The New England Patriots are expected to name Greg Schiano as the team’s new defensive coordinator. Schiano will take the place of Brian Flores, who left to take the head coaching job for the Miami Dolphins.
Here are some immediate thoughts on this decision.
Schiano is extremely qualified for the football job
Schiano has been coaching for almost 30 years. He coached defensive backs for Penn State from 1991-95, and assisted and coached the Chicago Bears defensive backs from 1996-98. He was named defensive coordinator for the Miami Hurricanes for the 1999-2000 seasons, before taking on the head coaching job at Rutgers from 2001-11 (more on this later).
Schiano was named head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2012-13 and took some time off and coached his kids’ high school football team after he was fired. He’s most recently served as the associate head coach and defensive coordinator of Ohio State from 2016-18.
There’s no question that Schiano has the background to coach a successful defense. There might be a question of how he fits into the Patriots’ defensive style.
Patriots rarely hire external coaches for high-ranking positions
Dating back to when Bill Belichick took over the team in 2000, here are the coaches that were hired from a different NFL team:
- Quarterbacks coach John Hufnagel was hired in 2003 from the Jacksonville Jaguars. He stayed one season before becoming the New York Giants offensive coordinator.
- Defensive backs coach Joel Collier was hired in 2005 from the Miami Dolphins where he was (?!) their running backs coach. He was not retained after 2007 and went to Kansas City to serve as assistant general manager under former Patriots executive Scott Pioli.
- Defensive back coach Dom Capers was hired to replace Collier in 2008. Capers had an extensive career as a head coach and defensive coordinator dating back to 1972 and served with the Dolphins from 2006-07. Capers stayed one season before become the Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator.
- Wide receivers coach Chad O’Shea joined the Patriots in 2009 after holding the same role for the Minnesota Vikings from 2006-08. O’Shea left the Patriots after winning Super Bowl 53 to become the Dolphins offensive coordinator under Brian Flores.
- Defensive line coach Brendan Daly joined the Patriots in 2014 after coaching the same position for the Vikings (2006-08), St. Louis Rams (2009-11), and the Vikings again (2012-13). Daly was considered the internal front-runner to be the Patriots’ next defensive coordinator after Flores’ departure. Daly likely came with a recommendation from Josh McDaniels, who also coached the St. Louis Rams in 2011, and from O’Shea, who coached the Vikings receivers from 2006-08.
- We could also add Pete Mangurian, who joined the Patriots as tight ends coach in 2005, and Dave DeGuglielmo, who was named the offensive line coach in 2014, but both were out of football the previous year.
- Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel was hired to his position in 2001 after serving in the same role for the Cleveland Browns in 2000. Crennel had a previous connection to Belichick as they coached together for the New York Giants.
- Special teams coordinator Scott O’Brien was hired in 2009 from the Denver Broncos. O’Brien previously held the same role under Belichick with the Cleveland Browns from 1991-95.
- Tight ends coach Brian Daboll returned to New England in 2013 after serving as offensive coordinator for various teams around the league. He previously coached under Belichick from 2000-06.
- Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels returned to the Patriots in 2012 after a brief stint as the Denver Broncos head coach.
Ultimately, unless you have previously coached under Belichick, you’re likely to work your way up as a coaching assistant before receiving a position assignment and, ultimately, the coordinator job. I think it’s fair to assume that Schiano is close enough with Belichick that even though they haven’t coached together, Belichick trusts Schiano as he would trust someone he’s previously worked with.
The famous Rutgers connection
The New England Patriots have drafted and signed numerous players that were with Schiano at Rutgers. That list includes Devin McCourty, Jason McCourty, Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon, Nate Jones, Jonathan Freeny, Steve Beauharnais, Alex Silvestro, Justin Francis, Kenny Britt, and Tiquan Underwood.
It’s pretty clear that the quartet of McCourty, McCourty, Ryan, and Harmon have been incredibly important pieces of the Patriots’ recent run of success. Both McCourtys credit Schiano for teaching them how to study film and become students of the game, while instilling discipline in their practice. It works with college kids, but we’ll see if Schiano can make the adjustment as he coaches adults.
