The will they/won’t they saga of the Las Vegas Raiders GM and coaching search has been a wild ride. In 24 hours it went from Patriots Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels and Patriots Director of Player Personnel Dave Ziegler as potential candidates headed to Vegas as head coach and GM, to them both being out of consideration and neither in the running, back to both of them being favored as a pair to take the head coach and GM jobs. The Raiders are known for having no idea what they are doing when it comes to hiring and there is no greater example of that than when they asked for an interview with GM candidate Dave Ziegler prior to even firing their current GM Mike Mayock. Mark Davis really knows how to run a franchise… Putting Vegas aside, if Josh McDaniels were to depart New England, for real this time, what impact would it have on the Patriots franchise?
The first question becomes who replaces McDaniels as offensive coordinator. While there isn’t a clear and obvious internal choice, the Patriots could consider promoting wide receivers/kick returners coach and Patriots legend Troy Brown to that role. He’s quite inexperienced in the coaching world, which is certainly a disadvantage, but not completely out of the blue for Belichick, especially if he trusts and respects Brown as a coach. It’s possible that Belichick could begin by taking over the play-calling reigns with Brown as an offensive assistant and eventually hand over the play-calling duties to him over time. It’s near impossible to say what Brown’s style as a play-caller would be other than continuing the Patriots current system, so if he were to be hired, there would be a lot of interested eyes watching his every move. While I wouldn’t say this is a strong possibility, I think it’s worth watching.
While the internal candidates aren’t obvious, there is a blatantly obvious external name on the table when replacing McDaniels. Bill Belichick could dip into his well, as he loves to do, and bring back Bill O’Brien, who was an assistant on the staff from 2007-2011 (offensive coordinator in 2011). He’s locally connected (grew up in Massachusetts, went to Brown University in RI) and has spent time both as a head coach in the NFL and college as well as an offensive coordinator in college since his departure from the Patriots. After being fired as the Houston Texans head coach in 2020 after 6ish seasons, he took over as the offensive coordinator under Belichick’s favorite college coach, Nick Saban. O’Brien just happens to be learning the Alabama offense and QB Mac Jones just happens to have had success in that same Alabama offense just a little over a year ago. To say the path seems clear and obvious is an understatement.
If O’Brien replaces McDaniels, what does that mean for the offense in general? There were certainly times last season that it felt like the play-calling wasn’t as effective as it had been in the past. A piece of that is the introduction of a rookie QB into a complicated offense and the need to simplify, at least in the first half of the season. Another piece of that equation was McDaniels trying to learn where Mac Jones was most comfortable and help ease him into the league without wrecking his confidence. McDaniels spent most of his career calling plays for a QB that he knew inside and out and that made him look great consistently. When that comfort was stripped away, some cracks emerged, but that frankly would happen to most any offensive coordinator/rookie QB combo across the league. Looking at O’Brien’s history as offensive coordinator, his style could help Jones and the Patriots move forward.
O’Brien’s lone season as the offensive coordinator with the Patriots in 2011 was one of, if not the most prolific seasons of Tom Brady‘s career. Removing this past season because of 1 extra game, 2011 was Brady’s highest yards thrown (5,235) and he was tied for the most passes completed (401) in a season. O’Brien was deemed an innovative and creative offensive mind, which helped propel him to the head coaching job at Penn State the next season. This past season, O’Brien led Alabama QB Bryce Young and the offense to a strong season, culminating in a loss in the College Championship game. The offense was the 6th most prolific in points per game, 4th in passing TDs per game, and 7th in total passing yards per game. It’s a bit hard to really judge given the dominant system he walked into, but O’Brien has some very recent experience in a high-level, pro-style system that happens to transition into the current Patriots system easily.
Ultimately, if O’Brien is the new offensive coordinator I don’t see a ton of change overall. I think O’Brien will perhaps be a bit more aggressive than McDaniels, but he’ll also have a 2nd year QB with more experience than this past season. For Jones’ sake, O’Brien would likely keep much of the same offense and just ramp up some of the pre-play motion and hopefully continue to push the creative boundaries of play-calling. O’Brien had a lot of success in 2011 with short-mid range passing game, utilizing the slot receivers and TEs in creative ways. That fits nicely with Jones’ play-style and skillset and doesn’t deviate much from the current design.
After many threats of an exit for McDaniels (seemingly every year), this year might be a good time for both parties to move on. McDaniels hasn’t exactly wowed the past few years and it’s about time he actually takes another head coaching job if he doesn’t see Belichick’s retirement on the horizon. One theory around why he took, then turned down the Colts job in 2018 was because there was some unwritten agreement that he was the heir-apparent when Belichick finally retires. Whether that’s true or not, any decision to walk away from the Patriots at this point makes me think that McDaniels believes Bill is hanging on for at least a few more years and his future path within the organization isn’t clear.
While nothing is locked in yet, this could finally be the year that Josh McDaniels finally leaves the Patriots franchise after his 2nd stint in New England and 6 super bowl championships. On the other hand, you never know what decision the Raiders will make. There is still a strong possibility that we are right back here next season having the same conversation about a potential McDaniels departure. Let the offseason hiring carousel continue to spin.