The New England Patriots’ tumultuous offseason continues: only about a month into his tenure with the club, defensive coordinator Greg Schiano has decided to resign in order to “spend more time on [his] faith and family.” Schiano’s decision leaves the Patriots without a leading defensive coach after the team had already lost 2018’s signal caller Brian Flores to the Miami Dolphins shortly after the Super Bowl.
Schiano, despite only briefly holding a position on the Patriots’ staff, can be counted as another coaching departure — bringing the total over the last two months to seven men to leave New England, four of which on the defensive side of the ball: the aforementioned Brian Flores, who served as play caller and linebackers coach, cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer, defensive line coach Brendan Daly, and now Schiano.
The main question, of course, is what happens next for the Patriots defense? For starters, it needs a new coordinator or signal caller and two men appear to be the most realistic options to fill those roles one way or another as things stand right now: assistant to the coaching staff Brett Bielema, who joined the Patriots last offseason after serving as head coach at Arkansas (2006-2012) and Wisconsin (2013-2017), and head coach Bill Belichick.
When speaking in terms of coaching experience, Bielema is the logical choice to take over for Schiano. In fact, the Boston Globe’s Ben Volin reported back in January that the 49-year-old was expecting to take over the role after Flores’ inevitable departure — something that did not happen but could again become relevant with Schiano no longer a part of the equation. Bielema also has one year within the organization under his belt.
Obviously, Bill Belichick could opt to go a different route. For one, he could promote someone else to a lead assistant role: 2018’s lone returning defensive coach Steve Belichick is a candidate, as is recently hired ex-linebacker Jerod Mayo — both lack Bielema’s experience, however. Schiano disciple Bob Fraser, who was rumored to also join the staff, could take over as well but his status might be up in the air with his former boss resigning.
Given the reported personnel at hand, it would not be surprising to see Belichick opt to go through the year without officially naming a defensive coordinator. Such a move would not be unprecedented as New England did the same before Matt Patricia became the last man to hold the title (2012-2017) and also last year: Flores was never officially named as the Patriots’ defensive coordinator, he “only” served as signal caller and linebackers coach.
What the Patriots could therefore do is continue filling out the staff and have Belichick serve as the de facto coordinator on defense — similar to what happened last year and in 2010 and 2011 — with either Bielema or, less likely, Steve Belichick or Mayo sending in plays. Of course, the aforementioned Bob Fraser or an outside hire like ex-Patriots assistant Pepper Johnson could also play a role on the staff at least in some capacity.
Jerod Mayo might actually be one of the biggest wildcards. While he is projected to serve as linebackers coach, he could in theory also receive play calling duties given his experience in New England’s defensive scheme. While such a move would qualify as a major surprise, current Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower apparently sees coordinator material when looking at his former teammate. At least that’s what he did three years ago.
“I thought I was a smart football player but I mean that dude could be a defensive coordinator right now,” said Hightower about Mayo in January 2016. Of course, the statement might very well be a bit hyperbolic but there is no denying the respect Mayo enjoys inside the organization. Could this prompt Belichick to give him a big role right at the get-go? It is highly unlikely, but not entirely impossible.
Either way, Schiano’s resigning is the latest challenge Belichick has to face in what already has been a wild offseason for the coaching staff up to that point. Knowing the Patriots and Belichick’s track record, they will be fine, but the next few weeks and months still project to be intriguing with so many moving parts both on the roster and the sidelines.