Barnwell is out of the paywall this week with an excellent piece on the Fall of the House of Belichick. The drafting is the biggest problem. but the failure to bring in outside voices is also critical:
Something was peculiar about the candidates Belichick interviewed to replace Patricia and Judge. Each of the offensive coordinator options were qualified in their own way, but Belichick spoke to O’Brien, Patriots tight ends coach Matt Caley, Vikings wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell, then-Cardinals wideouts coach Shawn Jefferson and Oregon run game coordinator Adrian Klemm, who would later join the Pats as their offensive line coach.
All of those coaches have something in common: They already knew Belichick. Caley was on staff, while O’Brien already had a stint as the team’s quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator from 2009 to 2011. McCardell played for Belichick in Cleveland, while Jefferson was on the Patriots while Belichick served as Bill Parcells’ defensive coordinator in 1996. Klemm, finally, was Belichick’s first draft pick after taking over the organization in 2000 and spent four years on the Pats’ offensive line.
There’s nothing wrong with bringing through your own coaches when you’re the best to ever do it, but as the Patriots falter now, especially on the offensive side of the ball, is it fair to wonder whether they need some semblance of new blood or a creative mind who hasn’t learned under Belichick? The outside zone-heavy offense Patricia and Judge tried to install last season was a decade behind the cutting edge. O’Brien ran a modern offense at Alabama last season, but owing in part to the personnel issues, New England doesn’t look modern schematically.
Belichick wasn’t always this way. Remember that he was the one who brought in Chip Kelly to talk with the Pats and explore his usage of tempo before Kelly joined the Eagles as their coach. Nick Saban, one of Belichick’s friends, has a steady habit of bringing in fired coaches as analysts to help rebuild their careers while adding fresh ideas and experienced voices to the Alabama staff.
Belichick probably won’t have a half-dozen former coaches joining the organization, and O’Brien isn’t the biggest problem in New England, but the Patriots don’t look anything like the best offenses we see around the NFL schematically. Would they have been better off hiring someone like current Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik to reimagine their offense? Should they let O’Brien mold it into something more like the Alabama attack Jones excelled in during his time there? Those should all be fair questions.
I don’t have those same concerns about the defense, because it has been the saving grace for the Pats over the past few seasons. Even with their drafting issues, they ranked third in EPA per play on defense in 2021 and second in 2022. They’re 17th this season, and that’s with losing their best pass-rusher (Judon) and their best cornerback (Gonzalez) for the season in Week 4.
It’s impossible to separate Belichick’s impact there versus that of Mayo and the other coaches, but I don’t believe the Patriots are behind the curve on the defensive side of the ball. If they fire Belichick or the coach otherwise chooses to retire, there’s a chance that whatever gains would be made by hiring an offensive coach might be countered by a Belichick-less defense taking a step backward.
I would still also agree that the best-case scenario for New England is that Belichick stays but uses the formula Pete Carroll has used to stay a top-level coach after age 70, namely 1)hire a McVay or Shanahan disciple and let him run the offense, and 2)hire a fresh personnel guy from another successful organization. If he’s not willing to do these things, it’s probably better for the Pats to move on and Belichick move on to a team with a quarterback that needs to build a defense (the Chargers being the most obvious destination, although I dunno if he would be willing to do LA.)