Even now, when asked, Brian Flores can step outside his family’s apartment on the 20th floor of his low-income housing building, Glenmore Plaza, and take you on his daily walk to high school.
He can say the elevator might or might not work. So get ready to walk down 20 floors.
He can say, a block down Mother Gaston Boulevard, is Public School 332, where he attended kindergarten to eighth grade, often without books or simple supplies like paper or pencils. It’s since been renamed P.S. 401, he knows from trips back. But it still represents one of the two extremes he lived inside American schools. One side still lacks so much — Flores tells how his younger brother, Luis, who now teaches in at a low-income school in Boston, loaded his car with used books from an old school and brought them back for his current students.
Flores can keep walking you past the so-called White Park, where basketball and “transactions,” as he calls the sketchy sale of drugs and danger, played, and then walk down the blocks of broken-down homes to go under the Long Island Railway tracks.
Here is where anything can happen, he says. Drugs, guns, knives, beatings — the New York crime log is full from this area. Flores’ mother always worried her son would become another statistic here.
Nothing ever happened to him, Flores knows, because he was protected by a code on the streets to leave anyone alone who had a chance for success. He also believes these streets hold the most loyal people to their code that he’s ever met.
Finally, after 15 minutes of walking through this raw and real Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., he can bring you to the Broadway Junction subway stop.
Each day in high school, Flores boarded here, transferred to a bus, and 90 minutes after leaving home, he walked onto the plush, 27-acre campus of Poly Prep Country Day School for a high school education that currently costs $50,199 a year.
“Two different worlds in many ways,’’ Flores called these years.
But if you care to understand the new Miami Dolphins coach, if you care to know who he is or what he’s about, this is a good place to start. This walk. This trip. This daily journey, stitched together by real-life fabric, not NFL fame, that forms much of the world and the people he still carries inside today.
The billionaire investor who Flores says changed, "just about everything,'' for him and his family is on the phone.
“Brian Flores, who’s that?’’ the billionaire says.
He has offices in Chicago and New York. He’s given $75 million to Notre Dame, the school’s largest single gift. He sits on 20 corporate boards. His investment strategy is likened in one business story to Warren Buffett’s, and he’s called in another story, “an inventor of investments.”
He starts chuckling.
“I’m kidding,’’ the billionaire, Jay Jordan, says. “Brian is like a second son to me. I have my son, JW, who played with Brian at Poly Prep. And Brian, well, I know him as well as anyone outside his family, and I can’t say enough good things about him.”
They first met when Flores was awarded a Jordan Scholarship as a freshman to attend Poly Prep. Flores had everything a Jordan Scholar should have: good grades, respectful behavior, athletic skill and a burning desire to succeed in such a way that, over years in his youth, his name filtered through a small community, one person reaching out to another, until it finally reached Jordan.
It began when Flores was driving with an uncle, Darrell Patterson, who regularly took him bowling or to the arcades. Flores’ father, Raul, was a merchant marine and away on ships for months at a time. His mother, Maria, who died of cancer earlier this year, emigrated with her husband from Honduras to New York but didn’t know sports.
Patterson, a New York firefighter, enjoyed sports. One day, they saw a youth football practice. Brian asked if he could play. That led to Patterson driving his nephew from Brooklyn to Queens a few times a week to practice with Frank Masella’s Lynvet youth program.
When Flores neared eighth grade, Masella called Dino Mangiero, a coach at Poly Prep and a gatekeeper of the Jordan Scholarships.
“[Masella] said he had a special kid who needed help,’’ Mangiero said. “I went and met him. What I remember is a talented kid who wanted to change his circumstances.”
This was the first door of many doors football opened. It’s how Flores earned a scholarship and starred on a Poly Prep team that didn’t lose in his four years. It’s how he found a small group of lifelong friends from humble roots, Jordan Scholars all.
It’s also how as a senior he met a young and energetic Boston College recruiter named Al Golden. Twelve years before he became the University of Miami coach, Golden didn’t just have a good academic school — Flores was considering Duke and Virginia, too — but one relatively close to Brownsville.
That was important. Flores’ youngest brother, Christopher, is autistic. He wanted to be close enough to help, if needed. Later, as a New England Patriots assistant, Flores moved his parents and Christopher to outside Boston. He became active with special-needs children and their families, helping in various ways and delivering talks that Patriots players attended.
