ATLANTA – There are few spectacles in sports quite like the NFL’s Opening Night festivities. The event kicks off Super Bowl week each year, and although there’s plenty of football talk around the podiums and in other locales, the night is more about one last chance to have some fun before focus completely turns to Sunday.
Monday night’s version at the State Farm Arena featured more than few moments that we’ve become accustomed to – especially for Patriots fans who now have been part of the craziness nine times in the last 18 years. But rather than dwell on the faux marriage proposals for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick being quizzed by kid reporters on various topics, the attention was on football and specifically, the Patriots coaching staff.
Next season almost certainly will be one of transition for Belichick’s staff. Although not being officially named defensive coordinator in 2018, Brian Flores did enough as the play caller to attract attention and reportedly is set to be named the head coach of the Miami Dolphins. Barring a last-second change of heart similar to Josh McDaniels a year ago, Flores will need to be replaced.
Monday night was the first opportunity the media has had to speak with Flores since the reports first surfaced tying him to the Dolphins job. Reports indicated he interviewed with Miami during the Patriots bye on wild card weekend and then met with the team again last week to discuss his coaching staff.
NFL rules prohibit teams from making announcements regarding hires when the coaches are still involved in the playoffs, and when asked about the Dolphins Flores didn’t specifically say he was leaving but his words seemed like an indication that he’s coaching his last game in New England.
“I’m very good at compartmentalizing,” Flores said. “Right now my focus is squarely on the Los Angeles Rams. That’s my focus. There’s plenty to focus on there, we can go down a long list of star players they have there. From [Todd] Gurley to [Brandin] Cooks to [Josh] Reynolds to [Jared] Goff they have a great roster there.”
When a Miami reporter asked a question regarding the potential move, Flores explained his mindset.
“I would say, again, I love the guys on this team and to think about anything else aside from this game I think is a disservice to them. That’s not me. That’s where I’m at,” he concluded.
In addition to the reports about Flores, there have been other members of the Patriots coaching staff who have been rumored to be going elsewhere. One such report had wide receivers coach Chad O’Shea joining Flores in Miami as his offensive coordinator. Like Flores, O’Shea kept the focus on the Rams and wouldn’t speculate on the future beyond Sunday night.
“I think right now I’m in the present, I really am,” said O’Shea, who is finishing his 10th season in New England. “I think anything other than that would not be the best thing for the players that I coach. I’m in the present. I really look forward to this game. It’s a privilege to be in it again. Somebody was talking, ‘does this get old?’ This never gets old because each year is so different and the challenges are different.
“This year at the receiver position might have been one of the more challenging we’ve had in recent years with some of the turnover and some of the uncertainty early with who was going to play. And now for these guys now to get in the game and be a big part of our offensive production is really a testament to them and our offensive coaching staff led by Josh, who’s done a great job of getting these guys headed in the right direction.”
Another coach who has been in the news in Bret Bielema. After getting fired as the Arkansas head coach following the 2017 season, Bielema came to Foxborough and served as a special consultant to the head coach this season, and there have been conflicting reports about his future.
One said he could be on his way to Miami to serve as Flores’ defensive coordinator but more recently a Boston Globe piece said Bielema was telling people he will replace Flores in that capacity with the Patriots. Bielema is not officially a member of the staff so he wasn’t required to be available Monday night.
There has also been speculation that former Rutgers and Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano might be headed to the Foxborough as the defensive coordinator, but certainly nothing is official.
In addition, the two most senior members of Belichick’s staff, offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia and running backs coach Ivan Fears, both expressed the desire to return. Scarnecchia enjoyed a two-year retirement from 2014-15 before returning, but he told reporters Monday night that he plans on returning next year.
Fears, who is finishing his 28th season as an NFL coach and 22nd with the Patriots, talked about the need to appreciate the opportunities to play on the game’s biggest stage because the future is no sure thing.
“There’s no guarantee you’re coming back. Not at all,” Fears said. “I always appreciate the one I’m at and it’s as simple as that. You have no control over that. I always look for the special moments and enjoy it and if I’m fortunate enough to get another shot …”
With that Fears was asked if the time had come for him to hang up his whistle and call it a career.
“I don’t have all the control on that,” He said. “We’ll play as the play goes and see what happens. Right now, there’s only one thing tht matters: Sunday.”
Regardless of the outcome on Sunday, in all likelihood the Patriots will be searching for some coaching replacements for the second year in a row.