Everyone who watched the New England Patriots this past season realized that Bill Belichick bit off more than he could chew. Having two former failed coaches tag teaming the offensive gameplan and play calling proved to be the wrong decision for the Patriots, shockingly enough. With Patriots fans begging for an actual offensive coordinator this offseason, news broke this morning of Bill O’Brien’s return to Foxboro.
O’Brien Returns for Second Stint as Patriots Offensive Coordinator
O’Brien, who served as the Alabama Crimson Tide’s OC for the past two seasons, held this position with the Patriots back in 2011. During O’Brien’s tenure with New England from 2007-2011, he was promoted each season from Offensive assistant to wide receiver coach and then to quarterbacks coach before he assumed the OC title in 2011.
O’Brien’s hire should not come as a shock to Patriots fans for one reason only, this is what Bill Belichick does. Even though the Patriots conducted interviews with Keenan McCardell, Adrian Klemm, and Shawn Jefferson, nobody expected them to be strongly considered for the position. Bill Belichick has had control of the Patriots since 2000 and since then all of the coordinators, on both sides of the ball, were produced homegrown talent under the Belichick coaching tree.
Belichick’s Pattern with Offensive Coordinators
Charlie Weiss assumed the position in 2000 after four seasons as a position coach in New England in the mid-1990s. Even though he did not coach under Belichick in New England he was on the staff with Belichick for the Giants.
Josh McDaniels would be the successor to Weiss, becoming the play caller immediately following Weiss’ departure from New England, although he would not assume the title until 2006. When McDaniels left for Denver, O’Brien would then become the play caller gaining the title of offensive coordinator in his second season calling play in 2010. Then after O’Brien left for Penn State, McDaniels would return for his second stint with the team.
The issue here is that Belichick has a group of people who he trusts to get things done for him. Although McDaniels was arguably the best offensive coordinator in football when he returned, he decided to hire someone he had a prior relationship with as opposed to an outside hire.
Was Bill O’Brien the Best Candidate or Just the Safest Option
The same situation comes true today for Patriots fans. Although this is a great improvement for the Patriots offense as now a legitimate offensive-minded coach is calling plays many Patriots fans believe that this is not the best decision for the team but was the best decision for Bill Belichick. With so many gifted offensive coaches in the league, Belichick decided to go with the simple and safe option but with the NFL moving towards player empowerment and more and more personable coaches it is a head-scratching move for sure, as O’Brien has been known to be a brash personality as a coach.
I would like to have seen a true outside hire for the Patriots which is why I was an advocate for Keenan McCardell. Although he has never been an offensive coordinator, he was the wide receiver coach and passing game coordinator for the Vikings this past season. In his first season in the role, he helped coach and gameplan the fourth-best passing offense in the NFL. McCardell was also a wide receiver who won two Super Bowls during his 16-year NFL career.
Although not many fans first choice, the Patriots now have an offensive coach who hopefully can put the pieces back together after this fractured season. Mac Jones will now have his third different offensive play-caller in his short career. The Patriots need O’Brien to resurrect Jones after an up-and-down season with more lows than highs, especially with Jones’ rookie contract expiring in two years.