The Patriots are searching for a new offensive coordinator for the first time in a decade as the Las Vegas Raiders are hiring Josh McDaniels as their new head coach.
Joining McDaniels in Las Vegas is Patriots’ de facto general manager Dave Ziegler as the Raiders’ new GM. Although Ziegler deserves credit for his work last offseason, Bill Belichick has internal options in the front office to replace Ziegler as his second in command.
Typically, the Patriots promote from within when it comes to the personnel department. They have a strong in-house candidate in current scouting consultant Eliot Wolf, who has served as an assistant general manager for the Browns and Packers in the past.
On the other hand, replacing McDaniels as the offensive coordinator is more tricky, especially considering the importance of getting the hire right entering quarterback Mac Jones’s second season in the NFL.
A team source described the Pats’ former OC as “more than an offensive coordinator,” with wide-ranging responsibilities, including full autonomy in offensive play-calling and direction.
New England has enormous shoes to fill with McDaniels’s departure, and the idea is to continue surrounding their second-year quarterback with improved weapons that will need to be integrated into the offense.
Although the Pats are high on internal candidates in tight ends coach Nick Caley and assistant Troy Brown, my sense is they’ll lean towards an outside hire who has prior play-calling experience.
With huge stakes in Jones’s development and the Pats’ rebuild on the line, breaking in a first-time offensive coordinator and play-caller isn’t an ideal setup as McDaniels departs.
Here is a list of candidates that have ties to Bill Belichick and make sense for the Patriots:
Bill O’Brien (current position: Alabama offensive coordinator)
The front-runner by a country mile to replace McDaniels is the former Patriots and current Alabama offensive coordinator. O’Brien makes all the sense in the world as a former Pats OC who has brushed shoulders with Mac Jones during Alabama’s transition last offseason.
When McDaniels first left the Patriots to head to Denver in 2009, O’Brien replaced him as the offensive play-caller and eventually birthed New England’s two-tight end offense.
Didn't take long for me to find #Alabama running HOSS under Bill O'Brien last year. John Metchie in the juke series. pic.twitter.com/Ib4OZbwwfJ
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) January 28, 2022
In a review of Alabama’s offense, it took me three plays to find a Patriots imprint, with O’Brien dialing up HOSS Z Juke multiple times a game.
Plus, the former Texans head coach could also bring more run-pass options and pre-snap motion to put Jones back in his college system.
O’Brien could marry Jones’s college scheme with the Patriots’ current playbook while utilizing both tight ends as he did with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. A win all around.
Tim Kelly (last position: Texans offensive coordinator)
If you can’t pry O’Brien out of Tuscaloosa, why not target his former offensive coordinator who ran his system and called plays already at the NFL level? Kelly initially survived O’Brien’s firing in Houston to provide stability for Deshaun Watson. But with Watson’s legal troubles, Nick Caserio wiped the slate clean by parting ways with Kelly after this past season. Kelly had a good relationship with Watson, coached up rookie Davis Mills well, has now worked under two former Patriot staffers that can give Belichick a recommendation, and by the way, gave the Pats’ defense problems over the years. Kelly might not be a hot name after how things ended with the Texans, but he interviewed with the Panthers for their then-vacant offensive coordinator position. He has a good history working with quarterbacks and will run a similar scheme as O’Brien. Don’t sleep on Kelly.
Chad O’Shea (current position: Browns passing game coordinator/WR coach)
From what we were told at the time, Belichick wasn’t overly thrilled with Brian Flores’s decision to take O’Shea to Miami as his offensive coordinator. Then, Flores fired O’Shea after only one season running the Dolphins’ offense, citing the struggles younger players in Miami had with the complexities of New England’s scheme. With that said, O’Shea could seamlessly transition back to the Pats’ playbook and has spent the last two seasons in Cleveland’s wide zone system. Plus, he was New England’s red zone coordinator during his time under McDaniels, and although the personnel was much better back then, so were the results. If the bridge isn’t burned to the ground, O’Shea marrying elements of the Shanahan tree with the Patriots’ current “throwback” power run scheme would be an exciting twist.
Jerry Schuplinski (current position: Giants QB coach)
Assuming new Giants head coach Brian Daboll cleans house, Schuplinski will be back on the market. Schuplinski was on the Pats’ coaching staff from 2013 to 2018, eventually working his way up to assistant quarterbacks coach in New England. Schuplinski received high praise from former quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett during his time with the Pats. With McDaniels focus on Tom Brady and the other starters, Schuplinski was behind the scenes developing New England’s backup QBs, “Jerry was my quarterback coach at the time. He taught me all the ins and outs of the playbook. Anything I had a question on, he was my guy,” Garoppolo said. Schuplinski could have the same influence on Mac Jones.
Joe Judge (last position: Giants head coach)
Moving away from candidates with prior play-calling experience, Judge was rumored to be McDaniels’s successor if the former Pats OC took the Colts job after the 2018 season. Belichick went as far as to recommend Judge to the Mara family as the Giants’ head coaching hire, and the Pats’ former wide receivers coach has experience in their offensive scheme. Since he has never called an offense before, it’s unclear if Judge would be any good at it or what ideas he’d bring to the system. And, let’s face it, Daniel Jones didn’t exactly thrive under Judge. Still, if the rumors were true, Judge is available and was the next guy in line the last time around.
Adam Gase (last position: Jets head coach)
I hate writing it as much as you all hate reading it, but the reality is that Belichick and Gase have a connection. Belichick praised Gase’s coaching acumen several times while the former Jets and Dolphins head coach was in the division. Most recently, Belichick said in December 2020, “I have a lot of respect for Adam. I think he’s a very good coach. He’s always been tough to coach against and made things difficult on our defense.” Despite his shortcomings in developing quarterbacks, the Pats defense has mixed results against Gase-led offenses. Ryan Tannahill’s career took off when he left Gase, and the former Jets head coach ruined Sam Darnold. We want to keep Gase as far away from Mac Jones as possible, but the Belichick connection is there, as is the experience coordinating and calling an NFL offense.
Dan Mullen (last position: head coach at University of Florida)
We are going a little deeper down the well now into the college ranks, but hear me out. Before the 2007 season, McDaniels took a trip down to Gainesville to meet with then-head coach Urban Meyer and Florida’s offensive coordinator, Dan Mullen, to discuss adding Gator elements to the Pats’ playbook. After that meeting, the Patriots brought a three-receiver spread system with a full-time slot receiver (Wes Welker) to the NFL. Mullen has worked with Tim Tebow during his Heisman season, Dak Prescott, and Kyle Trask. He has a college-style scheme and brings option elements while knowing how to utilize personnel. For example, he maximized tight end Kyle Pitts and slot receiver Kadarius Toney with Trask under-center two seasons ago. I wouldn’t rule it out as a possibility.
Joe Brady (last position: Panthers offensive coordinator)
If the Patriots can’t steal O’Brien from Saban, Brady would be my pick as the next offensive coordinator. His stint in Carolina ended because head coach Matt Rhule wanted to run the ball more, and the Panthers’ offense dealt with significant injuries to their best players, mainly top weapon Christian McCaffery. When Carolina’s offense was whole, Brady had them playing good ball. He brings elements of Sean Payton’s offense in New Orleans with multiple personnel groupings, motion, and amplifying the skills of his best playmakers. Plus, Brady was the passing game coordinator at LSU during their record-breaking season in 2019, where his empty formations and RPO package set the college football world on fire. Brady’s core concepts are all great fits for Mac: drive (double dig), arches (double angle routes), dagger (dig route with clearout), stick, and RPO glance. If you want something new and innovative, Brady is your guy.