Everything stands still as we wait for white smoke to rise over One Patriot Place, indicating that a real, real homosapien has been selected to pull off the Patriots’ strike with a title and everything as you’ve seen on TV.
When that news drops, we’ll take a closer look at: A) why hiring Bill O’Brien means the Patriots are back in it, or B) why the Patriots couldn’t get Bill O’Brien.
While we wait, we can credit the Patriots for casting a wider net at OC than they did last offseason when they cast no net at all.
But the net is still not big. If you are not a friend of Bill B., you do not need to sign up.
Patriots Talk: Patriots impending decision on Jakobi Meyers is a barometer of their off-season | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube
Every screened individual has a kind of Belichickian tie. Former Patriots OT Adrian Klemm was a second round draft pick of the Patriots in 2000. Keenan McCardell played for Belichick in Cleveland. Shawn Jefferson played wideout for the Patriots in the mid to late 1990s, overlapping with Belichick in 1996. Nick Caley has been employed as a tight ends coach since 2015. And O’Brien has clearly been here.
The industry is teeming with offensive coaches with new ideas and approaches.
But it seems the only way to get an audience with Bill is to be hired by him before (Klemm, McCardell, O’Brien) or share a dressing room (Jefferson) with him. It doesn’t matter if he has to go back three decades to find that tie, if there is, the No. 1 qualification is met. Then he will condescend to give an audience.
The incestuous approach has a clear advantage. fame.
Coaches who have been around Belichick know the expectations, the hours and the meager pay. They know what Belichick considers ‘good’ football. They knew because they coached alongside him. Or they were hired by him in their early twenties through shared interests like lacrosse (Mike Pellegrino), learning “good football” and knowing no other way to approach the job.
The Patriots’ staff was first populated over the years by people Belichick worked with, such as Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel. As those coaches moved on, young coaches who had been vetted working under Nick Saban (Josh McDaniels, Brian Daboll, for example), were hired as ballboys for the Browns (Eric Mangini) or playing for Belichick (Pepper Johnson). positions.
The whole industry is a “Who do you know…” business. Most are. But the Patriots are the team with the most clans in the league. A closed loop. Bill Belichick’s comfort level rules everything.
Why did he keep drafting Rutgers players? Because his son Stephen played there for head coach Greg Schiano. Belichick came to trust Schiano (who spent about three days in 2019 as the Patriots defensive coordinator). Stephen could agree. Rutgers became a Patriots farm team.
2023 NFL Mock Draft: Patriots meet dire need by landing elite OT
The Patriots also went exceptionally heavy on Urban Meyer players from both Florida and Ohio State over the past decade. In 14 of Belichick’s 23 drafts, he has brought multiple players from the same school. There are the usual suspects: LSU and Alabama players when Saban was in charge. But there were also two from Pat Hill’s Fresno State program in 2005, two from Texas A&M in 2003, the top two from Georgia in 2018.
Once Belichick feels good about a program and the person running it, he will keep returning to that source. That worked great with Logan Mankins and James Sanders (Fresno) or Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan (Rutgers). Not so good with Meyers players like Chad Jackson, Jermaine Cunningham or Aaron Hernandez.
Not everyone stays a “made man” forever. Trust can evaporate. Ask Mangini. Or Floris. But if you stay on Bill’s good side, Foxboro can become a safe haven for friends left out in the cold.
When Mike Lombardi was fired by the Browns in 2014, he came to work for the Patriots for two years. After Matt Patricia was fired by the Lions in 2020, Belichick brought him in to keep busy and lick his professional wounds. Joe Judge was fired by the Giants. He landed back in New England. In each case, the former team was responsible for paying the balance of the contract with, presumably, compensation from the Patriots.
The Patriots were able to avoid paying full load for these guys by simply calling them “advisors” and letting their former employers keep paying. The Razorback Foundation actually went after former University of Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema AND the Patriots in court after Bielema took low-paying jobs with the Patriots and continued to collect on his $12 million buyout from the foundation.
Brandon Bigelow, the Patriots’ counsel, argued, “The Patriots paid Mr. Bielema a fair and reasonable sum for this work and no doubt could have offered him considerably less for the work he did.” …
“Obviously what the Foundation is really doing is seeking improper leverage in a simple breach of contract dispute with a former coach. . . . As this case progresses, you should also consider how it might appear to others that the Foundation is making frivolous claims against and harassing a professional football team for simply providing an opportunity for a fired college football coach.
Interestingly, both Bielema and Lombardi left the Patriots when their contracts with their old employers expired and the Patriots would have to start paying. We’ll see if the same happens with Patricia, whose Lions deal has now expired. I hear he might be on his way too.
It’s a corner. The individual wins by working on Belichick’s right hand. The Patriots get work at a discounted rate. The competition to stay in Belichick’s favor is fierce.
What is the downside of this incestuousness associated with this quest for coaching?
The pool of young boys willing to work long hours for short wages with ambiguous titles must remain filled. Otherwise you will have too few future candidates. A coach in particular is hired elsewhere and then loots your staff. Like Belichick did when he came to New England in 2000.
The previous decade of Brady-assisted team success saw younger coaches and executives flee for new jobs. McDaniels, Patricia, Brian Flores on the coaching side; Nick Caserio and Monti Ossenfort on the personnel side. They leave, they bring coaching friends, the workforce shrinks. And the pool of experienced replacements is getting shallower.
The blows Belichick has taken with coaches and executives leaving due to age and opportunity are unprecedented. That cannot be minimized. And no one knows it better than Belichick.
But Belichick’s discomfort with coaching flights and his desire to reward loyalty comes at a price. Nick Caley checked all the boxes last season when Josh McDaniels left. Caley went to John Carroll like McDaniels and Caserio. Worked at Arkansas before Bielema. Worked his way up from offensive assistant in 2015 to tight coach where he had been under McDaniels for five seasons.
He made perfect sense as McDaniels’ successor, even if the team gave him the OC title. Instead, the Patriots reportedly blocked Caley from going to Las Vegas with McDaniels, choosing to make Patricia—who was clearly overmatched in the role—the playcaller/de facto offensive coordinator.
What did Caley do in 2022 that made him worth an interview when he wasn’t last January? Was installing Patricia what was “best for the football team?” because Caley (who had an expiring contract after 2022) was an X factor? Or was it the easiest thing to do and the one that made Belichick most comfortable?
Clearly, O’Brien is a highly qualified candidate. He is the leader par excellence because of his experience as a college and NFL head coach and as a high-level OC. But the experience level of every other candidate – especially after last season’s decline – remains modest. No one has been an OC in the NFL. All will have a learning curve if hired. But the box they tick – knowing Bill Belichick and being grateful to Bill for the opportunity if presented to them – is the most important box.