Brian Flores is the Vikings' new defensive coordinator.
The team finalized a deal with the former Dolphins head coach on Monday, wrapping up a 19-day search that began at a deliberate pace, concluded over a frenetic long weekend and ultimately brought one of the Vikings' top two choices for the job to Minnesota.
Flores, who worked as the Steelers' senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach in 2022, had emerged as one of the leaders for the position with former Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, who hadn't been permitted to talk with other teams in the first several days of Sean Payton's tenure as Denver's head coach.
The Broncos allowed Evero to talk to other teams on Saturday, and the Panthers hired him as their defensive coordinator on Sunday. On Monday afternoon, the Vikings completed a deal with Flores, a day before he was set to interview with the Broncos for their defensive coordinator opening.
Flores had interviewed for the Cardinals' head coach job, and was reportedly set for a second interview with the team on Wednesday as one of three finalists to replace Kliff Kingsbury. But the Vikings moved quickly to add Flores to their staff to replace Ed Donatell, who was fired Jan. 19 after the defense finished 31st in the NFL in yards allowed.
Flores, who turns 42 this month, interviewed with the Vikings on Jan. 26, emerging as a leading candidate after the daylong session in Minnesota. Flores had been on the Patriots' staff when Kevin O'Connell played there from 2008-09, and O'Connell had a strong impression of him from their time together in New England.
The Dolphins went 24-25 in Flores' three seasons as head coach, posting back-to-back winning seasons in 2020 and 2021 after a 5-11 record in 2019. Flores was fired in January 2022; a few weeks later, he sued the NFL, alleging that teams had engaged in sham interviews with minority candidates. The suit also claimed Dolphins owner Stephen Ross had pressured Flores to lose games on purpose and recruit a prominent quarterback who was under contract with another team (reported by multiple outlets to be Tom Brady). The NFL revoked the Dolphins' 2023 first-round pick and fined Ross $1.5 million after an investigation found them guilty of tampering.
Flores will have an important voice for the Vikings in a series of key personnel decisions in the next five weeks, with five key Vikings defenders set to hit free agency and several other starters possibly in line for restructured contracts.
In their interviews with four defensive coordinator candidates — Flores, Ryan Nielsen, Sean Desai and Mike Pettine — the Vikings asked for feedback on their 2022 scheme and ideas for what they could change. The Vikings' scheme could have a different flavor under Flores than it did under Donatell.
After spending 11 years on Bill Belichick's staff, including eight on defense, Flores became the defensive play-caller in 2018 for a Patriots team that held the Rams to three points in a Super Bowl LIII win. In Miami, Flores built his Dolphins defenses on the man coverage schemes Belichick has long favored, though a Pro Football Focus study showed Miami's units under Flores had one of the league's most unique mixes of coverage. However his scheme takes shape in Minnesota, it could show some of the aggressiveness O'Connell called for toward the end of the 2022 season.
The Vikings finished the season ranked 28th in scoring defense under Donatell, whose zone coverages seemed predictable and passive by the end of the season. They'd hired Donatell, Vic Fangio's defensive coordinator in Denver, to run the Fangio-influenced scheme that had become popular across the NFL. After O'Connell said he wanted a more aggressive approach following a Dec. 11 loss to the Lions, the Vikings incorporated more man coverages in the final weeks of the regular season.
But as the Vikings struggled to pressure quarterbacks with a four-man rush, the defense gave up yards and points too frequently, and Donatell's fate seemed sealed.
The Vikings blitzed just 18.9% of the time under Donatell, but their approach could change markedly under Flores. His final Dolphins team had a 28.5% blitz rate — the third-highest in the league — in 2021.