The Houston Texans coaching staff are no strangers to the New England Patriots. They prepared to face the Patriots twice in 2016- losing both times- and head coach Bill O’Brien and assistant head coach Romeo Crennel served as offensive and defensive coordinator for the Patriots under Bill Belichick, respectively.
There are also three former Patriots players currently on the Texans coaching staff in defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel, special teams coordinator Larry Izzo, and offensive and special teams assistant Wes Welker. Belichick is not surprised by any of their success as coaches.
“I think all of those guys – Wes, Larry, Mike – they're all players that I’ve had that were as hard of working players as I’ve coached that loved the game, that were grinders, that had that coaching mentality,” Belichick explained on Tuesday morning, “which was be early, stay late, put in a lot of extra time, do your dirty work and they’ve all started at the bottom and worked their way up.”
“I know those guys personally and have a ton of respect for them,” Belichick added.
Vrabel played on the Patriots from 2001-08, winning three Super Bowl titles and earning one All Pro distinction. The Patriots traded him alongside QB Matt Cassel to the Kansas City Chiefs prior to the 2009 season, where Vrabel played two seasons before retiring.
Vrabel immediately entered the coaching ranks as the linebackers coach of Ohio State, before spending two more years coaching the defensive line.
When O’Brien was named head coach of the Texans, he poached Vrabel to serve as his linebackers coach. Vrabel immediately garnered attention in the coaching community as a future coordinator and head coach so Houston had to promote Vrabel to coordinator for the 2017 season to keep him around.
“Mike was a tremendous player,” Belichick said. “He was a very smart player, astute, played all the positions – special teams, defense, used him on offense. He really works at the game. He’s a grinder, tough, hard-nosed, good football coach, good football player, probably an underrated player, a great player. He's done a great job in his role at Ohio State and then down here [Houston].”
“He loved football, practiced and played hard, was a pleasure to coach, a great football mind,” Belichick added. “He's got a lot going for him.”
Izzo was with the Patriots for the same span of time as Vrabel and served as team captain from 2001-08, winning three Super Bowls and earning two All Pro distinctions. He served as assistant special teams coordinator for the New York Giants from 2011-15 before taking over as the special teams coordinator for the Texans in 2016.
Welker didn’t win a Super Bowl in New England, but he was named to four All Pro teams from 2007-12, led the league in receptions three times, and setting the Patriots franchise record for receptions (672) and single season receiving yards (1,569 yards). Welker retired after the 2015 season and just joined with the Texans as an assistant this year.
These three won’t be the only former Patriots to enter the coaching ranks. Here are five more that I think will eventually become successful coaches in the NFL.
RB Kevin Faulk
Faulk is currently serving as an offensive coordinator at his old high school and he seems happy to stay in the high school ranks, but he left the door open for a possible return as an NFL coach if the right opportunity is present. Belichick speaks glowingly of Faulk and would likely welcome him with open arms- and it’s why Faulk is present for the Patriots preseason on an annual basis.
LB Jerod Mayo
Mayo wanted a break from the NFL grind after retiring in 2015, but he expressed an interest in coaching in the NFL down the road. He doesn’t want to coach in high school or college, but he could be another player that shows up at Patriots practices over the next few offseasons. Bill Belichick loves Mayo like a son and has been adding his other kids to the coaching staff in recent years.
EDGE Rob Ninkovich
Ninkovich just retired and he already started to show up at Patriots practices to help with the young edge defenders. Look for him to stay on the Patriots short-list of emergency pass rushers for the 2017 season, but don’t be shocked if he joins the team as a defensive assistant in 2018.
FS Devin McCourty
“Devin’s very smart,” Belichick has said. “He has great awareness of the entire concept of the defense, what the defense is designed to do, what its strengths are, what its taking away, where we’re weak, how to compensate for that. Sometimes we have checks that will get us out of situations that we feel vulnerable in, certain calls. He’s responsible for a lot of that. His leadership, his on-the-field play, his toughness, he’s done whatever we’ve asked him to do, whether it’s return kickoffs, or cover kicks, or block the gunners on the punt return team, or rush field goals, or whatever it is.
“He’s been not only a dependable player but a good player for us in all of those different areas and, as I said, he gives us great communication and great leadership on and off the field.”
LB Dont’a Hightower
Hightower is just entering his prime and has a long career ahead of him, but every single teammate always takes the opportunity to share how Hightower has helped them learn the playbook, how the defensive captain has explained the X’s and O’s, and how he’s a great teacher. He could be the next Vrabel on the coaching staff.