference between the two? The most likely reason is a very simple one: Brian Flores preaches basics and fundamentals. Coming from the Patriots, Brian Flores knows that knowledge is power.
Gase clearly thinks so too. However, the difference between the two is that Gase apparently wanted his players to learn for themselves while he focused on other things. Flores is more hands-on about the education of his players.
"This is a teaching camp." Flores said back in April. "We’re not going to conquer the world over these next three days, but this is a teaching camp. We talked about that this morning with the players. It’s fundamentals, it’s technique, it’s our basic information, our basic installation. It’s getting out here, getting in and out of a huddle, the quarterback/center exchange, ball security – the basic, basic elements of football, because if you don’t have that as a foundation, we can’t do much after that.”
Basics. Fundamentals. Basics. Fundamentals.
Sometimes, that's necessary to teach, even to professional football players. The New England Patriots have made a dynasty out of basics and fundamentals.
Reasonable chance for success
In conclusion, though there's no surefire way to know how things will turn out until they play, looking back on history offers some idea of what to expect. There are many reasons why Adam Gase failed with the Dolphins. One of them, doubtlessly, is the fact he wouldn't focus on fundamentals. Drawing up fancy plays and schemes and expecting players to execute them without first making sure their techniques are sound is a huge gamble.
Ironically, Brian Flores learned that lesson last season with the Patriots the hard way. Rob Gronkowski, now retired, did not know the basics of tackling and finding the right angle. The result? Miami came back to win on a desperation play known as the Miami Miracle.
Any other player well-versed in the basics of tackling makes that tackle. Gronkowski did not. Flores gambled on raw talent and size matchups to win for him, and he lost. Sound, disciplined football overcomes almost anything. That's how New England routinely beats teams that, on paper, are superior to them. They never beat themselves, and take advantage of the mistakes of other teams.
This is what makes Brian Flores so different from Gase. The schemes are still complex. Players still have a lot to digest. But their foundation is solid. Gase tried to go big or go home, and he went home. Flores is starting small, and working his way up. He's taken the lessons he's learned, and applied them to his coaching style. Now, all that's left is to sit back and see what exciting plans evolve from Flores's focus on the basics.
“I think every once in a while, there’s a little bit of reflection from where I was 15 years ago to where I am now." He said. "It’s nice to reflect that way ... but as we move forward, I’m motivated to try to play some good, solid, fundamental, smart, tough, disciplined football for those people, for this community and try to improve on a daily basis.”