The Tuscaloosa-to-Foxborough pipeline remains as strong as ever.
Bill O’Brien will return to the Patriots as their offensive coordinator, a league source confirmed Tuesday. O’Brien, who served in that same role the last two years at Alabama, began his NFL coaching career in New England in 2007 and served in various roles, including OC/quarterbacks coach in 2011, his final season with the organization.
O’Brien was first interviewed last Thursday via videoconference and, according to an NFL Media report, was at the Patriots facilities Monday for another meeting before the deal was finalized.
Coaching alongside longtime Bill Belichick confidant Nick Saban at Alabama, O’Brien formed a relationship with Mac Jones, though he technically never coached the Patriots QB, as Jones’s eligibility was up when O’Brien took the job.
Jones, who was prepping for the NFL Draft, helped O’Brien gain a foundation in the Tide offense. Now that foundation will expand with O’Brien tutoring Jones.
At Alabama, O’Brien helped guide Bryce Young to a Heisman Trophy and the Crimson Tide to an appearance in the national championship game in his first season. This past season, the Tide offense averaged 41.4 points per game.
In New England, O’Brien takes on a role that was split between offensive assistants Matt Patricia, who sent in plays on game day, and Joe Judge, who served as the quarterbacks coach. It’s unclear what roles Patricia and Judge will serve going forward.
The Patriots offense regressed in several key areas in Jones’s second year under center. Among the problems: red-zone efficiency (from 11th to 32nd); third-down efficiency (10th to 27th); first downs (ninth to 28th); touchdowns (48 to 31); and sacks allowed (28 to 41).
The hiring of O’Brien, 53, ends a two-week search that also included interviews with current Patriots tight ends coach Nick Caley, Vikings wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell, Cardinals associate head coach/receivers coach Shawn Jefferson, and Oregon associate head coach Adrian Klemm.
Klemm, who was the first player chosen in Belichick’s initial draft in New England as head coach, formerly was a Steelers offensive line coach and could make an easy transition to that spot in New England should Patricia, who was coached the offensive line this season, take on different responsibilities.
A St. John’s Prep and Brown alum, O’Brien began his coaching career at Brown in 1993 (tight ends and linebackers) and made stops at Georgia Tech, Maryland, and Duke before his NFL debut with the Patriots in 2007. Though O’Brien played linebacker and defensive end at Brown, he has coached almost exclusively on the offensive side of the ball.
In addition to Jones, O’Brien does have a number of young building blocks in place.
Rhamondre Stevenson has emerged as one of the top three-down backs in the league, collecting more than 1,400 yards from scrimmage in 2022. Receiver Tyquan Thornton showed flashes of his electric speed and should move into a starting role in his second season. Cole Strange, the team’s first-round pick this past season, started every game at left guard.
O’Brien left the Patriots to take the head coaching position at Penn State, where he succeeded Joe Paterno and helped guide the Nittany Lions through the sanctions that marked the end of Paterno’s tenure.
In 2014, O’Brien began a six-plus-season run with the Texans, leading them to four AFC South titles. O’Brien won at least nine games in five of his seasons in Houston, though he was fired following an 0-4 start in 2020. He went 52-48 overall with the Texans.
O’Brien is the latest Patriots coaching alum to return to the fold, following Josh McDaniels and Patricia, both of whom left for head coaching positions in the NFL before coming back.
Pending changes, the rest of the Patriots offensive staff includes Caley, Judge, Patricia, Troy Brown (receivers/returners), Ross Douglas (receivers/NFL coaching fellowship), Vinnie Sunseri (running backs), Billy Yates (assistant offensive line), and Tyler Hughes and Evan Rothstein (offensive assistants).