Greg Schiano’s abrupt resignation from the Patriots coaching staff shook up a shakeup, as the team was already set to reconfigure its defensive coaching responsibilities after several losses this offseason.
Three assistants on the defensive side left: Play-caller Brian Flores became head coach of the Dolphins, cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer followed Flores to Miami to become the pass-defense coordinator, and defensive line coach Brendan Daly took the same title in Kansas City. The addition of Schiano, who was expected to become defensive coordinator, was supposed to counteract some of that brain drain.
Without Schiano, here’s where the Patriots stand.
Former linebacker Jerod Mayo is joining as the linebackers coach, technically replacing Flores in that role. Mayo is highly regarded as a great football mind and a good culture fit in New England, but he’s new as a coach and doesn’t have the experience at multiple levels of the defense that Flores had by the time he was calling the defense.
A lack of experience at all levels of the defense was one reason Daly was passed over for the coordinator position. Daly’s wife is from Kansas City, and though it’s not impossible that the Patriots could try to lure him back with the promise of greater opportunity, it would be a tough sell given his connection with his new community and the backlash he could face around the league if he went back on his word to the Chiefs.
The front seven also isn’t the biggest question right now. Former Arkansas and Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema served as a consultant to the head coach last season, but spent most of his time working with defensive linemen. Without Daly, he could take on more responsibility.
New England also added Schiano disciple Bob Fraser to its staff and, assuming he doesn’t follow his mentor and leave, he will fill a defensive role. Fraser was a linebackers coach and assistant defensive coordinator under Schiano with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
DeMarcus Covington, a coaching assistant last season, spent a lot of time working with the linebackers, helping to free up Flores to work with the entire defense. Covington was recently at the Boston College pro day, working with linebackers and defensive linemen, and could be in line for a promotion.
The two big questions are who will call defensive plays and who will focus on the secondary. Steve Belichick is in place as safeties coach, where he’s been for three years, but Schiano’s strongest ties to the Patriots were in the secondary through Jason and Devin McCourty, Steve Belichick, and Duron Harmon, all of whom he worked with at Rutgers. With another experienced coach in Bielema focusing on defensive linemen, Schiano could have focused on the secondary.
It’s difficult to imagine a newcomer like Fraser immediately coaching the cornerbacks, but perhaps a coaching assistant such as Mike Pellegrino or Brian Belichick, who have worked with defensive players, could be in line for a promotion. The Patriots like to promote young coaches from within, so it’s easy to see this happening.
That still leaves the issue of who calls the plays, as well as who’s providing experience if both secondary coaches are relative youngsters. The most likely scenario seems to be that Bill Belichick himself takes on more responsibility.
Belichick’s bread and butter is with defensive linemen, special teams players, and cornerbacks; particularly when it comes to the corners, the Patriots have a need. Josh McDaniels has a lot of autonomy on offense, which makes it at least a possibility that Belichick could devote more time to the defense.
That’s a lot to ask of any head coach, especially one who has significant duties on the personnel side, but Belichick becoming the de facto defensive coordinator may be the Patriots’ best bet at this point.