HomeSportsHelp wanted: Eight candidates for Patriots offensive coordinator role

    Help wanted: Eight candidates for Patriots offensive coordinator role

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    The New England Patriots offense was the reason the team didn’t make the postseason. It’s that simple. And Bill Belichick seemed to acknowledge that when he put out a press release saying New England would search for a new offensive coordinator this offseason. Interviews start this week.

    The Patriots had one of the best defenses in the NFL — a unit so good that it finished the year with a franchise-record seven touchdowns. Yet New England still finished 17th in the league in scoring (21.4 PPG).

    Mac Jones said this year that he wanted to be “coached harder.” He spent multiple games demonstrating his frustration with the coaching staff. The match between Jones and offensive playcaller Matt Patricia did not seem meant to be. The Patriots might move on from Jones this offseason — though that might be a tad premature. 

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    Let’s consider their options for an offensive coordinator in 2023.

    Bill O’Brien, Alabama OC 

    O’Brien served as the Patriots’ offensive coordinator in 2011, when New England ranked third in the NFL in points per game and second in total yardage. Tom Brady finished with the second-most passing yards on the season. It was a successful season, even if the Patriots lost in the Super Bowl to the New York Giants. (Again.)

    O’Brien, former head coach for Penn State and the Houston Texans, spent this season as the offensive coordinator for Nick Saban at Alabama, and he might use that gig to springboard him back to the NFL. The Patriots and O’Brien reportedly have mutual interest.

    There’s so much to like about this reunion, given O’Brien’s experience as an offensive playcaller and play-designer. He spent five years as a New England assistant, has run the Patriots offense and has designed one of his own. This match makes too much sense.

    Kliff Kingsbury, former Cardinals head coach

    Arizona fired him after the team flopped to a 4-13 record this season. It became clear that Kingsbury wasn’t ready to run an entire NFL team. But an offense? There’s no doubt that he knows what he’s doing. He may have had an off year in 2022, but his offense has gotten QB Kyler Murray off to a great start on his career (even if there are conflicting reports about how much Murray was willing to do the work).

    Kingsbury was a backup QB for the Patriots in 2003, and while he recently booked a one-way ticket to Thailand, I could imagine New England gauging his interest. 

    Zac Robinson, Rams QBs coach 

    Earlier this year, the Patriots tried to implement the Kyle Shanahan outside-zone blocking scheme to bring a new element to their offense. And it failed. Miserably. It was a disaster in training camp — so much so that the team barely used it in the preseason. By the regular season, they abandoned the idea altogether.

    But if New England wanted to give it another try, they could get a guy like Robinson, who played quarterback for the Patriots in 2010 and could actually teach that offense. Because with Patricia and Joe Judge teaching the offense this season, New England seemed out of its depth. 

    If Robinson wants to run his own offense — and get out from under Sean McVay’s wing — he could come to New England and build it from the ground up. That might be a compelling offer for Robinson. And if it’s not, the Patriots could pursue another hungry young coach from the Shanahan or McVay systems in San Francisco and Miami.

    Adam Gase, former Jets head coach

    The Patriots reportedly might show interest in Gase, who was good friends with former longtime Patriots OC Josh McDaniels. And while there are plenty of overlaps between the coaching chains, Gase worries me for one simple reason: He has been out of the NFL since 2020.

    Maybe he was a great coordinator in 2015, but since then? He has nothing to show for himself.

    Chad O’Shea, Browns WRs coach 

    O’Shea is another connection through Belichick’s web. He was the Patriots receivers coach for a decade from 2009 to 2018.

    He currently works for the Browns as the team’s receivers coach and passing-game coordinator. While Cleveland wasn’t great this year, the offense made the most out of a complicated situation with Jacoby Brissett and then Deshaun Watson at quarterback. 

    O’Shea was a solid offensive coordinator for the Dolphins in 2019 before they surprisingly fired him after one year. He deserves another shot — and New England might just give it to him.

    Matt Patricia, Patriots offensive playcaller 

    If we’re considering all the options, then we must consider Belichick’s stubbornness. Everyone outside Gillette Stadium thinks Patricia needs to be replaced. And New England is interviewing candidates. But might it be possible that Belichick will allow Patricia to be one of those candidates? Patricia could sell Belichick on the evolution of the offense. This was, after all, Patricia’s first year. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

    It would be certifiable madness to let Patricia cook for another year. But it was madness to put Patricia, a defensive-minded coach, in charge of an offense in the first place.

    Joe Judge, Patriots QBs coach 

    Judge ran New England’s quarterback room this season, and if Belichick wants to promote someone in-house, Judge makes a Belichickian form of sense. He has earned his stripes in the Patriots’ coaching ranks, even if his stint as Giants head coach was a mess. 

    The problem for Judge is his history with quarterbacks (and receivers). Judge nearly tanked Daniel Jones‘ career in New York. Judge hasn’t done much better for Mac Jones in New England. And Judge didn’t have much success as the receivers coach in 2019 in New England. So while he was one hell of a special teams coordinator, Judge doesn’t have much in the way of merits on the offensive side of the ball.

    Nick Caley, Patriots TEs coach

    While it’s fun to consider out-of-house candidates, Belichick loves to promote from within. So here’s the last internal candidate. And Caley might just be the most likely internal candidate to get the gig. 

    While Patricia and Judge competed for the playcalling role during training camp, Caley stood in the background. And that was strange, because he was the only coach whom Belichick prevented from leaving for the Las Vegas Raiders with McDaniels. Belichick’s decision to block Caley’s departure made it seem like the Patriots would promote him. If a promotion took place, we didn’t see much evidence of one. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. 

    And if Caley did well with any new duties he got this year, then maybe Belichick would consider promoting him into the OC role for 2023.

    Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.

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