Everything is on hold as we wait for white smoke to billow over One Patriot Place signaling that an actual, genuine homosapien has been chosen to lead the Patriots offense with a title and all like you saw on TV , respectively.
When that news breaks, we’re going to dive deep into either: A) why hiring Bill O’Brien means the Patriots are back, or B) why the Patriots couldn’t get Bill O’Brien.
While we wait, we can give the Patriots credit for casting a wider net at OC than they did last offseason, when they didn’t cast a net at all.
But the network is still not big. If you are not a friend of Bill B., there is no need to apply.
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Every single person that is screened has some sort of Belichickian bond. Former Patriots OT Adrian Klemm was a second-round pick for the Patriots in 2000. Keenan McCardell played for Belichick in Cleveland. Shawn Jefferson played for the Patriots in the mid to late ’90s and overlapped with Belichick in 1996. Nick Caley has been the team’s tight ends coach since 2015. And O’Brien was obviously 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 have been previously hired by him (Klemm, McCardell, O’Brien) or shared a dressing room (Jefferson) with him. It doesn’t matter if he has to go back three decades to find that tie, if it’s there the No. 1 qualifier is met. Then he will deign to give an audience.
The incestuous approach has an obvious advantage. Familiarity.
Coaches who’ve met Belichick know the expectations, the hours, and the meager pay. You know what Belichick calls “good” football. They knew because they trained next to him. Or they were hired by him in their early 20s through common interests like lacrosse (Mike Pellegrino), are learning “good football” and have no other way to tackle the job.
The Patriots’ staff was initially filled over the years by people Belichick worked with, such as Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel. Then, as those coaches moved on, young coaches were hired, tested by working under Nick Saban (Josh McDaniels, Brian Daboll for example), working as ball boys for the Browns (Eric Mangini), or playing for Belichick (Pepper Johnson). became and ascended positions.
The entire industry is a “who-do-you-know” business. The most are. But the Patriots are the most clan team in the league. A closed circuit. Bill Belichick’s level of comfort rules everything.
Why did he keep drafting players from Rutgers? Because his son Stephen played there for head coach Greg Schiano. Belichick trusted Schiano (who served as the Patriots’ defensive coordinator for about three days in 2019). Stephen could vouch for that. Rutgers became a farm team for the Patriots.
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The Patriots have also hit Urban Meyer players from Florida and Ohio State exceptionally hard over the past decade. In 14 of Belichick’s 23 drafts, he took multiple players from the same school. There are the usual suspects – LSU and Alabama players if Saban is 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 is comfortable with a program and the person running it, he will keep coming back to it. It 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 fly. Ask Mangini. Or Florence. But if you stay on Bill’s right side, Foxboro can become a safe haven for friends caught in the cold.
When Mike Lombardi was fired by the Browns in 2014, he joined the Patriots for two years. After Matt Patricia was fired from the Lions in 2020, Belichick brought him in to stay busy and lick his professional wounds. Joe Judge was fired by the Giants. He ended up back in New England. In each of those cases, the former team was on the hook to pay the balance of the contract, presumably with some compensation from the Patriots.
The Patriots could avoid picking up full freight for these guys by simply calling them “consultants” and letting their former employers keep paying. The Razorback Foundation actually went to court against former University of Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema AND the Patriots after Bielema took low-paying jobs with the Patriots and continued to collect his $12 million buyout from the foundation.
Patriots attorney Brandon Bigelow argued, “The Patriots paid Mr. Bielema a fair and reasonable fee for this work and undoubtedly could have offered him significantly less for the work he did. …
“It’s obvious that what the foundation is really doing is using a simple breach of contract dispute with a former coach as improper leverage. . . . As we move forward in this matter, you should also consider how it might appear to others if the Foundation makes frivolous claims against a professional football team and harasses them for simply offering a chance to a fired college football coach.”
Interestingly, both Bielema and Lombardi left the Patriots when their contracts with their old employers expired and the Patriots had to start paying. Let’s see if that also happens to Patricia, whose Lions deal has now expired. I hear he might be on his way out too.
It’s an angle. The individual wins by working to Belichick’s right hand. The Patriots get work at a reduced rate. The competition to stay in Belichick’s favor is fierce.
What is the downside of this incestivity in relation to this coaching quest?
The pool of young people willing to work long hours for short pay with ambiguous titles must be kept full. Otherwise you will run out of future candidates. Above all, a trainer is hired elsewhere and then mugs your employees. Just like Belichick did when he came to New England in 2000.
In the previous decade of Brady-backed team success, younger coaches and executives fled to new jobs. McDaniels, Patricia, Brian Flores on the coaching side; Nick Caserio and Monti Ossenfort on the HR page. They go, they bring trainer friends with them, the staff is shrinking. And the pool of experienced replacements is getting shallower.
The hits Belichick has endured with coaches and executives retiring due to age and opportunity are on an unprecedented scale. That cannot be minimized. And nobody knows it better than Belichick.
But Belichick’s discomfort with trainer flight and his desire to reward loyalty comes at a price. Nick Caley ticked all the boxes last offseason when Josh McDaniels left. Caley went to John Carroll like McDaniels and Caserio. Worked in Arkansas for Bielema. He worked his way up from offensive assistant to tight ends coach in 2015, where he spent five seasons under McDaniels.
As McDaniel’s successor, he made perfect sense, even if the team gave him the OC title. Instead, the Patriots reportedly prevented Caley from going to Las Vegas with McDaniels, opting instead to make Patricia — who was clearly out of his depth in the role — the playcaller/de facto offensive coordinator.
What was Caley doing in 2022 that made him interview-worthy when he wasn’t there last January? Was Patricia’s installation “best for the football team”? because Caley (who had an expiring contract after 2022) was an X-Factor? Or was it the simplest thing that made Belichick most comfortable?
Obviously, O’Brien is a highly qualified candidate. His experience as a head coach in college and the NFL, as well as a senior OC, makes him the leader by a mile. But the level of experience of all other candidates remains modest – especially after last season’s setback. None was an OC in the NFL. All have a learning curve when hired. But the box they tick — knowing Bill Belichick and being thankful to Bill for the opportunity when it comes their way — is the most important box.