With a timely vacancy in the LB coaching spot, Jerod Mayo 's retirement generated a discussion whether he should immediately succeed the role. Although it was put down rather quickly, this is something we can talk on a boring day of the off season: Which former Patriot, active or retired, will someday turn into a quality coach, just like Mike Vrabel who was this close to be a defensive coordinator?
I came up with some candidates:
Matt Cassel (QB coach)
Let's face it. This guy has seen it all. He was once a back up to two Heisman Winners (And he has outlasted one of them, Matt Leinart, a former top 10 pick). He was once a 7th round developmental prospect fighting for a roster spot. He was once a lone back up behind a Hall of Fame QB. All of the sudden, on the blink of an eye, he turned into a starter as Bernard Pollard dove into Tom Brady' s knee...(Throw up in mouth)... He was once an unquestioned starter and even earned a Pro Bowl berth. He was once a quasi-player coach of a first rounder in Teddy Bridgewater, who was destined to receive the key sooner or later. He is now a veteran insurance / stop gap traveled among 3 teams within a year.
He's now on his sixth organization, which include the top notch one (Patriots), on-the-rise ones (Bills, Vikings) and somewhat under performing ones (Cowboys, Chiefs from few years ago). He has seen all kinds of coaches from Bill Belichick to Rex Ryan to Pete Carroll to Mike Zimmer to Todd Haley. He has been mentored by Brady and has mentored Bridgewater. He probably has seen and learned all kinds of schemes, systems and concepts.
In fact, he wouldn't be the first former Pats QB to make it to the coaching as Kevin O'Connell was a QB coach for Browns last year and is currently an offensive staff for 49ers. In addition, the entire league is littered with former back up / stop gap / journeymen QBs including latest SB coach Gary Kubiak, Jason Garrett and Jim Harbaugh.
Replicating the dynamic of Elway-Kubiak with Brady and Cassel in Foxborough would be too much to ask. But don't be surprised even if Cassel somehow manages to come back to the sideline after he hung up his cleats. Surviving in the NFL seems to be his forte.
Steve Gregory (DB coach)
He is most known for being a recipient of the infamous you-know-what, which was largely a luck. However, his consistent penchant for placing himself around the ball is from nothing but his football IQ and dedication to studying films. He was a former UDFA who didn't have speed to be a FS/CB albeit built like one thus had to compensate in other ways.
Although his limitation ultimately spelled the end of his tenure in Foxborough, he didn't depart without leaving a huge legacy. He mentored then rookie Duron Harmon and freshly converted Devin McCourty, who both spoke highly of him. There's no denying he helped their development tremendously.
But Harmon worked diligently and wound up playing in every game save the season opener, with three starts. He credits Devin McCourty, who also guided him at Rutgers, along with a now-former teammate, for helping him along.
"You can even start with Steve Gregory, being able to pick his brain last year. I say it all the time, that guy was really like my uncle — if I wasn’t sitting next to him, I was sitting next to Dev," Harmon said. "Those two guys just really helped me mature so much when it comes to football over the past year. I’m just very, very appreciative to them because they’re like — they’re really good football players and then they’re smart players as well, so you get to utilize that on the field. When you get the good football player with the smarts, that’s when players turn into great players."
Moreoever, he drew a praise from Bill upon retirement even he was no longer a Patriot (He signed with Chiefs just before announcing retirement). That doesn't happen very often.
Full Belichick statement on Gregory's retirement. pic.twitter.com/gPd3fJPYpw— Zuri Berry (@zuriberry) August 10, 2014
Think that says a lot about respect Gregory had in Patriots locker room. Only two years with the team and Belichick pays tribute.— Phil Perry (@PhilAPerry) August 10, 2014
He landed a gig as a special team quality control coach at his alma mater last year so he's already ahead of the curve compared to Cassel. Sooner of the later this guy will claim up the coaching ladder. It is the matter of where.
Dan Connolly (OL coach)
I don't deny that I somewhat forced him in here because having only two candidates doesn't really generate a debate. Nonetheless, he has a lot of characteristics that can turn into him a good coach if he wants to be one. Just like Cassel or Gregory, he has experiences in multiple organizations (he was originally an UDFA signed with Jaguars). Just like Gregory, he is a player who compensated the lack of raw athleticism with smart and savvy. Just like Gregory, he was a well respected teammate who was designated as an OL captain after the shocking trade of Logan Mankins.
Connolly is also a former college tackle who played all three interior spots including center, a QB of the OL. He also played on special team, resulting in his career highlight which is as memorable as the aforementioned you-know-what for Pats fans. He has been exposed to a different techniques of respective positions / roles, which have been taught by no one but the legendary Dante Scarnecchia.
I still have no idea what the heck he is up to next, but it's safe to assume recommendation letters from Bill and Dante will go a long way if he wants to start coaching somewhere.