A big turnover is not what Patriots coach Bill Belichick is looking for from his players on the field or from his carefully curated coaching staff off it. But there is no such thing as turnover-free football in the NFL, and when you enjoy as much success as the Patriots have, the poaching of your coaches by other teams desperate to snag a piece of that excellence is inevitable.
While Belichick has to construct a roster for the 2019 season, he also has to reconstruct his coaching staff after an unprecedented wave of departures, including de facto defensive coordinator Brian Flores and character coach Jack Easterby. This would be daunting for most teams, but the Patriots possess two significant advantages: Belichick’s nonpareil X’s-and-O’s acumen and two decades of cultural continuity.
The coaches surrounding Belichick in Foxborough may change, but the culture doesn’t.
Next season will be Belichick’s 20th as Patriots head coach. Two decades with the same coach in professional sports is like two centuries of stability in the real world.
The hardest part for any head coach is establishing the workplace environment and ethos he wants. Belichick has built one that is self-sustaining, with the cachet of 18 straight winning seasons and six Super Bowl titles behind it. Any assistant coach who works for Belichick will be spreading the dour don’s gospel. There is one voice and one message in Fort Foxborough: Belichick’s.
That’s not to say that replacing capable and valuable assistant coaches is easy, but it’s easier for New England because those coaches are being plugged into a way of work life. That aligns with a business philosophy that Patriots owner Robert Kraft and team president Jonathan Kraft exercise across the family portfolio: You pay one outstanding manager to oversee a department, and that person is capable of making it work regardless of changes that may occur underneath them.
Belichick is renowned for boiling down complicated concepts to the simplest terms for success for his players. He does the same for nascent coaches or experienced ones who are new to the Patriot Way.
The challenge for Belichick disciples like Flores who leave the New England nest to become head coaches is that they have to build and convince players to embrace a culture that echoes the Patriots’ from scratch, without the benefit of experiencing the winning that goes along with the sacrifice and ego subjugation.
As Flores’s predecessor as defensive play-caller, Matt Patricia, learned last season as the rookie head coach of the Detroit Lions, that’s not as easy as it looks. Patricia faced resistance from restive veteran players and a skeptical Detroit media corps during a trying 6-10 campaign.
Another former Belichick assistant, Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien, said cultivating the desired culture takes time.
“If you have a culture that you believe in, the culture is about the behavior of the people within the culture, and changing those behaviors is difficult relative to what you think it takes to win,” said O’Brien, arguably the most successful NFL head coach spawned by Belichick. “It’s not one year. It’s not two years. I think it takes four or five years to get it.”
The absence of the culture that Belichick has built — and an all-time great quarterback as the totem for it — helps to explain why his former assistants haven’t fared well. The presence of that culture explains why coaching turnover is more manageable at Patriot Place than other places.
Still, this will be a coaching staff stress test for the backdrop that Belichick has built.
The Patriots must replace the brilliant Flores, wide receivers coach Chad O’Shea, cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer, assistant quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski, defensive line coach Brendan Daly, and Easterby — a man instrumental in upholding Belichick’s culture.
O’Shea, Boyer, and Schuplinski all fled to South Florida with Flores. Daly took a job with the Kansas City Chiefs, putting him closer to his wife’s family.
The Patriots haven’t formally announced any replacements, but you don’t exactly get the sense that Belichick is sifting through résumés on ZipRecruiter to fill out his staff. He always has a plan.
Certified FOB (Friend of Belichick) Greg Schiano reportedly is in line to be the new defensive coordinator. The former Rutgers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach was spotted at the NFL Scouting Combine with the Patriots contingent. ESPN reported that the Patriots were hiring former New York Jets assistant quarterbacks coach Mick Lombardi, son of Belichick confidant and one-time Patriots employee Michael Lombardi. Mick had a previous stint as a Patriots coaching assistant and scouting assistant.
A Youngstown, Ohio, newspaper reported the team had hired Youngstown State offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo as assistant offensive line coach.
Former Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema and coaching assistant DeMarcus Covington both had roles with the defense last season, and could be in line for promotions to position-coach roles.
Belichick has a long history of developing and grooming coaches within his system. They’re already indoctrinated into his culture. It’s a philosophy that O’Brien has adopted in Houston.
“I think that’s the philosophy that we’ve had,” O’Brien said. “We have a strong belief in that. That you have young coaches on your staff that you’ve trained. That we can promote from within. I think any time we can do that, I think that’s something that we’ll always try to do.”
But even that Patriots pipeline suffered a loss, as coaching assistant Atif Austin took a job at Northern Illinois.
If history is a guide, there could be a hiccup or two as everyone new or in a new position gets acclimated. Ten years ago, the Patriots lost offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, special teams coach Brad Seely, tight ends coach Pete Mangurian, and special assistant/secondary coach Dom Capers. There were growing pains in 2009 with some of the new coaches, Boyer and Shane Waldron, who lasted a season, among them.
In 2009, the Patriots went 10-6 and were bounced in the wild card round of the playoffs. But there were extenuating circumstances beyond coaching turnover. Tom Brady was returning from a torn ACL. Belichick dealt with a disaffected locker room, especially after a failed fourth-and-2 gambit in Indianapolis. It remains the one season during this run in which the Patriots culture collapsed.
This time, Belichick still has McDaniels as his offensive coordinator. He has Brady as a de facto player/coach, upholding the standard and instilling institutional knowledge. He has his own beautiful mind and 44 seasons of NFL experience.
In the end, Belichick’s brain power and the culture that has taken root on Route 1 are more than capable of compensating for coaching turnover.