All is put on hold while we wait for white smoke to rise over Patriots Plaza, suggesting that an actual, real-life Homo sapiens has been chosen to direct the Patriots offense, all the same as you watch on TV Arrived the same.
When the news breaks, we’ll dig into: A) why hiring Bill O’Brien means the Patriots are back, or B) why the Patriots can’t get Bill O’Brien.
While we wait, we can trust the Patriots to cast a wider net in OC than they did last offseason when they didn’t cast a net at all.
But the net is still not big. If you are not a friend of Bill B., you do not need to apply.
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Everyone screened has some sort of Belichickian tie. Former Patriots OT Adrian Klemm was the Patriots’ second-round pick in 2000. Keenan McCardell plays for Belichick in Cleveland. Sean Jefferson played wide for the Patriots in the mid to late 90s and overlapped with Belichick in 1996. Nick Cali has served as the team’s head coach since 2015. O’Brien has clearly been here.
The industry is full of offensive coaches with novel ideas and approaches.
But it seems the only way to attract Bill Belichick’s audience is to have been employed by him before (Klemm, McCardell, O’Brien) or share a locker room with him (Jefferson). It doesn’t matter if he has to go back thirty years to find that tie, as long as he has a tie, the first qualification is satisfied. Then he will condescend to take the stage.
The incestuous approach has obvious benefits. Familiarity.
Coaches who have worked at Belichick know the expectations, the hours and the small paychecks. They know what Belichick considers “good” football. They know it because they coached with him. Or they were hired by him in their early 20s because they shared common interests like lacrosse (Mike Pellegrino), learned “good football” and didn’t know any other way to get the job.
Over the years, the Patriots’ staff was first made up of guys who worked with Belichick like Charlie Weiss and Romeo Krennell. Then, when those coaches leave, younger coaches work by working under Nick Saban (e.g., Josh McDaniels, Brian Dabor), as caddies for the Browns (Eric Mangini) or for the Belichick (Pepper Johnson) was hired and promoted to a higher position.
The whole industry is a “who do you know…” industry. Most of them are. But the Patriots are the most sectarian team in the league. a closed loop. Bill Belichick’s comfort is everything.
Why does he keep picking players from Rutgers? Because his son Steph is playing for head coach Greg Schiano. Belichick came to trust Schiano (who spent about three days as the Patriots’ defensive coordinator in 2019). Stephen can testify. Rutgers becomes the Patriots Farm Team.
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The Patriots also paid particular attention to Urban Meyer players from Florida and Ohio over the past decade. In 14 of Belichick’s 23 picks, he selected multiple players from the same school. There are the usual suspects — LSU and Alabama players when Saban was in power. But there are also two Fresno State programs from Pat Hill in 2005, two from Texas A&M in 2003 and the top two from Georgia in 2018.
Once Belichick feels good about a project and the people running it, he keeps going back to that good state. This works well for Logan Mankins and James Sanders (Fresno University) or Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan (Rutgers University). Unlike Meyers players like Chad Jackson, Jermaine Cunningham or Aaron Hernandez.
Not everyone will be a “cyborg” forever. Trust evaporates. Ask Mangini. Or Flores. But if you’re on Bill’s right, Foxborough can be a safe haven for those snubbed friends.
Mike Lombardi came to the Patriots for two years after he was fired by the Browns in 2014. 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 returned to New England. In each case, the former team will need to pay the balance of the contract, and presumably, the Patriots have some offset.
The Patriots can avoid paying the full shipping cost for these guys by calling them “consultants” and having their former employer keep paying the bill. The Razorback Foundation is effectively pursuing ex-Arkansas head coach Brett Bielema and the Patriots in court after Bielema took a low-paying job with the Patriots and went on to collect a $12 million buyout fee from the foundation team responsibility.
Patriots attorney Brandon Bigelow argued, “The Patriots paid Mr. Bielema a fair and reasonable amount for this work, and there is no question that they could have paid him less for the work he did. …
“It’s clear that what the foundation is really doing is seeking improper influence in a simple breach of contract dispute with the former coach . . . Targeting and harassing professional football teams in a flippant manner because it simply provides opportunities for fired college football coaches.”
Interestingly, Bielema and Lombardi left the Patriots when their contracts with their old clubs 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 heard he might be leaving too.
This is an angle. Individually won by working on Belichick’s right hand. The Patriots get jobs for less. The competition was fierce to stay in Belichick’s favor.
What is the downside of this incest as it relates to this coaching search?
A large pool of young people willing to work long hours for short pay with unclear titles must be retained. Otherwise, you will be short of future candidates. Especially if the coach is hired elsewhere and then he attacks your staff. Just as Belichick did when he came to New England in 2000.
During the first decade of Brady’s success, young coaches and executives jumped ship to new jobs. McDaniels, Patricia, Brian Flores on coaching; Nick Caserio and Monti Ossenfort on personnel. They left, they brought coaching friends, the staff shrunk. The pool of experienced substitutes is getting shallower.
The scope of Belichick’s hit as coaches and executives exited due to age and opportunity is unprecedented. This cannot be minimized. No one knows it better than Belichick.
But Belichick’s displeasure with the flight instructor and his desire to reward loyalty came at a price. Last offseason, when Josh McDaniels left, Nick Cali checked all the boxes. Caley went to John Carroll like McDaniels and Caserio. Works for Bielema in Arkansas. Working his way up from offensive assistant to tight end coach in 2015, he spent five seasons under McDaniels.
He makes perfect sense as McDaniels’ successor, even if the team didn’t award him the OC title. Instead, the Patriots reportedly prevented Cali from going to Las Vegas with McDaniels, opting instead to have Patricia — who is clearly at a disadvantage in the role — head coach/de facto Offensive coordinator.
What did Caley do in 2022 to make him worth interviewing when he wasn’t around last January? Is installing Patricia ‘best for the football team’? Because Caley (whose contract expires after 2022) is the X factor? Or was that the easiest thing to do and the most comfortable thing for Belichick?
Clearly, O’Brien is a very qualified candidate. He’s a leader in long shots thanks to his experience as a head coach in college and the NFL, as well as as a senior OC. But the experience level of every other candidate — especially after last season’s regression — remains modest. No one is the OC of the NFL. All will have a learning curve if hired. But the box they ticked—knowing Bill Belichick and being grateful for the opportunity Bill gave them—was the most important box.