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Nick Caserio and the Patriots are Blurring the Coaching and Front Office Divide

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There's a traditional structure in the NFL, and sometimes it takes an innovative person to break through to establish a new normal.

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In 1997, Bill Parcells left the Patriots in bad blood. He had renegotiated to have an option to cut his contract short prior to the Super Bowl season, expressing reasonable concerns about his health after two heart surgeries, but used that change as leverage to move to the Jets. In the week leading up to the Super Bowl, culminating with Robert Kraft sending a complaint to the commissioner two days before the big game, it was clear that Parcells was a distraction and he wanted to leave.

The issue was about control. Parcells and Kraft developed a distrust in one another that started in 1995 when Kraft placed Bobby Grier, a long time Patriots coach and scout, in charge of personnel. The animosity caught fire in the final weeks of the 1995 season, as New England limped to a 6-10 record, which led to the subsequent contract changes.

A couple months after Parcells' renegotiation, Kraft overruled the head coach in the draft process to select receiver Terry Glenn with the seventh overall pick. Parcells wanted defensive ends Cedric Jones, Duane Clemons, or Tony Brackens, with the latter two going on to have successful careers.

In August, Kraft put Parcells on blast for referring to Glenn as "she" while the wide receiver was recovering from a hamstring injury.

"It's just like there was a player here last year that gave the finger to the crowd," Kraft stated, as a veiled threat regarding Parcell's comments. "He's not here anymore."

The Patriots also selected Nebraska's linebacker Christian Peter in the 5th round of the same draft, and this was Parcell's choice. Reports of Peter assaulting women surfaced soon after the draft, which led to the immediate release by New England, with pressure from the owners. Parcells claimed that Kraft knew of these stories during the draft process, and that this sequence ruined his relationship with Nebraska's head coach Tom Osborne.

Parcells felt that Kraft was out to embarrass him, and Kraft believed Parcells was out to cause problems in the media. It was an arranged marriage that wasn't going to work out.

When Parcells left for the Jets, he shared the now infamous words, "If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries." He wanted autonomy and felt that Kraft was too in control. When Robert Kraft acquired Bill Belichick, there was a clear growth in his understanding and ability as a team owner. The Parcells debacle changed the Patriots franchise for the better.

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Nick Caserio has been a part of six Super Bowls with the Patriots, starting his tenure back in 2001. He moved from personnel assistant in the front office, to coaching assistant on the staff, to area scout and Director of Pro Personnel, and then back to the sidelines as a wide receiver coach in 2007. Since 2008, he's been the Director of Player Personnel, and de facto general manager. This past December, he signed a contract extension through 2020.

The most important aspect of Bill Belichick's tenure is the seamless relationship between the owner, the front office, the coaching staff, and the players. Kraft granted Belichick the total control he never gave Parcells, and in return Belichick gladly offered to never be a problem with the media. Caserio is a perfect embodiment of the amoebic franchise, gracefully moving between coaching staff and front office on an annual basis. He has become the perfect Patriot.

Over the past few seasons, Caserio has seen more and more control over daily operations as Belichick has correctly assigned trust in his lieutenant. Unlike Parcells, Belichick has found a way to delegate work and has surrounded himself with persons that can do their job. It's a lot easier to paint a big picture when you trust those wielding the brush.

Caserio, Belichick, and the Patriots trademarked the phrase Do Your Job in November 2013, and the leadership of the franchise has done a tremendous job of distributing mantras throughout the building. Rules that apply to players also apply to coaches, and also apply to scouts and the front office.

"The evaluation process of what we’re doing, it’s not yearly; it’s daily," Caserio touched upon in his pre-draft press conference. "That mentality sort of transcends every aspect of the organization, and it’s no different than what we try to do from our perspective. The idea is to try to make continual improvement and try not to repeat things that continually pop up."

Don't be a repeat offender. There is always something to improve. One day at a time. Do everything you can to help the team.

