The New England Patriots are pro football’s model franchise, and their success over the past two decades speaks for itself. In a copy-cat league like the NFL, other clubs are obviously looking to One Patriot Place in order to improve and the team’s coaching staff is a popular place to start. Just last year, the Detroit Lions — already employing a former Patriot as general manager — hired way the club’s defensive coordinator, Matt Patricia.
This year, New England’s coaches are again popular names on the head coaching market: two teams have requested interviews with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, while five have their eyes on the team’s de-facto defensive coordinator Brian Flores. In case one or both follow Patricia’s lead and take potential head coaching opportunities elsewhere — whether in 2019 or some future year — the Patriots would find themselves in a familiar position.
Throughout the years, head coach Bill Belichick saw a lot of his assistants leave to take positions elsewhere: Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Josh McDaniels (before returning to New England), Bill O’Brien and most recently the aforementioned Matt Patricia all were given opportunities to lead teams and consequently left the Patriots with voids to fill at their respective positions on the coaching staff.
With the Patriots facing this possibility again, Belichick recently spoke about the process of elevating a position coach to coordinator — something that has basically happened with Flores in 2018. “That would probably involve a lengthy answer in terms of hours, not minutes,” New England’s head coach said on Monday when asked what makes a good coordinator. “But, there’s so many components to being a coordinator.”
“When I was a special teams coordinator, that was a little bit different because at least at that point in time you really didn’t have a staff,” Belichick continued. “There was maybe one other person that you were working with. In my case, it was Romeo Crennel, but then as an offensive or defensive coordinator you’re running an entire staff and the play-calling is a huge responsibility and you have to work with the coaches in order to get everybody on the same page.”
In New England, this process involves eight non-coordinator coaches on the offensive side of the ball, and five on defense — to go along with the head coach, special teams and training staff. Communication is key, as Belichick points out. “Sometimes there are different opinions or options as far as how you want to do something and there’s one reason for doing one thing or there’s another reason for doing another thing,” he said.
“You have to make those decisions and you have to do it in a way, with a leadership style and a communication ability to... I don’t want to say satisfy everybody, but do it in a way so that you’re not creating confrontation and dissension and that you’re doing it in a cohesive way because it is a decision that has to be made and not everybody can be happy with every decision,” Belichick continued.
The future Hall of Famer has, of course, plenty of experience when it comes to working as an assistant coach and a coordinator. Before joining the Patriots in 2000, he worked as assistant coach for multiple teams and became the New York Giants’ special teams coordinator in 1979. Six years later, he became the club’s defensive coordinator — a role he held before leaving to become the Cleveland Browns’ head coach.
Belichick speaks out of experience, and knows how difficult serving as a coordinator is. “Although we all are a part of once the decision is made, we go forward with the decision whether we’re happy with it or not,” he continued about the communication aspect of the job. “From a leadership standpoint, decision-making, being responsible for the entire game on your side of the ball or whatever area it is as opposed to just a position group is quite different.”
“There’s so many things that go into all of those and it’s dealing with coaches, it’s dealing with players, it’s play-calling, it’s game management and certainly understanding the bigger picture on the other side of the ball too; what they’re trying to do,” Belichick added. “As a position coach you’re very in-tune with what’s directly across from you, but if you’re coaching the defensive line or the linebackers maybe you don’t look at the secondary as closely. If you’re coaching the secondary you don’t look at the defensive line and the offensive line as closely.”
“But, when you’re the coordinator you have to find a way to look at everything, but at the same time rely on your assistants to look at those things in more detail than you can because you don’t have time to allocate that,” Belichick concluded. “The time for the details in every area you have to pick and choose the ones that you want to focus in. You’ll be responsible for all of it.”
The Patriots’ offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, has plenty of experience at coaching at this position: over two stints with the team, he served as a coordinator for a combined ten seasons. He also worked as head coach of the Denver Broncos for a little more than a year and coordinated the then-St. Louis Rams offense in 2011. His résumé may have its ups and downs but when it comes to experience, few options are as enticing as the 42-year old.
Brian Flores, on the other hand, does not have the same level of experience next to his name. While he rose up the ranks in New England and has a background in scouting and also the offensive side of the ball, he only was elevated to the defensive coordination role — without being given the official title — in 2018. He is one of the brightest young coaches in football, yes, but despite the demand might not yet be a realistic option for teams to consider.
“There are a lot of things involved in that position,” Belichick said. And when looking at the Patriots’ current cast of coordinators, it appears as if the experience of McDaniels in this field might make him the more realistic candidate to leave the team soon. Then again, he was in this position one year ago and opted out of an offer by the Indianapolis Colts...