The biggest shock of the NFL's "Black Monday" is in. The Dolphins are parting ways with Brian Flores after just three seasons.
Flores, 40, was viewed as a rising star among NFL coaches. He posted a 24-25 record during his three seasons in Miami, but his last two seasons were winning ones and during his first, the Dolphins had, arguably, the worst roster in the NFL. It was an achievement that they went 5-11, as there was legitimate talk about them being an 0-16 squad.
Flores never made the playoffs with the Dolphins, but he did have a 10-7 season in 2020 and just missed out on a final Wild Card berth. Additionally, the Dolphins defense improved in each season under his watch from a bottom-tier unit to an average but opportunistic group. They finished first in takeaways in 2020 and eighth in the category in 2021.
Regardless, Miami has decided to move on from Flores after a 9-8 season that saw his team win eight of its last nine games. Why did the Dolphins opt to part with Flores? Here's what we know about Miami's decision.
BLACK MONDAY: Full list of coaches fired, openings across the NFL
Why did the Dolphins fire Brian Flores?
Dolphins released a statement to shed some light on their decision to part with Brian Flores. Owner Stephen Ross implied that there was some organizational strife that led them to part with Flores.
"I made a decision today to part ways with Brian Flores," Ross said. "After evaluating where we are as an organization and what we need going forward to improve, I determined that key dynamics of our football organization weren't functioning at a level I want it to be and felt that this decision was in the best interest of the Miami Dolphins. I believe we have a talented young roster in place and have the opportunity to be much better in 2022. I want to thank Brian for his hard work and wish him nothing but the best in his future."
So, what were these "key dynamics" that "weren't functioning" in Miami? According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, there was "frustration and tension" between Flores and general manager Chris Grier.
"This has been boiling for the last, I would say more than a month," Rapoport said of during an appearance on "Good Morning Football."
What ensued as a result of those problems was a power struggle. Grier, who has been with the Dolphins since 2016, won.
Over which issues did Flores and Grier butt heads? As Rapoport reports, it was about the team's lacking success utilizing their bounty of draft capital to upgrade the team.
"You look at some of the personnel moves that the Miami Dolphins have made and have not made, certainly the frustration is understandable," Rapoport said. "Several first-round picks have not panned down and it did seem, as far as coach Brian Flores is concerned, that certainly could be things that may be done better."
The Dolphins have had six first-round picks since Flores joined the team. They have been a mixed bag. The 2019 and 2021 classes produced some solid pieces in Jaylen Waddle, Jaelan Phillips and Christian Wilkins.
However, the 2020 class hasn't been as strong. Tua Tagovailoa has looked unproven, especially when compared to Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, while Austin Jackson has struggled as a starter on the offensive line. And their third, first-round pick from that draft — Noah Igbinoghene — was largely a healthy scratch during his second season.
As such, Flores had a reason to be frustrated. But evidently, Ross didn't see it that way and chose to keep Grier instead of Flores.
"This was always going to be one way or the other," Rapoport said of the situation. "It was going to be Flores or Grier. Obviously, a big-time surprise that it is Brian Flores that ends up being out."
NFL PLAYOFF BRACKET: Full list of matchups for AFC, NFC
Who will replace Brian Flores in Miami?
One name immediately stuck out for Dolphins fans upon hearing of Flores' departure. Jim Harbaugh is considering a return to the NFL after leading Michigan to the College Football Playoff last season.
Ross, the Dolphins owner, is a Michigan man and previously tried to lure Harbaugh to Miami, so it was presumed that he would pursue Harbaugh again during this coaching cycle. However, ESPN's Jeff Darlington reports that Miami isn't targeting the Michigan coach and will instead turn its attention elsewhere.
While I realize many are assuming Flores’ departure is tied to Harbaugh’s potential availability, I can assure you that is not the case. The Dolphins are not targeting Jim Harbaugh, per sources. The decision to fire Flores is entirely independent.— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) January 10, 2022
It's unclear exactly what qualities the Dolphins will look for in a new coach, but it stands to reason that they will look for someone with an offensive background to help Tagovailoa develop during the third year of his rookie contract. Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy has been a hot name on the coaching market for years now, so he could be a fit for the Dolphins.
If the Dolphins are looking for a more proven coaching option, Jim Caldwell is on the market. He served as an assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach with the Dolphins in 2019 and would be a safe option to help fix Miami's sputtering offense. Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien could draw consideration as well.
NFL COACHING CANDIDATES: Top 10 names to watch on the market
How Brian Flores' departure impacts Deshaun Watson sweepstakes
The other element of this firing is how it might impacts the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes. Rapoport reports that Flores' presence was one of the major reasons that Watson was willing to waive his no-trade clause to join the Dolphins. Now, that possibility is less certain.
"Brian Flores was a big reason why Deshaun Watson wanted to be in Miami," Rapoport said. "With Flores out, is that still the case? Has that changed? Is it much more wide open in the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes which will be coming in March? A lot of questions going forward now."
Perhaps if the Dolphins hire a coach that Watson respects, like Bieniemy, he would still consider going to South Beach. That said, will the Dolphins want to pursue Watson with Flores gone? Or will Grier stick with his draft pick Tagovailoa as he looks for his footing? Time will tell, but Watson's list of suitors may have decreased by one because of the Dolphins' decision.