Search Of Patriots OC Shows Bill Belichick’s Comfort Is All Over

Everything halts as we wait for white smoke to rise over One Patriot Place to see a real, real-life homosapien chosen to run the Patriots’ offense with a title and everything you’ve seen on TV. But have seen.

When that news drops, we’ll either dive deeper into: a) whether the Bill O’Brien hiring means the Patriots are back in it or, b) why the Patriots couldn’t get Bill O’Brien.

As we wait, we can give the Patriots credit for casting a wide net on the OC when they cast no net last offseason.

But the net is still not large. 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 draft choice in 2000. Keenan McCardell played for Belichick in Cleveland. Shawn Jefferson played wideout for the Patriots in the mid to late 90s and overlapped with Belichick in 1996. Nick Kelly has been on staff since 2015 as the tight ends coach. And O’Brien has apparently been here.

The industry is filled with aggressive coaches with novel ideas and approaches.

But it seems the only way to get an audience with Bill is by first being hired by him (Clem, McCardell, O’Brien) or sharing a locker room with him (Jefferson). Doesn’t matter if he has to go back three decades to find that tie, if it’s there, the No. 1 qualification is satisfied. Then he would work to deliver it to the audience.

There is a clear reverse of the unethical approach. familiar.

Coaches who have been around Belichick know the expectations, the hours, and the meager pay. They know what Belichick considers “good” football. He knew it because he used to coach with him. Or they were hired through shared interests like lacrosse (Mike Pellegrino) in their early 20s, learn “good football” and know no other way to attack the job.

Through the years the Patriots staff was first populated by people Belichick worked with such people as Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel. Then, when those coaches left, the youth coaches who worked under Nick Saban (Josh McDaniels, Brian Dabole, for example) served as ballboys for the Browns (Eric Mangini) or played for Belichick (Pepper Johnson). Were and reached high positions.

The whole industry is a “who do you know…” business. Mostly But the Patriots are the most clannish team in the league. a closed loop. Bill Belichick’s comfort level rules them all.

Why did he keep drafting players from Rutgers? Because his son Stephen was playing there for head coach Greg Schiano. Belichick has confidence in Schiano (who spent about three days as Patriots defensive coordinator in 2019). Stephen could make a vow. Rutgers became the Patriots’ farm team.

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The Patriots have been exceptionally heavy on Urban Meyer players from both Florida and Ohio State over the past decade. In 14 of Belichick’s 23 draft picks, he has taken multiple players from the same school. There are the usual suspects – players from LSU and Alabama 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, and two from Georgia in 2018.

Once Belichick feels good about a program and the person running it, he’ll keep going back to that well. Did a great job with Logan Mankins and James Sanders (Fresno) or Devin McCourty, Duran Harmon and Logan Ryan (Rutgers). Not even with Mays players like Chad Jackson, Jermaine Cunningham or Aaron Hernandez.

Not everyone remains a “made man” forever. Trust can be lost. Ask Mangini. Or Flores. But if you live on the right side of the bill, Foxboro can turn out to be a safe harbor for friends who went on the cold shoulder.

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 on to stay busy and lick his professional wounds. Joe Judge was struck out by the Giants. He landed back in New England. In each of these cases, the former team was on the hook to pay the remainder of the contract, possibly with some offset from the Patriots.

The Patriots could have avoided charging these men only “consultants” and charging full rent to keep paying their former employers. The Razorback Foundation actually went to court against former University of Arkansas head coach Brett Bielema and the Patriots after Bielema took low paying jobs with the Patriots and continued to collect his $12M buyout from the foundation.

Brandon Bigelow, attorney for the Patriots, argued, “The Patriots paid Mr. Bielema a fair and reasonable amount for this work and undoubtedly could have been offered significantly less for the work he did. …

“It is clear that what the Foundation is really doing is seeking to take undue advantage in a simple breach of contract dispute with the former coach. . . . One should consider how others might perceive the Foundation to be making football claims against a professional football team and only bothering to provide an opportunity to a fired college football coach.

Interestingly, both Bielema and Lombardi departed from the Patriots when their contracts with their old employers expired and the Patriots had to start paying. We’ll see if the same happens with Patricia, whose Lions deal has now expired. I hear he may also be on his way.

This is an angle. The person wins by working off Belichick’s right hand. Patriots get work at low rates. The competition to stay in Belichick’s good graces is heating up.

What is the downside of this adultery as it pertains to this coaching search?

The pool of young people willing to work long hours for low pay with obscure titles should remain the stock. Otherwise, you’ll run short on future candidates. Especially a coach is placed elsewhere and he then raids your staff. As Belichick did when he arrived in New England in 2000.

The last decade of success for the Brady-edged team saw young coaches and executives scramble for new jobs. McDaniels, Patricia, on behalf of Brian Flores Coaching; Nick Cesario and Monty Ossenfort on the personnel side. They leave, they bring coaching buddies with them, the staff shrinks. And the pool of experienced replacements becomes shallow.

The hits that Belichick has made with coaches and executives who were out because of age and opportunity are unprecedented in scope. It cannot be reduced. And nobody knows this better than Belichick.

But Belichick’s restlessness with coaching flight and his willingness to reward loyalty comes at a cost. Nick Kelly checked all the boxes from last season when Josh McDaniels left. Kelly went to John Carroll, as did McDaniels and Cesario. Worked for Bielema in Arkansas. Worked up from offensive assistant to tight ends coach in 2015, where he remained for five seasons under McDaniels.

He made perfect sense as McDaniels’ successor, even if the team gave him the title of OC. Instead, the Patriots reportedly barred Kelly from going to Las Vegas with McDaniels and instead chose to make Patricia—who was apparently unsuited to the role—the playcaller/de facto offensive coordinator.

What did Kelly do in 2022 that makes him eligible to be interviewed when he wasn’t last January? Setting up Patricia “Was best for the football team?” Because Kelly (whose contract was due to expire after 2022) was an X-factor? Or was it the easiest thing to do and the one that made Belichick most comfortable?

Obviously, O’Brien is a highly qualified candidate. He is a longtime leader due to his experience as a head coach in college and the NFL and as a high level OC. But the experience level of every other candidate — especially after last season’s regression — remains modest. No one has been an OC in the NFL. Everyone will have a learning curve when hired. But the box they check — knowing Bill Belichick and appreciating the Bills’ opportunity if it’s presented to them — is the most important box.



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