Guess it’s only fitting that everyone seems to be all about The Office again, since Bret Bielema was officially promoted to Assistant to the Regional Manager this week.
Close enough, right?
Former Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema’s official title with the Patriots in 2018 is “consultant to the head coach”.— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) July 24, 2018
You’ll probably remember that Bielema was logging more miles than a band on tour this spring helping the Patriots on the scouting circuit, hitting up Pro Days at USC, Alabama, Boston College, and the NFL Scouting Combine.
And he got paid $11.9 million to do it!
*from the University of Arkansas after they let him go last fall, not from the Patriots. You didn’t really think New England was going to pay an Assistant to the Regional Manager more than Rob Gronkowski makes in base salary this year, did you?
At the time, the theory from ESPN’s Mike Reiss was that Bielema had been facing off against the SEC for the past four years (and mostly losing, but who’s counting) and he’d have some inside “I was there, I SEENT IT!” perspective on the talent coming out of college football’s best conference for this year’s draft. After all, New England’s scored with Bielema’s boys in the draft three times in a row now, with Super Bowl I-didn’t-come-here-to-get-my-ass-kicked hero James White (a Bielema recruit at Wisconsin) and Razorbacks Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise. And we all know how Bill feels when he finds a new Rutgers.
So that all checks out. Then why keep Bret around this close to the season with a generic Joe-Blow title like “Consultant to the Head Coach”?
Reiss’s idea is that Bielema’s kinda-sorta fitting into former Bill Belichick gopher and current Ringer podcaster Mike Lombardi’s position, where your guess is as good as mine as to what he actually did, but whatever it was, Lombardi was good enough at it that Bill called him “one of the smartest people I’ve worked with...he studies football and he knows it very well”.
Different theory: Bielema’s here to replace a New England legend.
Not Belichick, guys, come on now.
Hear this out.
Josh McDaniels, who has the excellent distinction of humiliating the Colts both on and off the field, clearly has the inside track to Belichick’s job whenever Bill decides it’s time to sail off into the sunset on however many rings his boat will be named at that point. Meanwhile, Brian Flores, of “MALCOLM, GO!” fame, is already getting two thumbs way up from captains like Dont’a Hightower and Duron Harmon for his ability to break down the defense to the team. Flo has defensive coordinator locked up.
Meanwhile, in the “you don’t appreciate what you got till it’s gone” category, after Dante’s retirement in 2013 the Dave DeGuglielmo era was a never-ending tequila hangover that should make you say a prayer of thanks every time Tom Brady talks about how pliable he is. Sure, winning cures everything and Dave’s Super Bowl ring from 2014 probably looks baller in his man-cave, but even in his first year on the job, when Rodney Harrison is calling out the offensive line from the Sunday Night Football broadcast desk, that’s not how you do it.
Point being, especially now in an era where pro-ready offensive linemen are harder than ever to come by, when Scar hangs up his cutoff sleeves for good this time, his successor better be the one that the prophecy foretold, and not a noob.
How about a guy who at one point as a head coach had five (5) of his trench guys from Wisconsin get picked up in the first round of the NFL draft, had one of his Arkansas O-linemen go in the first round this year, and coached the aforementioned trio of Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise, and James White we mentioned earlier?
Yup, that’d be Bret. Here’s those first-rounders from Wisconsin, all either offensive or defensive linemen (keep in mind Bielema was the Badgers head coach from ‘06-’12):
Joe Thomas, OT (2007)
Gabe Carimi, OT (2011)
J.J. Watt, DT (2011)
Kevin Zeitler, G (2012)
Travis Frederick, C (2013)
Not only that, but Wisconsin’s entire starting offensive line from the 2010 team all got drafted at some point, and all except one were either first, second, or third-rounders:
Gabe Carimi (OT) - Round 1, Pick 29, 2011 (Bears)
John Moffitt (OG) - Round 3, Pick 75, 2011 (Seahawks)
Peter Konz (C/G) - Round 2, Pick 55, 2012 (Falcons)
Kevin Zeitler (G) - Round 1, Pick 27, 2012 (Bengals)
Ricky Wagner (OT) - Round 5, Pick 168, 2013 (Ravens)
One more for the road: Arkansas center Frank Ragnow was snatched up by the Detroit Lions at pick 20, and the Patriots were in lurve enough with Ragnow’s potential to upgrade their line that they tried to trade in front of Matt Patricia’s Lions to grab him. That Ragnow kid was the one Bret Bielema had called the best lineman he’s coached since Joe Thomas, and all Joe did was make 10 straight Pro Bowls and 6 All-Pros.
So, full circle here, the theory is that Bill’s already impressed enough with Bret’s track record of both nailing and developing prospects that he’s giving Bielema the chance to prove he can keep his streak going at the pro level. With less time than ever to develop offensive linemen, thanks to the CBA and no more two-a-days, an offensive line coach like Dante Scarnecchia is a game-changer, and while no former college head coach dreams of being an NFL offensive line coach, there’s sure been plenty of guys that’ve used a couple solid years coaching position groups to get back into a coordinator job, or even get back into pro Division-1...um, sorry, student-athlete Division 1 Power-5 football.
Like most burrito-addled daydreams are, this is probably all just a figment of my imagination. On the other hand, this burrito daydream could also take care of one of the only real foreseeable holes in the Patriots’ coaching staff for years down the line.
Or maybe next time I’ll skip asking for extra jalapeños and “all the queso you have”.
Either way, it’s almost the second-most wonderful time of the year: preseason, where the wins mean you’re going undefeated this year because SO MUCH DEPTH ON THIS TEAM and the losses don’t matter, cause it’s preseason!