The Patriots’ season came to an end in the wild card playoff round, which meant that their offseason started earlier than what has become the norm in New England over the last few years. This also means that the hunt for the team’s staff members has begun in mid-January for the first time since 2010, and the first assistant coach has already jumped ship: the New York Giants will reportedly hire Joe Judge as their new head coach.
Judge worked in a dual role for the Patriots in 2019: not only did he coach the team’s special teams units like he did since 2012, he also saw the wide receiver position added to his list of responsibilities last offseason. This means, that New England needs to fill two spots suddenly opened up by Judge’s departure. So what will the organization do? Let’s take a look at five potential candidates to fill his shoes.
This one is pretty straight-forward. Unless there are any major developments related to Judge filling his staff in New York, or Josh McDaniels potentially joining the Cleveland Browns as their next head coach, Cam Achord is expected to take over as the Patriots’ special teams coach. Not only does he have a solid résumé to back up his claim to the spot — he served as Judge’s assistant for the last two years and before that coached seemingly every position (including wide receivers) at Southwest Mississippi Community College — but the organization as a whole thinks highly of him.
Thanks to Achord, the special teams role held by Judge since 2015 appears to be relatively easy to fill. The wide receiver position, on the other hand, projects to be a bit more difficult.
For one, no clear-cut successor currently finds itself on the Patriots’ coaching staff considering that Judge only took over the job last offseason following the departure of long-time position coach Chad O’Shea. Furthermore, Josh McDaniels’ future also could have an impact on who will coach New England’s wideouts in 2020 and beyond: if a new offensive coordinator is brought in from outside the organization in case McDaniels departs, will he bring his own guy with him?
That all being said, let’s take a look at five potential replacements for Judge’s second position:
As noted above, Chad O’Shea is Judge’s predecessor as the Patriots’ wide receivers coach and could now become his successor as well. The 47-year-old, after all, was recently let go by the Miami Dolphins after just one season as their offensive coordinator. A return to New England therefore seems like a logical step that could be beneficial to both parties: O’Shea would be back in a familiar environment — he coached the Patriots’ wide receivers from 2009 to 2018 — and possibly build some momentum towards becoming a coordinator candidate once again, while the team would get an experienced coach to work at two areas that struggled in 2019, wide receivers and red zone offense.
While never officially announced as a member of New England’s coaching staff, former Patriots wide receiver Troy Brown worked closely with the position in 2019. Essentially serving as Judge’s right-hand man while he split duties, Brown was instrumental in getting the rookie wide receivers — N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski — up to speed. The process and development of the trio might not have always gone smoothly, but Brown’s experience as a pass catcher and role last season could make him a candidate to fill Judge’s former role.
Entering his sixth season with the Patriots, Cole Popovich might be a dark-horse candidate to take over as wide receivers coach. After originally joining New England as a coaching assistant in 2015 — a role he held for four years — he was promoted to assistant running backs coach under Ivan Fears last offseason. While Popovich might be groomed to take over for the 65-year-old Fears one day, it is also possible that the team moves him over to work with the wide receivers in 2020, maybe even in tandem with Brown.
Bill Belichick likes his young coaches to get experience in all three phases of the game, and his sons are no different. His youngest, Brian, served as a scouting assistant in 2016 and as a coaching assistant the last three years and could therefore be a candidate to be elevated to into a position role. That being said, it would still be surprising to see him jump into such a prominent role just yet especially over other potential candidates. It is not unrealistic, however, to see him become assistant special teams coach in case Achord gets promoted.
That all being said, New England could go other routes as well. As noted above, a new offensive coordinator might have his own wide receiver coaches in mind. Furthermore, there is an off-chance that Bill Belichick tries to bring someone like ex-Patriots wide receiver and current San Francisco 49ers assistant Wes Welker or Alabama wide receivers coach Holmon Wiggins on board. For now, however, we will have to first wait for the next domino to fall one way or the other: Josh McDaniels.