If you want a good chuckle, think of Brian Flores wearing a Santa suit. He wouldn’t have to dress up on Halloween, though, because his blitzes frighten befuddled quarterbacks. He also probably likes the Fourth of July because he came up with the New England Patriots. But Flores is ultimately a Thanksgiving guy.
“Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday,” he offered, unsolicited, after discussing Justin Fields’ running ability and its effect on the Minnesota Vikings’ upcoming Monday Night Football game against the Chicago Bears. “I’m just gonna put that out there. It really is, so I’ll be sitting, eating Turkey, and hanging out with my family as well. But at the same time, we’ve gotta prepare the right way and make sure we’re ready to go.”
Why Thanksgiving? It goes back to Flores’ family traditions. He grew up in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York, spending the holidays with his large, tight-knit family. “It’s always been the one holiday where our family got together,” he said. “It was (his mom’s) favorite holiday, so then naturally, it became mine. We just like getting the family together and telling jokes and laughing and having a good time.
“Our extended family, just growing up in New York, and I got aunts and uncles and cousins, and they all kinda got together and had some great times. And as we got older, nothing changed when we had kids. There’s just more people at the party.”
As he got older, Flores realized that the holiday offered him time to reflect on what he was thankful for. “You realize that that’s really what the holiday is about,” he said. “The many blessings that we’ve had. I just feel like I’ve got so much to be grateful and thankful for. My health and my family. This job, being here in Minnesota. The opportunity to work with Kevin O’Connell. I’m thankful to the Wilf family for allowing me to be here. And it’s just been a great time here.
“I can go on and on and on, but it’s my favorite holiday.”
The Vikings have to hope that he’s happy in Minnesota. Their defense isn’t as talented as it was during Mike Zimmer’s heyday, and Flores has maximized the unit. In 2017, Minnesota’s defense carried the team to the NFC Championship, where they lost to the Philadelphia Eagles. But it slowly deteriorated from there, and Ed Donatell’s unit fell apart late last season, ultimately costing them in the first-round playoff game against the New York Giants.
Flores arrived ready to blitz. The former Miami Dolphins head coach spent last season learning under Mike Tomlin as a special assistant with the Pittsburgh Steelers and previously had coached under Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots. Belichick hired Flores in 2008, the same year the Patriots drafted Kevin O’Connell in the third round. Flores and O’Connell became fast friends, and Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell convinced Flores to pass on head-coaching jobs to join O’Connell’s staff.
The Vikings defense is blitzing at historic rates. Flores has used what he’s learned from Belichick and Tomlin and applied it in Minnesota, disguising pressures and coverages to keep the league’s best quarterbacks off balance. Instead of creating a system and forcing his players to fit into it, Flores seeks to find each player’s strength and maximize it within a bespoke defensive strategy. He likes to use as many guys as possible, emptying the sidelines to overwhelm the opposing team’s offense.
“I’m having a great time coaching this group,” said Flores. “I didn’t say this earlier, but I’m thankful to coach this group of guys. I probably should have started with that.
“They work hard. It’s important to them. … They play hard. They try to do everything the right way. It’s a great group to be around. I love watching them have success on the field, and that’s why we as a staff work so hard to try to put them in position so they can have success on the field. Because [with] the way they work, they deserve that.”
But preparing the defense takes a lot of man-hours at the Vikings facility in Eagan. Therefore, Thanksgiving is complicated for their coaching staff, like it is for coaches across the league. Minnesota must prepare for a primetime game against the Bears, who they snuck by 19-13 at Soldier Field in Week 6. That was their first game without Justin Jefferson and their first of five-straight wins, a streak the Denver Broncos broke last week.
Jefferson may return this week, which will be vital for a team that needs to take care of business. They have three winnable games and their bye week, then they face the Detroit Lions in two of the season’s final three weeks. Minnesota’s coaching staff is locked in, but the Vikings are allowing them a brief reprieve to be with their families for the holiday.
“My brother’s in town already,” said Flores. “I got some other people coming into town. Yeah, I think everyone is a little different. I think some people [who] are from here or live close by, I’m sure they have their families coming in. But somebody like me, who’s family is on the East Coast, they just come on in.”
Flores and the Vikings know they’re in an important stretch. They can win the division or sneak into the playoffs as a wild card after starting 0-3. Since 1979, only six teams have started 0-3 and qualified for the postseason. Furthermore, only four of the 158 teams that started 0-3 between 1990 and 2022 reached the playoffs. But O’Connell and his staff always felt they had a special group, and they knew that there was no time like the present to go out and win. Now it’s November, and they’re still in playoff position.
“It’s Thanksgiving,” said Flores. “You know that things are starting to wind down, so you start thinking about the group as a whole, and you just enjoy these moments with them. Because every year, everything is different. It’s a good group.”
The Vikings must cherish the moment because there is no guarantee this group will be back next year. Opposing teams will try to hire Flores away in the offseason. Offensive coordinator Wes Phillips has head-coaching aspirations. And special teams coordinator Matt Daniels, 34, is a young, charismatic coach who works with players on both sides of the ball. Another team may hire him as their head coach at some point. Furthermore, Kirk Cousins’ contract expires at the end of the season, and Minnesota didn’t extend Jefferson. Therefore, there’s no time like the present, and the Vikings can be thankful they’re still in it with the group they have.