Brian Fleury is used to Miami. As a former football research analyst and director of football research for the Miami Dolphins for three years, he’s spent several games in the locker room and on the sidelines of Hard Rock Stadium in southern Florida.
But amid the grandiose spectacle that is Super Bowl week and media night, the atmosphere feels different for Fleury, as he finds himself preparing for Super Bowl LIV on Sunday as a defensive quality control coach for the San Francisco 49ers, who will face the AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs.
“The rarity of the experience isn’t lost on me at all,” Fleury said Tuesday in a phone interview. “I’m definitely trying to soak everything in and enjoy the moment while I can. The last three years I was in Miami and worked with Dan Marino. Obviously he only had the opportunity to go to one Super Bowl and he was somebody I looked up to as a quarterback, as a kid.
“But to hear him talk about it firsthand for those three years that we were working together, it just served as a good reminder to never take any of these experiences for granted.”
Fleury, a former Towson quarterback and assistant coach, is in his first season as an assistant for the NFC champion 49ers. It’s a post he called "one of the strangest titles in all of football because the job description differs so much per the individual and per every team.”
In his role, Fleury studies the 49ers’ opponents and makes sure the information in the game plan is accurate, acting “kind of like a cross-checker” for defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.
The 40-year-old seemed destined for the coaching ranks, dating to his days playing football in Frederick.
Fleury played quarterback at Frederick High School before transferring to Seneca Valley in Germantown, where he played for three years under his stepfather, Terry Changuris, and in his senior year led the team to a state title.
It was during this time that Fleury began to learn the game not just from a player’s perspective, but through the lens of a coach.
“I grew up around football and I was sitting in on staff meetings as a young kid and saw things from a coach’s perspective very early on,” Fleury said.
After one season as a walk-on at Maryland, Fleury transferred to Towson, where he said he took on more of a role as a coach, even as a player.
“I remember as a senior there was somebody younger than me playing in front of me,” Fleury said. “I remember being asked to be out in the huddle with him in practice and help explain everything that was going on and really take on that coaching-mentor role. ... It just kind of organically happened, to be honest with you.”
Fleury got his introduction to coaching in 2003 under Ralph Friedgen at Maryland as an offensive intern, then as a defensive graduate assistant.
“I was a little bit apprehensive at first,” Fleury said. “I was thinking, ‘I don’t know anything about defense.’ But then I realized that playing quarterback my whole life, I actually knew a lot about defense. So the transition became very, very easy.”
After two years at Maryland, Fleury spent four seasons as a coach for Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, before returning to Towson as the Tigers special teams coordinator/secondary coach under then-incoming coach Rob Ambrose.
“I had the opportunity to coach him [at Towson],” Ambrose said. "And he reminded me a lot of myself when I was very young. And I actually tried to talk him out of being a coach because this lifestyle is not for normal people. But he had none of it.
“He wasn’t the greatest college football player, but he had one of the greatest minds for a young man as a football player that I’d ever had the opportunity to coach.”
Under Ambrose, the Tigers began a turnaround from 1-10 to one of the best teams in FCS, culminating in a run to the 2013 FCS national championship game.
Fleury got his first opportunity in the NFL in 2013 as a defensive quality control coach for the Buffalo Bills. Since then, he’s also had stints with the Cleveland Browns (when 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan served as offensive coordinator) and Dolphins before reuniting with Shanahan in San Francisco.
“I think the players respect him, and I think other coaches respect him,” Ambrose said. “As a football intellect, he is never going to leave any stone unturned. He’s going to make sure that all the i’s are dotted, all the t’s are crossed. And if there is a problem or question, he will be relentless until it’s fixed.”
In a league that has been hiring coaches at younger ages in recent years — Shanahan was hired in 2017 at 37, becoming the then-second-youngest coach in the NFL — Fleury has taken pride in the wealth of knowledge he’s accumulated in the past seven years.
“I definitely am pursuing a career that would hopefully end with me being a head coach,” Fleury said. “But I think my outlook is a little bit different than a lot of people. I’m not really in a huge hurry to get to that point just yet, because I feel like I’ll be a better head coach at 50 than I would be at 40 if I have 10 more years to learn from other people and build a foundation of knowledge and understanding that it takes to be successful.