Along the full journey, the stories piled up offer glimpses into his future. In high school, his team trailed by three touchdowns when, on a third-and-1, the running back Flores told his coaches, “Give me the ball. I’ll get it.” He ran 51 yards for a touchdown to spark a comeback.
At Boston College, his linebacker coach noticed something about the film clips he took to coaching clinics to underline the proper way to do things. Virtually all of them involved Flores.
With the Patriots, no job was too big from the start for him - or, too small. That mattered. This is a franchise, then-Patriots general manager Scott Pioli said, where coach Bill Belichick will run a copying machine to make copies for everyone if needed. Flores made airport runs, ran coaches’ errands and updated the daily personnel charts for each team on a big board.
“You saw the intelligence in Brian, the determination right away,’’ said Pioli, who was on the NFL’s diversity council and always had his radar up for a good, young mind.
Flores wanted closer to the game after years in scouting. He moved to coaching. But even as his star rose, as success came, as the Patriots piled up wins, Flores kept the past close to him.
“I got a call one day and my mother was crying,’’ said Mike Miller, a high-school teammate and another Jordan Scholar at Poly Prep. “I thought something was wrong. She couldn’t get the words out. ‘Mom, what’s wrong?’
“It was Brian. He was there with a Super Bowl trophy. This was after his first one, I think when New England beat Seattle. He showed up at my parent’s home and just wanted to share it with them. To thank them.”
Soon, all his friends got calls from their parents. Miller. Will Karczewski. Dave Hayes. The X-Factor, the group was called at Poly Prep, because their group’s humble roots and obvious talents.
They kept close through the years, too. They’d attend Patriots games right from the start of Flores’ career there, when he chauffeured coaches and slept on an air mattress on the floor of an attic. “Are you OK?” Karczewski asked while visiting him then.
Flores would rush out to their pre-game tailgate to bring a few bags of pretzels. Through the years, as Flores rose, their tickets began to improve, they joked. But this post-Super Bowl visit to family was a surprise.
“I even got a call [from] my grandfather,’’ Hayes said. “He was crying. I drove over there to see what happened, and he said Brian came by just to thank him. How many people have high school friends like that?”
The different and often opposing worlds, you see, became one and the same for Flores. JW Jordan, the son of the billionaire, played against Flores at Notre Dame, then started on the same low NFL rung that he did. They met on the field of the last Super Bowl, Flores running the Patriots defense and JW Jordan the Los Angeles Rams’ director of draft management.
The father was in the stands that day, admiring it all. He kept in touch with Flores every step of the way, just as he tries with many of the 120 Jordan Scholars (119 have graduated from college — “and we’re getting the other one, too,’’ he says).
Jay Jordan advised Flores on getting into football and not business (“Why would you want to sit in an office all day?”). He counseled Flores as he earned bigger jobs (“Just keep being yourself — that’s enough, you’re special.”). He hosted Flores at his country home in Amagansett, N.Y.
When Jordan heard the Dolphins were interested in Flores, he picked up the phone and called his friend: team owner Steve Ross. They talked for an hour.
“Not about football,’’ Jordan said. “We talked about Brian’s character, his intelligence, about who Brian was and what made him stand out.”
At one point, Ross said one problem was he’d never met Flores.
“You’ve met him, Steve,’’ Jordan said.
Ross has invited Jordan to visit his Palm Beach home through the years. A couple years ago on a visit, Ross took him to a Dolphins game against the Patriots at Hard Rock Stadium.
“I reminded Steve we were down on the field before the game, and one of the New England coaches came charging over to us,’’ Jordan said. “Steve thought he was going to tackle us. He grabbed me and kissed my cheek.
“I told Steve, ‘I introduced you to him. That was Brian Flores.’ ”
In such ways, Flores’ long journey seems shorter, his complicated story sounds simpler. It’s about to grow simpler still. Plays. Points. Wins. Losses. It’s a bottom-line business.
He’s just another new NFL coach waiting for the opening kickoff to decide if he’s a winner or loser. But, as the first kickoff awaits, considering where he started and now stands, ask yourself this: Hasn’t he already won?