In hiring Bill O’Brien as their offensive coordinator, the Patriots gave themselves a chance to be explosive in 2023.
On the field? Maybe. O’Brien’s history as an offensive coordinator is mixed, and we don’t know what personnel he will have to work with.
The real potential for fireworks will be on the sideline. Or on the practice field. Or in the meeting room.
Pairing O’Brien with Mac Jones is a volcano just begging to erupt.
O’Brien brings pedigree and respectability back to the Patriots offense. He has been an offensive coordinator and head coach in the NFL and at the highest levels of college football.
O’Brien also carries a notoriously red-hot temper and fiery personality. Tom Brady and other Patriots quarterbacks nicknamed him “Teapot” and kept an actual teapot in the quarterback room, taping accounts of O’Brien’s blowups to the side of the pot as if it were the Stanley Cup.
Now O’Brien will coach Jones, who this past season was seen screaming at his coaches and making “little pissy faces,” as Julian Edelman put it. It is the same Jones who was nicknamed “McEnroe” by Alabama coach Nick Saban for his emotional outbursts on the field.
So, yeah, get your popcorn ready. This has the potential to be the most volatile coach/quarterback relationship in the NFL.
The Patriots will need O’Brien and Jones to check their emotions, because it can’t be overstated how important the 2023 season is for everyone involved.
For Jones, it’s his chance to prove that his disappointing 2022 season was an anomaly, the result of bad coaching from Matt Patricia and Joe Judge.
For O’Brien, it’s his chance to prove that he still has the chops to be a difference-maker and a head coach.
For Bill Belichick, it’s his chance to prove that he can still build an elite offense, and he wasn’t just propped up by Brady and Josh McDaniels all those years.
For all of that to happen, O’Brien and Jones need to play nice. Find a happy place. Serenity now.
O’Brien is 53, and perhaps he has mellowed with age. He was only 42 when he got into a legendary sideline spat with Brady in a 2011 game against Washington.
“It’s just two competitive guys that want the best for the team,” O’Brien said at the time.
O’Brien’s fiery personality was on display during his tenure as Texans head coach (2014-20). He won power struggles with two general managers who got fired, Rick Smith and Brian Gaine. O’Brien kept a swear jar after getting scolded by his mother for cursing too much on “Hard Knocks,” dropping 37 F-bombs in the first three episodes, per one media count.
O’Brien had to apologize after the 2019 season when video emerged of him cursing out a heckler during halftime of a home loss to the Broncos. He had a strained if nonexistent relationship with star receiver DeAndre Hopkins and got into a spat with J.J. Watt at practice a week before getting fired in the 2020 season.
In Jones, O’Brien has a bright pupil who is a hard worker, a quick learner, and respected by most Patriots players. Jones also has a short fuse. The lasting images of Jones’s disappointing 2022 season are of him screaming on the sideline to throw more deep balls because “the quick game sucks”; of him dismissively waving off Patricia while heading into the huddle against the Cardinals; of him throwing a tantrum against the Raiders as the Patriots struggled to get the right plays called down near the goal line.
“I think it’s a big part of the game, playing with passion and emotion,” Jones said during the season. “That’s who I am and that’s how I’ve always been.”
Jones’s antics drew the ire of former Patriots Edelman and Vince Wilfork.
“I’m tired of it,” Wilfork said. “You’re the leader of this team. You’re a quarterback, so you can’t be frustrated every single week and every single play. I don’t care if you’re getting the play call in late, or whatever it may be. At the end of the day, you have to show some poise because you operate the ship.”
O’Brien certainly brings an air of competence back to the Patriots offense, which in 2022 was led by two inexperienced offensive coaches in Patricia and Judge. O’Brien spent three seasons coordinating Brady and the Patriots, six-plus seasons running the Texans (with four playoff appearances), and two seasons calling plays at Alabama.
His latest college experience should serve him well in New England. O’Brien is up to date on the latest schematic trends in college football and can bring fresh ideas to the NFL. He should have great insight come draft time on players from Alabama and the rest of the Southeastern Conference. He is familiar with coaching the 21- and 22-year-olds who are entering the NFL this year. O’Brien called plays from the press box at Alabama, which is a great way to avoid sideline spats.
O’Brien didn’t coach Jones in college, but their paths crossed for a few months after O’Brien was hired in January 2021 and worked with Jones to help him prepare for the NFL Draft. Jones reportedly is “very” excited to work with O’Brien after a year under Patricia and Judge.
The question, though, is whether they can keep their emotions in check and prevent the volcano from erupting.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.