It happened again.
The elevator at the Glenmore Plaza projects in the Brownsville neighborhood in Brooklyn had stopped working. It happened frequently.
This time, Maria Flores and her young sons had returned from grocery shopping, loaded down with bags.
Brian Flores remembers the sinking feeling when the button didn’t respond. He did the only thing he could.
“Got a bunch of bags, who’s walking up the steps? That’s me,” he recalled. “And obviously, my mom would follow suit. Took a couple trips. … We’d have to walk up 20 flights and walk down. Hundred flights of steps like that.”
That was life then.
All these years later, though, very little about Flores’ life feels real.
Swarmed by reporters at last week’s chaotic Super Bowl Opening Night. Preparing the New England Patriots’ defense for the Los Angeles Rams’ prolific offense. Holding that unit to just three points. Hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. An introduction as head coach of the Miami Dolphins less than 24 hours later.
“This is all kind of a dream to me,” Flores said.
It’s very much reality, however. Flores turns 38 on Feb. 24, and in 16 years, he has gone from Boston College linebacker and graduate to the third-youngest head coach in the NFL.
Flores still sees himself as the kid living in that three-bedroom apartment in Brownsville, though.
Raul and Maria Flores left Honduras for the U.S. in the 1970s, determined to find a better life. Maria frequently had to raise her five boys alone because, as a merchant marine, Raul often spent months at a time at sea.
“They worked hard – extremely hard,” Brian Flores said proudly at Monday’s introductory news conference with the Dolphins. “We didn't grow up with a lot, but what we did have … I had a great childhood. My parents, my uncles, my aunts, maybe we didn't have a lot of money, but we were rich in love, for sure.”
Flores knew nothing about football until his uncle, who played for the New York fire department’s team, introduced him to the game at the age of 12.
“I took it and ran with it, literally,” he said. “I was a running back.”
Flores developed into a two-way star at Poly Prep Country Day School, where he had received a scholarship to attend. There he also received what he considers his foundation for coaching.
Dino Mangiero, Flores’ former high school coach, disagrees. He says Flores came to him with something special. He simply helped cultivate it.
“A very rare bird. A diamond,” Mangiero, who now coaches at Mater Dei Prep in New Jersey, told USA TODAY Sports. “A kid that was an exceptional athlete, exceptionally respectful and an A student. Just a rare bird to find an eighth-grader with that kind of maturity and respectfulness that he was brought up with from his parents, and the intellect. ... He was just a sponge. Two ears and one mouth. He learned at a young age that you should listen as twice as much as you talk, and he was just a very determined young man.”
Mangiero still vividly remembers the day he realized Flores would someday become a leader of men.
“Everyone’s in the locker room crying, ‘It’s too hard! It’s too this! The coaches don’t know what they’re doing!’ ” Mangiero recounted. “(Flores) didn’t know we were right outside the locker room and could hear him, and he said, ‘Hey! This is what we’re doing. This is why we’re doing it. We’ve got to believe in the coaches, we’ve got a plan here.'
"He’d started representing the coaches in the locker room. It showed leadership and it showed courage. It’s not easy to do that when everyone is going one direction and you go the opposite and say, ‘We need to back the coaches and back the program.’ ”
Flores earned a full scholarship to Boston College, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s in administrative studies. Mangiero believes Flores could have had a successful career on Wall Street. But his passion for football remained.
An internship with the Patriots, which entailed fetching coffee and dry-cleaning orders, turned into a scouting assistant position. As a pro scout, Flores aspired to become a general manager. But when the previously undefeated Patriots lost to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII, he felt the urge to be even more directly involved and approached Bill Belichick about joining the coaching staff as an entry-level assistant. From there, Flores climbed, thriving in every position he held, including the past season when he served as New England's defensive play-caller as well as linebackers coach
“Brian called a great game as he has all year,” Belichick gushed after the Super Bowl. “He’s done a tremendous job for me. In the time that he’s been with this organization he’s worn I don’t know how many different hats. Scouting, quality control, special teams, defense, safeties, linebackers, defensive coordinator. He’s done a lot of things and done them all well.”
Flores credits his mother's demand for excellence and persistence for his approach to every task.
“My mom and my dad raised me to be strong, confident. They instilled core values that I still believe in today. Integrity, honor, character, being honest, telling the truth, working hard,” Flores said on Media night. “Working hard. That’s been my mantra I’ve lived by my entire life.
"My mom was big on education, so I tell the story of (when) I was learning how to read – I remember this very vividly. … I’m sitting there and I told my mom, ‘I’m going to do this tomorrow.’ She grabs my ear, pulls me and says, ‘No, we’re going to do this right now.’ So that’s the environment I grew up in. It started there.”
Flores still draws strength from his mother, especially as she battles breast cancer.
“She’s fighting. She’s fearless, and I got a little bit of that from her,” he said last week. “She’s an idol to me and I can’t say enough good things about her.”
Mangiero described Flores as “a very determined young man,” and his internal strength will surely be necessary as he joins general manager Chris Grier in undertaking what could be an arduous rebuilding project in Miami.
Flores said he will build his coaching message on three pillars he learned from his parents, Mangiero and Belichick: hard work, commitment and loyalty. As his journey continues, Flores hopes to honor those who molded him as he inspires others.
“Hopefully I can be an example for kids like me that you can do it,” Flores said. “I’m sure there are kids in the projects right now, and I hope they don’t feel hopeless, because they shouldn’t. Because I’m sitting here right now, talking to you about making the dream come true."