The week beginning with the so-called Black Monday has not been kind to former New England Patriots assistants. Brian Flores was fired from his position as the Miami Dolphins’ head coach on Monday, with his New York Giants counterpart, Joe Judge, being let go just 24 hours later.
The two firings created different reactions. While Judge’s was expected to come after the Giants went just 10-23 over his two seasons at the helm, Flores’ was a surprise: his overall record of 24-25 in three years is not impressive but he is coming off back-to-back winning seasons that both saw him miss the playoffs by a hair.
Despite their different résumés, both are now in the same situation. This begs the question, could they return to New England to get a fresh start in a familiar environment? Let’s find out.
Before leaving to join the Dolphins in 2019, Flores spent several years as an assistant coach in New England. Originally joining the organization via its scouting department, he took over as a special teams assistant in 2008 and over the next few years climbed up the ladder until trusted to coach the safeties (2012-15) and linebackers (2016-18).
Flores spent his last season with the Patriots as their defensive signal-caller and de facto defensive coordinator. He was instrumental in helping the team win Super Bowl LIII — his fourth championship, and third as an assistant coach.
His subsequent tenure in Miami was one of promise as well. After starting 0-7 in his first year, the Dolphins finished with a 5-4 record over their last nine games. The next two seasons, the team went 10-6 and 9-8 — finishing second and third in the AFC East, respectively. His success did not save his job, but it did help him become a respected member of the NFL head coaching community.
Accordingly, Flores returning to New England can be seen as a long-shot. He is already considered a candidate to fill the open position in Chicago; it would not be a surprise to see him end up with another head coaching gig — be it with the Bears or one of the other franchises currently with a vacancy.
Unless the Patriots offer him a substantial opportunity either as defensive coordinator or assistant head coach — two roles basically but not in title held by Steve Belichick and Matt Patricia — a return to New England should not be expected.
A member of both the Nick Saban and Bill Belichick coaching trees, Judge arrived in New England in 2012 to serve as special teams assistant under Scott O’Brien. When O’Brien retired after the 2014 season, Judge took over as the Patriots’ kicking game coordinator — a role he held throughout the 2019 season.
During his last year with the team, Judge also added coaching the wide receivers to his responsibilities. While the position group struggled mightily — primarily a result of circumstances rather than coaching — he left the Patriots in 2020 to take over as the Giants’ head coach.
New York showed some promise during Judge’s first season, going 6-10 and finishing second in the NFC East. The team failed to build on this record in 2021, though, and moved in the opposite direction: Judge was fired after a bad 4-13 season.
Even though he also has head coaching experience under his belt now, Judge is a more realistic candidate to return to the Patriots. Not only did his former team struggle on special teams in 2021, making Cam Achord’s return no certainty, his head coaching or coordinator opportunities in the NFL will likely be limited given his background.
Judge could therefore receive the Josh McDaniels treatment. The Patriots’ former offensive coordinator joined the Denver Broncos in 2009, but was fired midway through a tumultuous 2010 season; he had a one-year stint in St. Louis before returning to New England for the 2011 playoffs.
A similar route could be in Judge’s future as well. He disappointed in the nation’s biggest market and might be best served to fly under the radar a bit to rebuild his résumé, either as special teams coach or any other capacity.