This offseason has been another of attrition for the coaching staff and front office of the New England Patriots. Here are some of our thoughts on what’s been happening, and what could happen:
Move: Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels leaves to become head coach of the Denver Broncos
Analysis: Obviously this is a big loss for the Patriots. They’re losing the playcaller for an offense that set records in 2007 and which was near the top of the NFL in 2008 despite losing an MVP quarterback in Tom Brady and inserting a QB who hadn’t started a game since high school. Very impressive.
Our site co-founder here, Scott Benson weighs in on the loss of McDaniels this way:
I think it’s silly to suggest that because Bill Belichick is in charge these departures will not have a recognizable impact on the 2009 Patriots. It seems inevitable.
McDaniels was clearly at the top of his game as an NFL coordinator. The incredible 2007 (most regular season points in history, most touchdowns in history, Brady’s 50 TD’s, Moss’s 23, both records) backed up by 2008’s patchwork success (Cassel’s development into an actual threat, supplemented by the team’s best rushing season in 23 years) says enough to me. You can’t argue that McDaniels produced at a high level throughout his tenure as Pats OC.
Ascribe that production to Tom Brady, or Bill Belichick, but I’m saying it’s also the work of an organized, prepared coach with full command of his resources. These things don’t happen by accident.
I still hear complaining about the Super Bowl. You know one thing I remember about that Super Bowl? An offense that had been humiliated all day going on a five minute, eighty yard drive to score the go-ahead touchdown with just under three minutes left. For all the grief they took, they crawled off the mat and scored a touchdown – for the lead – on their last real possession. Make ONEEFFINGPLAYONDEFENSE – which, of course, the Patriots can’t do – and you’re seeing the Tom Brady to Randy Moss touchdown highlight for the rest of your life.
How can we take this – a repeat of their ultimate fate the year before – and conclude that it was Josh McDaniels who lost the Super Bowl for the Patriots?
Here’s the thing that really gets me about losing McDaniels. There was something interesting about having a very young coach with a lot of experience at the shoulder of the veteran Bill Belichick. You’re lying if you don’t admit you’ve thought at least once of McDaniels becoming the eventual successor to Belichick, who would presumably assume a Parcells-like luxury box job at some undetermined point in the future. Who do they have now that offers the same promise?
That’s a good question…as far as replacing McDaniels, it’s been the Patriots way for the most part to promote from within when it comes to coordinators. Romeo Crennel left, Eric Mangini was promoted. Mangini left, Dean Pees was promoted. Charlie Weiss left, McDaniels moved up. If you recall though, the McDaniels move wasn’t immediate. The Patriots actually went a season without a named Offensive Coordinator. McDaniels could be seen calling the plays in, but he didn’t have the title. The second year after Weiss left, McDaniels got the title.
Given that history, we can’t see the team going outside the organization to replace McDaniels. So don’t plan on Mike Martz, Mike Shanahan or any other big names coming in. How about internally? The two names most often mentioned are tight ends coach Pete Mangurian and receivers coach Bill O’Brien. Mangurian served as offensive coordinator under Dan Reeves in Atlanta, while O’Brien was an OC for Duke and Georgia Tech prior to joining the Patriots staff. A longshot could be linebackers coach Matt Patricia, who actually started his Patriots coaching career as an offensive assistant.
Another possibility is that Bill Belichick simply takes on a larger role with the offense, essentially serving as the OC, while grooming one of the other coaches (O’Brien?) to take on the role in the future, much like he did with McDaniels. That might actually be the most likely scenario.
Move: Special Teams Coach Brad Seely moves onto to Cleveland to join Eric Mangini’s staff as Assistant Head Coach and Special Team coordinator.
Move: Patriots hire former Denver Special Teams coach Scott O’Brien (Though they haven’t officially announced this.)
