Super Bowl LII will mark the end of an era for the Patriots.
Tom Brady still has plenty of football left in him, and Bill Belichick probably isn’t going anywhere. But Belichick’s staff should see a major shakeup in the next few weeks.
Both of Belichick’s longtime coordinators are about to move on. Josh McDaniels had his second interview for the Colts’ head coaching job on Friday, a meeting that should end any doubt that McDaniels will be taking the job. And Matt Patricia will be announced as the Detroit Lions’ head coach shortly after the Super Bowl.
Belichick hasn’t had to fill either of his coordinator positions since 2012, enjoying rare stability over the six seasons.
Who will he select as his next coordinators? These are important hires, as the coaches who will guide the Patriots into the final years with Brady and help the team transition to the future.
And if history is any guide, Belichick will promote those coaches from within — if he hires anyone at all.
All of Belichick’s coordinators during his 18-year tenure in New England either worked with him at a previous stop or worked their way up inside the Patriots. Some shot up through the system more quickly than others, but the Patriots almost never hire coordinators from the outside. We say “almost,” because in 2008 Dom Capers was hired as a secondary coach and special assistant. He wasn’t a coordinator, but he was a de facto assistant coach, brought in for one year in case Belichick got suspended for Spygate.
On the offensive side, Belichick’s first coordinator was Charlie Weis, who worked with Belichick in the 1990s with the Patriots and Jets. Weis held the job for five seasons before leaving in 2005. McDaniels, who joined the Patriots in 2001 as an offensive assistant, served as offensive coordinator from 2006-08. Bill O’Brien, hired as a special assistant in 2007 after 15 years as a college coach, served as offensive coordinator in 2011. O’Brien was an outside hire at first, but he was indoctrinated in the Belichick Way for a few years before earning his title.
McDaniels then reclaimed his old job in 2012 when O’Brien left for Penn State.
But Belichick also left his offensive coordinator position vacant for three seasons. In 2005 after Weis left, McDaniels ran the offense, but only had the title of quarterbacks coach. In 2008 and ’09, after McDaniels left, O’Brien ran the offense, but again without the title. Belichick left the impression that they had to earn the promotion. So there’s a decent chance that the Patriots won’t officially name new coordinators.
But he needs someone to run the offense. Who on the current Patriots staff could replace McDaniels? There are really only two options, and Belichick could give both more responsibility. McDaniels wears two hats, as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, and replacing him with just one coach won’t be easy.
Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia isn’t a realistic option. At his age (Scarnecchia will turn 70 on Feb. 14), he’s more likely to retire this offseason than assume a coordinator job. Same with longtime running backs coach Ivan Fears, who is 63. And tight ends coach Nick Caley is light on seniority, just finishing his first season on the staff.
That leaves only two offensive coaches. The first is assistant quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski. He has been with the Patriots for five seasons, in his current role for two. He worked heavily with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett, and he earned high praise inside the organization for getting Brissett ready to start two games last season. Schuplinski is also part of that John Carroll pipeline, playing college football with Nick Caserio, McDaniels, and director of pro personnel Dave Ziegler.
The other is Chad O’Shea, who is the most realistic internal choice for offensive coordinator. O’Shea has been the receivers coach since 2009, and before that was a special teams coach and a college quarterback at Houston, so he knows all aspects of the game. In addition to coaching receivers, O’Shea is the Patriots’ red zone offense coordinator, drawing up those areas of the game plan each week.
“Chad’s got an awesome understanding of the offense, and I would just say football as a whole,” said receiver Chris Hogan. “He’s got a great grasp of how things need to be done, how to put guys in different positions. Yeah, I could definitely, absolutely see Chad being a coordinator one day.”
Defensively, Belichick similarly promotes from within. In 2000, with a staff that included Rob Ryan, Eric Mangini, and Brian Daboll, Belichick didn’t name a defensive coordinator. Then from 2001-04, the coordinator was old friend Romeo Crennel, who had worked with Belichick for a decade with the Giants.
In 2005, Mangini was promoted to defensive coordinator, after spending a decade-plus working his way up the Belichick ladder with the Browns, Jets, and Patriots. From 2006-09, Dean Pees took over from Mangini as defensive coordinator. Technically, Pees was groomed from within, spending two seasons as the Patriots’ linebackers coach. But he also spent 25 years at the college level before joining the Patriots.
In 2010-11, Belichick didn’t name a defensive coordinator. In 2012, Patricia finally earned the promotion, after eight years in the organization.
And in 2018, Patricia has an obvious heir — linebackers coach Brian Flores, who has been with the organization for 14 years. Flores has worked in the scouting department, as safeties coach, and as linebackers coach. Like O’Shea, he’s also the red zone coordinator.
Flores is a coach and mentor for players across the defense, not just the linebackers. And he even received an interview from the Cardinals this month for their head coaching job, a sign of how quickly his profile is rising inside the NFL.
“They made no mistake by interviewing him. They definitely knew, he’s up there,” Patriots linebacker Marquis Flowers said of the Cardinals. “Learned a ton from Coach this year, in becoming a better player, learning the game, studying film, different ways I can use some of my athleticism more, and then attacking my weaknesses. Very smart coach. I know he’s respected from every level [of the defense].”