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Top Offensive Coordinator Candidates for the Patriots

With Bill O’Brien heading to Ohio State after a season back in New England, the Patriots and head coach Jerod Mayo are officially in need of an offensive coordinator. While it would’ve been nice to see what O’Brien could do with his own staff and a more talented offense, it makes sense for the team to start fresh in a new era.

Outside of wanting “developers,” Mayo didn’t give many details on what he’s looking for in the role during his introductory press conference. While the team could go the safe route and bring back Josh McDaniels, there are several interesting candidates from other coaching trees, many with ties back to the Patriots. Even more important, most candidates have ties to the Sean McVay tree, which has produced some of the league’s best offenses in recent years. Whether New England goes with a familiar face or steps outside of their comfort zone, expect the offense to look very different in 2024.

With New England almost guaranteed to draft a quarterback with their top-3 draft pick, it’s safe to assume their pick will be someone with experience either playing or coaching the position. While former receivers, tight ends, and offensive line coaches can be exceptional coordinators, having the person who calls plays and builds game plans also be the person running the quarterback room is a significant advantage for young passers.

Here are the top offensive coordinator candidates who fit that criteria, as well as my quick-hitting thoughts on candidates with experience coaching other positions.

QB COACH EXPERIENCE

Josh McDaniels – Raiders head coach (2022-2023)

Josh McDaniels left the Patriots in 2022 to become the Raiders’ head coach and play-caller, but his tenure ended less than two seasons after it began. He was fired by the team after following up a 6-11 season with a 3-5 start in 2023 but was spotted at 1 Patriot Place during Bill Belichick’s final game and final press conference.

Last Saturday, NFL Network‘s Ian Rapoport said the former Patriots offensive coordinator would be Jerod Mayo’s top choice if Bill O’Brien didn’t return to the team. This could change once Belichick finalizes his next destination, but McDaniels has shown he can develop young passers and would likely be around long-term.

While he’s historically struggled as a head coach and talent evaluator, McDaniels remains one of the league’s best offensive minds and excels at putting players in position to succeed. Unlike Bill O’Brien, whose pass-heavy scheme leans on spread looks and empty backfields, McDaniels’ more balanced offense relies on under-center looks, often deploying a fullback. He still does a great job maximizing players’ talent and scheming big-play opportunities but was held back by below-average quarterback play.

Bo Hardegree – Raiders interim offensive coordinator & quarterbacks coach (2023-present)

Bo Hardegree spent three seasons under Josh McDaniels before the latter’s midseason firing, serving as an offensive assistant for New England in 2021 before being named the Raiders’ quarterbacks coach. When Vegas let go of offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi along with McDaniels, Hardegree also became Vegas’ interim offensive coordinator.

Hardegree bounced around the NFL after spending three seasons as a quarterback at Tennessee, then serving as a graduate assistant for Duke from 2008-2010 and an intern for LSU from 2011-2013. He began his NFL coaching career as an offensive quality control coach for the Broncos in 2014 under John Fox. He followed Fox to Chicago a year later, serving as an offensive assistant. Hardegree got his big break in 2016, serving as quarterbacks coach under Adam Gase for three seasons. Hardegree followed Gase to the Jets in 2019, where he was an offensive assistant for two seasons.

If the Patriots want McDaniels but can’t lock him down, Hardegree could be a solid second choice.

Dan Pitcher – Bengals quarterbacks coach (2020-present)

Dan Pitcher has been the Bengals’ quarterbacks coach since 2020, mentoring Joe Burrow every season since the Heisman winner was drafted. He also contributed to Jake Browning’s impressive stretch when Burrow went down, with the backup earning a passer rating of at least 90 in six of his eight games and a rating of at least 100 in three games.

Pitcher got his NFL start in the Colts’ front office, serving as a scouting assistant from 2012-2013 and a pro scout from 2014-2015. He also spent 2012 as the wide receivers coach at SUNY Cortland, where he played quarterback for three seasons and was a finalist for the 2011 Gagliardi Trophy, the Division III equivalent of the Heisman.

Pitcher has spent his entire professional coaching career in Cincinnati, starting as an offensive assistant from 2016-2018 before being promoted to assistant quarterbacks coach in Zac Taylor’s first season. Pitcher moved up to quarterbacks coach in 2020 following Alex Van Pelt’s departure.

Pitcher signed an extension with the Bengals last offseason, so it’s unlikely he would leave for anything less than an offensive coordinator role.

Zac Robinson – Rams pass game coordinator/quarterbacks coach (2022-present)

Like Pitcher, Zac Robinson has spent his entire coaching career with one team, coaching the Rams’ offense since 2019. He’s been LA’s pass game coordinator and quarterbacks coach since 2022, helping the team win Super Bowl LVI.

Robinson has loose Patriots ties, as New England took him in the 7th round of the 2010 draft but cut him before the season opener. He then spent time with the Seahawks and Lions in 2010 before sticking with the Bengals from 2011-2013.

Robinson broke into professional coaching as an assistant wide receivers coach for the Rams in 2020, then became an assistant quarterbacks coach in 2021 when Liam Coen left for Kentucky.

Robinson has never held an offensive coordinator title, but his time as a player, experience working with quarterbacks and receivers, and history as a pass game coordinator make him an intriguing candidate to fill New England’s vacancy.

Liam Coen – Kentucky offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach (2023-present)

Liam Coen has no ties to the Patriots, but he grew up and spent much of his early life in New England. He was UMass’ starting quarterback from 2004-2008, donning #12 in honor of his favorite athlete, Tom Brady. Coen also spent several years as a quarterbacks coach and/or passing game coordinator at Brown (2010, 2012-2013), Rhode Island (2011), UMass (2014-2015), and Maine (2016-2017).