Analysis – Here are some thoughts from Patriots Daily contributor Greg Doyle:
If Scott O’Brien is the new special teams coach, that is a good hire. I remember reading an article about him at the time the Pats played Carolina in the Super Bowl (I believe) and O’Brien was the Special Teams coach there. Belichick was saying how he didn’t know him from Adam when he interviewed him for the Cleveland Special Teams job back in ’91 but gave him an interview on a recommendation. So the guy comes in and immediately starts showing Belichick these charts and graphs and things he had done and makes this overwhelming presentation.
Belichick hired him in Cleveland to coach the Special Teams and said he ended up being one of the best coaches he ever worked with and they became friends. That was O’Brien’s first NFL job and Belichick said he went on to become one of the best Special Teams coaches in the league. I think Belichick liked Seely too and he did a good job, but after a couple bad plays this year maybe felt it was time to shake things up and try some different schemes, fresh ideas on special teams, etc. O’Brien is also thought of as a top Special Teams coach, so after all the defections the past few years from the coaching staff, front office, I feel like at least they are adding one long-time, well-respected NFL coach and that is good. At least there is a little positive addition rather than all the subtraction. Its a good thing plugging in young coaching assistants as they prove themselves, but I think if they have to go with too many there is too much of a lack of experience on the staff, so I am glad they at least added one veteran coach.
(The link has been removed from the DenverBroncos.com, but O’Brien’s biography is still on the site.)
As to why Seely and the Patriots decided to part ways…maybe it was just time? Seely was one of the few here who pre-dated Belichick, and perhaps he had his sights on bigger opportunities that he didn’t think he could get here. This season saw a few gaffes on Specials Teams, and it appeared from afar that Belichick and Seely might’ve had some disagreements on the sidelines. By getting the Assistant Head Coach title from the Browns, perhaps Seely gets a bigger paycheck and better opportunity to become a head coach someday…if that is what he wants.
Other Moves: It seems like Dom Capers was a one-and-done here in New England, and his departure opens up another spot on the coaching staff. I for one, would love to see Romeo Crennel come back here and have a spot on the staff. The special assistant/secondary position vacated by Capers would seem to be a nice fit for Crennel, should he even want to work next season. The Browns will be paying his salary for the next few years, so Crennel might just want to take some time off. He’s been quoted as saying that he’d only work in the “ideal” situation next season, hopefully he might feel that coming back to New England might constitute just that.
Having another veteran defensive mind on the staff would be a great asset, especially as the team looks to get younger on that side of the ball. There will need to be plenty of teaching and instruction to the younger players, and who better than RAC to get through to them on Belichick’s defense?
Defensive Assistant Josh Boyer is another possibility to fill the secondary coach role, having served in that role in college before joining the Patriots.
Scott Benson also weighs in on the loss of Scott Pioli to the Kansas City Chiefs:
I’m surprised, mainly because Pioli had convinced me that he would stay on the job at least until the day the Pats held the league title again. A message board friend suggested today that Pioli might have passed on job offers last year in the hope that the Pats would grab their fourth title in 2008, enabling him to go out on top (and most marketable). Probably seemed like a good bet at the time. And I thought I felt bad when Brady went down against Kansas City (hey, wait a minute…).
Anyway, Pioli is inarguably a major figure in the history of the team. No other ‘general manager’ in team history accomplished anything approaching his success. He was widely credited with responsibilities ranging from the draft to pro scouting to contract negotiations. Neither he, nor Belichick, ever did anything to discourage the media from portraying their success as a partnership.
At least with Pioli, it appears that they were grooming his successor, even if he is being thrust into the role earlier than first expected. Today’s piece by Mike Reiss on Nick Caserio paints him as exactly the type of smart, hard working guy you would need in that role, someone who has been in both the front office and on the coaching sidelines.
Summary: The Patriots have already sustained losses this offseason that are going to sting for a bit. Regardless of who the replacements are, there is at the very least going to be a “transistion” or “breaking in” period that is going to have to be endured. The flip side is that perhaps an injection of “new blood” is appropriate at this time, especially in the special teams area. In any event, we’ve got a lot to talk about and observe this offseason.