The NFL’s longest-tenured offensive coordinator will wear a different team’s headset next season. Josh McDaniels, who spent the last 10 seasons calling plays for the New England Patriots, will leave the team to take over as the Las Vegas Raiders’ head coach.
McDaniels has been a fixture in New England ever since his return during the 2011 playoffs, and one of the best offensive coordinators in the NFL. Just ask the team’s head coach, Bill Belichick.
“I don’t think he really has any weaknesses as a coach,” Belichick said earlier this season. “He understands what every player is doing on the field on offense and defense. He has a great vision for how to utilize the skills of the players on his side of the ball and how to try to attack the weaknesses, whether it be personnel weaknesses or schematic weaknesses, or how to try to force the opponent into a situation that he’s able to take advantage of.”
Now, the Patriots have to find a way to replace McDaniels. Doing so will not be easy. Not only has the 45-year-old been praised as “an excellent play caller” by Belichick, the team also has no clear-cut successor on its staff at the moment.
With that said, let’s take a look at some potential replacement options.
Bill O’Brien: The Patriots’ offensive play caller from 2009 to 2011 — including the final of those three years wearing the coordinator title — should probably be considered the favorite to replace McDaniels given his experience in the organization. While O’Brien’s stint as head coach of the Houston Texans ended in disappointment, his work at Alabama last season was promising and he knows both the Patriots and quarterback Mac Jones. Colleague Brian Hines already wrote in greater detail about O’Brien earlier this week.
Nick Caley: The most experienced member on New England’s offensive staff behind running backs coach Ivan Fears (who is not a candidate to become OC) and McDaniels himself, Caley might get some consideration for the job. The question is whether or not his lack of play-calling experience will prevent Belichick from handing the offense over to the current tight ends coach, especially with a quarterback in his second season running the show.
Mick Lombardi: The Patriots’ wide receivers coach of the last two seasons is in the same basic situation as Nick Caley. He has some experience within the organization, but has not served as a play caller yet. While that alone would not be a disqualifier, the fact that he would have to learn the job while also helping develop Mac Jones will likely take him out of the running.
Chad O’Shea: Had McDaniels left New England ahead of the 2018 season, O’Shea would likely have taken over as the team’s offensive coordinator. Currently serving as wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator in Cleveland, O’Shea spent 10 seasons with the Patriots as their wide receivers coach (2009-18) before a one-year stint as the Miami Dolphins’ offensive coordinator under Brian Flores. O’Shea’s experience in a McDaniels-run system would make him an attractive outside hire.
Adam Gase: While his tenures as head coach in Miami and New York both ended in disappointment, Gase could be a dark-horse candidate to be considered for McDaniels’ former job. The 43-year-old, after all, spent time working under McDaniels in Denver and has received plenty of praise from Bill Belichick throughout the years.
Tim Kelly: Time to think outside the box a little bit. Kelly was just ousted by the Houston Texans after having served as their offensive coordinator for the last three seasons. Half of those came under head coach Bill O’Brien, running a system similar to the one O’Brien called with the Patriots between 2009 and 2011. If his former boss is unavailable, the 35-year-old Kelly might be a solid consolation price.
Joe Brady: We’ve gone outside the box, so let’s just stay there. Joe Burrow’s passing game coordinator at LSU in 2019 was a red hot commodity when he went to the Carolina Panthers as their OC last offseason. Brady did not even make it through one whole season and has not been picked up by any team since. Him joining the Patriots appears unlikely, but Bill Belichick has never been afraid of making the unexpected move if he thinks it helps his team.
At the end of the day, it seems likely that the Patriots will try to stay as close to home as possible. Bill O’Brien should be considered the top option in that case given his experience in the system and his reported prior contact with Mac Jones before the young passer left for the NFL. O’Shea, Caley, or Lombardi would probably be in the next tier of candidates in case O’Brien stays at Alabama.
No matter who gets hired, however, one thing is certain: they will have some mighty big shoes to fill.