In 2018, he made his NFL debut as an assistant wide receivers coach for the Rams from 2018-2019 before becoming an assistant quarterbacks coach in 2020. Coen spent a season away from LA to become offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for Kentucky, where he mentored 2nd-round pick Will Levis. After taking over for Kevin O’Connell as the Rams’ offensive coordinator in 2022, Coen returned to Kentucky in his previous role.

Between his distance from Belichickan influence, experience working with very different passers in Jared Goff and Matthew Stafford at the professional level, and connections to the McVay tree, Coen is another interesting possibility to take over for O’Brien.

Shane Waldron – Seahawks offensive coordinator (2021-present)

Shane Waldron has been the Seahawks’ offensive coordinator since 2021, with Seattle’s quarterbacks combining to rank 5th in passer rating, yards per attempt, and completion rate over that span.

Waldron is very familiar with the New England area, attending Phillips Acadamy in Andover and playing tight end and long snapper at Tufts from 1999-2002. His NFL career began with the Patriots, where he won Super Bowls as an operational intern in 2002 and an operations assistant in 2004.  He then followed former New England offensive coordinator Charlie Weis to Notre Dame, where he served as a graduate assistant from 2005-2007.

Waldron was rehired by the Patriots in 2008 as an offensive quality control coach and was promoted to tight ends coach in 2009. The New England loyalist left the NFL in 2010, but he stayed local, becoming a wide receivers coach for the UFL’s Hartford Colonials in 2010, serving as BB&N’s offensive coordinator in 2011, and spending four seasons at UMass as a tight ends coach (2012-2013) and offensive line coach (2013-2014).

Waldron returned to the NFL as an offensive quality control coach for Washington in 2016. The next season, former Washington offensive coordinator Sean McVay hired Waldron to be his tight ends coach with the Rams. Waldron was promoted to passing game coordinator in 2018, where he would be shut out in Super Bowl LIII by Bill Belichick’s Patriots. He held this role until 2020 and filled in as quarterbacks coach in 2019 when Zac Taylor became the Bengals head coach. Coveted for his ties to McVay’s offensive system, he became the Seahawks’ offensive coordinator in 2021 as a replacement for Brian Schottenheimer.

Waldron offers a wealth of experience at several different levels and positions, and he has a proven track record of success in the NFL. Those traits would serve him well as the Patriots rebuild their offense and bring it into the modern era.

Klint Kubiak – 49ers passing game coordinator (2023-present)

The son of Super Bowl-winning head coach Gary Kubiak, Klint Kubiak is another candidate with no Patriots connections. In his first season as the 49ers’ passing game coordinator, he mentored Brock Purdy to a league-high 113.0 passer rating.

Prior to 2023, Kubiak’s pro career had been split between the Vikings and Broncos. He started out as an offensive quality control coach for Minnesota from 2014-2014 before becoming Kansas’ wide receivers coach in 2015. He then served as an offensive assistant in Denver from 2016-2018, working under his father during his first season with the team.

Kubiak followed his father back to the Vikings in 2019, serving as Minnesota’s quarterbacks coach before being promoted to offensive coordinator in 2021.

In 2022, Kubiak became the Broncos’ passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach, as well as the offense’s play-caller in late November due to Denver’s offensive struggles.

While Kubiak doesn’t have ties to the McVay tree like most candidates on this list, he’s well-versed in the outside zone-heavy scheme often associated with that system.

SKILL POSITION COACH EXPERIENCE

Nick Caley – Rams tight ends coach (2023-present)

Nick Caley worked for the Patriots from 2015-2022, starting out as an offensive assistant, then being promoted to tight ends coach in 2017. After being passed over for the offensive coordinator job in favor of Matt Patricia, Caley took the same job for the Rams in 2023.

Mastering tight end in New England has been notoriously difficult, as players are heavily involved in both the run and pass games. Caley’s experience teaching the position and working in McVay’s offense make for an intriguing resume if he’d be open to a return.

Keenan McCardell – Vikings wide receivers coach (2021-present)

Keenan McCardell is one of the most underrated wide receivers in NFL history, and since his retirement, he’s become one of the league’s most respected receivers coaches. He’s developed some of the league’s most electric playmakers, including Justin Jefferson in Minnesota, a rookie Allen Robinson in Jacksonville, and Stefon Diggs and D.J. Moore at Maryland.

The Patriots interviewed McCardell for their offensive coordinator job last season, though he was likely in a situation similar to Adrian Klemm where the meeting was actually for a role as a position coach. He likely didn’t want to leave a good situation with the Vikings for a lateral move, but an offensive coordinator offer could be enough to shake him loose this time around.

Wes Welker – Dolphins wide receivers coach (2022-present)

Patriots legend Wes Welker has had no connections to New England since the team let him walk in 2013, likely due to ongoing tension with Bill Belichick. But with Jerod Mayo in charge and shaking up the coaching staff, there’s no better time for a reunion.

Welker’s learned from some of the game’s brightest minds since becoming a coach in 2017. He served as an offensive assistant and special teams assistant under Bill O’Brien from 2017-2018, was a wide receivers coach under Kyle Shanahan from 2019-2021, then followed Mike McDaniel to Miami and took the same position with the Dolphins in 2022.

Not only would Welker have familiarity with Kendrick Bourne if the receiver is re-signed, but his experience in Shanahanian systems paired with his Patriots roots are a perfect recipe to revolutionize New England’s offense.

Taylor Kyles

Taylor Kyles is the lead NFL Analyst for CLNS Media covering players, schemes, and tendencies through a New England Patriots-centric lens.

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