And while we’re playing the former-connection game, current Patriot Adrian Clayborn and former Patriots Aqib Talib, Darrelle Revis, LeGarrette Blount, Leonard Johnson, Dekoda Watson, Jonathan Casillas, and Tim Wright all played under Schiano for the Buccanees in 2012-13.
I don’t think it should be a surprise that most of these players with a Patriots-Schiano connection played defense, particularly at the linebacker or defensive back level, because it marries well to the Patriots’ style of defense.
Examining Schiano’s style of defense
Schiano’s defensive game plan focuses on: stopping the run, limiting big plays, and creating takeaways. That’s basically the Patriots’ strategy. New England just likes to be flexible with their alignments in order to accomplish those three goals.
Schiano credits Belichick for much of his coaching lessons, such as ‘how to tackle a player’, so there’s a natural synergy. And there’s actually a lot of similarities in how they scheme on defense.
Schiano’s played a lot of man coverage at Ohio State, but he also has an extensive history of playing zone. He’s used a single-high safety, similar to what the Patriots do with Devin McCourty or Duron Harmon, because of the athleticism and talent at Ohio State. His ability to coach both man and zone is exactly what the Patriots need for their secondary.
Schiano’s defenses typically use a one-gap defensive front, which is different from Belichick’s favored two-gap front. That’s not to say the Patriots don’t play one-gap (the Patriots played one-gap to stop the Los Angeles Rams rushing attack in the Super Bowl), but Belichick prefers to have his defensive tackles eat up two blockers and the linebackers are responsible for making the plays.
Where Schiano’s use of linebackers could benefit the Patriots is how aggressively he deploys them. When the defensive front is playing one-gap, they can just make their reads and attack, which could free up Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy to make a lot more plays at or behind the line of scrimmage. And, of course, Schiano will adjust and incorporate more of Belichick’s style of defense.
What this means for the Patriots’ pipeline of coaching talent
There are a few coaches that are probably wondering about their roles with the team. First would be Bret Bielema, the former head coach of Wisconsin and Arkansas, who spent this past season as a defensive consultant for the Patriots. Bielema was a potential option to serve as defensive coordinator and now his future is in question. Would he be happy to remain in his same consultant position if he’s just waiting for another college coaching job? Or does he want to have greater control of a team in the interim?
And there are more questions down the pipeline.
Brendan Daly was considered the heir-in-waiting to Brian Flores because Daly called the plays in the fourth preseason game. But if Flores wasn’t ready to take on the defensive coordinator position in 2018 after six seasons of coaching safeties and linebackers, then Daly is probably another few years away in the eyes of Bill Belichick.
Josh Boyer has been a Patriots defensive coach since 2006, spending his time with the defensive backs since 2009. And despite some early issues, it’s undeniable that the Patriots secondary has been a major strength of the team since 2013. After 14 years with the Patriots, how much longer is Boyer going to have to wait for his chance? Or is he happy as a positional coach?
And behind these two is Steve Belichick, who is about to enter his fourth season as a safeties coach and eighth season as a defensive coach with the Patriots. I think it unlikely that Bill Belichick would promote his son in a way that would leapfrog the more experienced coaches.
There is now a vacancy at the linebacker coach role, which is so important for the Patriots and often leads to the defensive coordinator role. How will the Patriots address it?
It’s worth noting that the Patriots have not promoted a defensive coordinator from the defensive line job. Flores, Matt Patricia, Dean Pees, and Eric Mangini all coached either defensive backs or the linebackers (or in the case of Flores and Patricia, both). If Daly is truly the heir to the Patriots defensive coordinator position, it wouldn’t be out of the question for him to transition into the linebacker coach role.
If that were to open up a role at the defensive line position, then offensive assistant DeMarcus Covington would be an option. Covington had a history of coaching defensive linemen and pass rushers prior to joining the Patriots.
(Edit: NESN’s Doug Kyed notes that Covington worked with the linebackers this past season, so he’s an option to move directly into the linebackers position)
Defensive assistant Mike Pellegrino has worked with the defensive backs, so perhaps he’s waiting in case either Boyer or Steve Belichick vacate their current jobs. Fellow defensive assistant Brian Belichick is entering his fourth season with the team and might have to wait as long as his older brother to get his chance with a positional job.
The next few months will involve some more shuffling on the Patriots defense. At least we now know that Belichick has Schiano in the top position.