Brian Flores’ first season as Miami Dolphins coach will end in a familiar place.

Flores and his Dolphins team, which has exceeded preseason expectations during the first year of their extensive rebuilding process, will travel to face the New England Patriots on Sunday.

Don’t expect Flores to go into the wrong locker room when the Dolphins walk into Gillette Stadium.

“I know my way around that place, so I’ll be all right. I’ll figure it out,” Flores said with a smile on Thursday.

After 15 years of cultivating relationships and gaining valuable NFL experience as a scout and assistant coach within the Patriots organization, Flores has led the Dolphins to a 4-11 record in his first year as head coach.

Flores has worked tirelessly to set the foundation, while adamantly refuting the notion the franchise wanted to tank – or intentionally lose games for the purpose of landing a high draft pick.

The Dolphins could wind up with the first of their three first-round draft picks in the No. 2-6 range. They are also trending in a good direction, making the future bright in Miami under the leadership of Flores.

“It’s been fun. It’s been a great experience. I think I’ve learned a lot about myself and this team,” Flores said earlier this week. “Like anything, there’s things I wish I could have done better, and I try always to improve and get better in my role and try to help guys do the same.”

Just consider how far the Dolphins have come since their first two games this season, at Hard Rock Stadium against the Baltimore Ravens and Patriots. A slew of new players barely knew each other’s names or roles on offense and defense, and the Dolphins lost both games by a combined margin of 102-10.

The Dolphins lost seven in a row before winning two straight games – against the Jets and Colts. They had their best win of the season against Philadelphia, which is on the fringe of winning its division.

And their most recent win came in an overtime thriller against Cincinnati, one team clearly further behind in their rebuild than the Dolphins.

Sunday’s game against the Patriots – 151/2-point favorites who need a win to secure a first-round bye – may not be the ideal ending to Flores’ first season. But this season has been an experience Flores has not taken lightly, setting the tone for the second stage of Miami’s rebuild.

“I’m really excited about what’s going on here in Miami,” Flores said. “There’s a lot of great people here as well. I’m really enjoying myself and trying to help this organization grow and get better.”

Sunday’s game will also be a homecoming of sorts for Flores, who helped the Patriots win four of their six Super Bowl titles in a variety of roles.

Flores has deep, resonating relationships with many within the organization like longtime head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

He also has ties with many Patriots players still on the team, such as Patrick Chung, Kyle Van Noy, Dont’a Hightower, Stephon Gilmore, and Jason and Devin McCourty.

There will likely be some pregame pleasantries. And some postgame hugs.

But when the football is kicked off, the moment will not be lost by everyone involved.

“I was with Bill for 15 years. I know him very well. He knows me very well. At the end of the day, I have a lot of respect for him. I learned a lot from him,” Flores said. “I’m fortunate to have worked with that organization for a long time; but I know this about him: he’s going to try to beat the heck out of us, and he knows this about me, that we’re going to do the same.

“The friendships go far beyond football … but once 1 o’clock on Sunday (comes), they’re going to be on the other side, and we’re competing – and we’ll be friends after that, after those three or four hours.”

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