Why was I so excited about the Dolphins drafting Tua Tagovailoa 5th overall in the 2020 draft? Just watching his College tape from Alabama would have been reason enough. The placement and power of his passes, his anticipation of where the defence will move and where his receivers will be, and his awareness in the pocket to avoid pressure were there for all to see.
The Dolphins have signed a generational talent when you look at his skillset. If he stays healthy, and that could be a big ‘if’, the quality of his play has got us Dolphins fans fantasising about a successful future in a way we haven’t for many a year.
Dolphins research seems to be paying off
But to me, none of these aspects of his on-field skills are as important as the character we have recruited in Tua. Any article you read or podcast you hear mentions how he was raised well by his parents, with a devotion to his faith and a total respect for his family.
This has filtered through to the person he is as part of a team. In his very first interview after being drafted by the Dolphins, he talked about the importance of earning the respect of his teammates. After he suffered the potentially career-threatening hip dislocation in November 2019, he was reported to have been more concerned about his worried family than his own health.
He also once said that one of the most vital lessons his dad taught him was that you are never too important to be nice to people. In Tua, the Dolphins have drafted an instant leader and a character that the rest of the roster will look up to and be inspired by.
The much-anticipated acquisition of Tua fits with the profile of so many other signings that Grier and Flores have made in the past 18 months or so. Last year’s 1st round draft pick, Christian Wilkins, has an infectious personality and leads from the sidelines as much as he does on the field.
If you agreed that character was the most important aspect Grier and Flores were courting during this rebuild, then it will have come as no surprise when we drafted Austin Jackson, the footballer out of USC who donated bone marrow to save his younger sister’s life.
You only need to listen to the interviews with all the newly signed players to see that they are all intelligent, humble, and grateful for the opportunity the Dolphins hierarchy have handed them.
Flores looking for character
Add to that the trading away of Pro Bowl talent Minkah Fitzpatrick last season, it shows that the overall priority for Miami is to build a roster of characters who will play for each other, work as hard as they can and buy into the ethos that Flores is trying to instill.
Flores is building this team in his own image. The video ‘Humble and Hungry – The Brian Flores story’ which you can watch on YouTube, gives extra insight into the man our Head Coach is. From very tough beginnings in Brownsville, Brooklyn, he has done nothing but work, work, work with the ultimate aim of getting the best out of himself throughout his career and his personal life.
This is the message that young athletes are now buying into. Byron Jones, who the Dolphins have made the highest paid cornerback in the NFL this off-season, was reportedly offered more money by two other NFL franchises, but decided to join Miami based on what he had heard of Coach Flores as a leader and as a man.
It is very encouraging for the future to know that word is spreading among NFL players about what an inspirational leader Flores is and how he ultimately wants to make each of his players reach their full potential as athletes and as human beings.
In the week following the sad passing of the legendary Dolphins Head Coach Don Shula, it is inevitable that comparisons will be drawn with the past and present of the Miami Dolphins. Of course, Flores has only won 5 games in a single season as a Head Coach compared with Shula’s NFL record of 347 wins over an incredible 33 seasons.
While Flores has not achieved a huge amount of on-field success, you can’t help but see integrity as the biggest parallel. Shula was well-known for getting the best out of his players and always preaching to them that winning was important, but that winning the right way was the ultimate goal.
Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald said in a recent interview with Travis Wingfield, that Shula was one of those coaches who had when you looked back on his career, no blemishes on his character, regarding his legacy there were no “Yeah, buts”. The same can not be said of certain other leading Head Coaches currently working in the NFL…
From what we’ve seen of Flores so far, it fills me with hope that, at the very least, his sense of values and leadership will, be a source of pride for us Dolphins fans and perhaps a source of one-up-manship over some of our rivals, who shall not be named. Ahem.
It would have been easy for Flores to write off last season and whole-heartedly tank for the first overall draft pick. But that is not in Flores’ nature. All the evidence was there of a Head Coach who wanted to improve every single one of his players and to make the team as competitive as was possible under circumstances where some of the best players were traded away from beneath him.
You only have to look at Nik Needham or Vince Biegel as examples of Flores inspiring and leading players to reach new levels of performance. It comes back to that word, integrity. Flores could not have looked himself in the mirror knowing he hadn’t given his team their best chance of winning each week last season.
The raised fist coupled with the “F*ck yeah!” he uttered as he walked triumphantly onto the pitch at the Gillette Stadium at the end of last season hints at the steely, inner determination that complements his integrity so well.
So when we drafted Tua in April, it meant so much more to me than the signing of an elite football player. It embodied everything our organisation is moving towards under the stewardship of Brian Flores.
It has made all of us Dolphins fan so damn excited for the future because it is yet another re-assuring piece of the puzzle that this organisation has very high aspirations for the future. I trust the characters, I trust the leaders and I trust the process. I trust that we are rebuilding this the right way.