Caserio rose to the top of the organization because he gained Belichick's trust by living these ideas each and every day.

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The relationship between coach and front office is symbiotic for the Patriots, as both work together to create a greater whole. Belichick makes sure the scouting team knows exactly what the coaches are looking for in a player, while the coaching staff needs to be aware of how the scouting process works. They are all his sous chefs in this kitchen.

Caserio has crossed the bridge multiple times and it's obvious that his knowledge as a coach has made him more successful as a general manager.

"Whatever I can do from my perspective to help as part of the evaluation process, I’m going to do," Caserio said in a press conference. "All of us – Bill, myself, coaches – when you go to a workout or go to a pro day, none of us are above any of that. If I’ve got to throw some balls during a drill, then I’ll throw some balls. Whatever needs to be done during the course of a workout, I’m going to be willing to do it. Look, it’s a good exercise for me and it kind of keeps me in decent shape. It’s definitely an enjoyable part of the process. I love doing it, love being a part of it, but whatever I can do to help the team, then that’s what I’m going to do."

He knows how players work, how they learn the playbook, and how they practice. It's fairly common for coaching staffs to help with the pre-draft scouting, but there's a key difference in seeing the prettiest vegetable, and knowing how and why it will help make the best possible dish.

The Patriots have made interesting strides by retaining former longtime coaches in scouting capacities. Former long time offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia draws notice when he attends Pro Days, and for good reason. While he didn't coach this past season, he was responsible for the selection of both starting center Bryan Stork and swing tackle Cameron Fleming.

"Dante has a lot of experience in our system," Caserio explained when asked about how Scarnecchia became involved in the scouting process. "He’s been a great resource for us. So, it’s something that we decided that might be helpful to us in the entire process. Dante has a lot of experience in our system, and he has a lot of insight, so I’d say it’s kind of worked out...We can’t cover everybody, so we’re trying to take our resources and allocate those resources the best we can to try to get as much information as possible on a player however we can do it."

In addition to Scarnecchia, former special teams coach Scott O'Brien retired after winning the Super Bowl, but has elected to remain a part of the franchise and to stay on in various other capacities. O'Brien attended the NFL Combine and is assuming an advisory role for the team. It wouldn't be surprising to see 60-year-old running backs coach Ivan Fears, who attended the LSU Pro Day, take on a similar role in the next couple of seasons.

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While Bill Belichick remains the brains of the organization, it's clear that Nick Caserio has developed into the pulse. His responsibilities have grown to making trades, signing contracts, and just the overall management of the team. Caserio shouldn't be considered the Nate Solder to Belichick's Matt Light, but instead should be the proof that Belichick also lives by the team's code.

Belichick is interested in improving each and every day, and by allowing Caserio greater control over the franchise's operations, Belichick has shown growth at a late stage in his career. He has done such a good job in developing talent on the field, in the coaching staff, and in the scouting ranks. He's found a rock in Caserio, who has decided to stay with the franchise long term, so that Belichick is able to take a step back with the front office role and focus more on the coaches and players.

Kraft and Belichick were heavily involved during the fallout with Parcells and it's clear that they've worked to avoid a similar event from ever happening. Without Parcells, Belichick is never a Patriot in 1996. Without Parcells, Belichick is never a part of the Jets. Without Parcells, Belichick doesn't feel obliged to head back to the Patriots in 2000. Without Parcells, Belichick and Kraft don't have such a great relationship with open dialogue.

Without all of the incidents with Parcells, the current day Patriots don't exist. Caserio was able to develop under Belichick's watch until he was able to operate on his own accord, without the ownership trying to insert their own Director of Personnel into the mix. The Patriots culture of an appreciated joint venture, of one team with one defined goal, allows Scarnecchia to contribute as a scout and Caserio to flex between coaching staff and front office.

Kraft needed those growing pains with Parcells to become a better owner. And when he hired a new coach in 2000, Kraft didn't repeat his mistakes. Just as Belichick would have wanted.