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Signs are pointing towards Bill O’Brien not returning to the Patriots this year

Related: Nick Saban: ‘No indication’ potential Patriots target Bill O’Brien is trying to leave Alabama

NCAA Football: Alabama at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Josh McDaniels taking over the Las Vegas Raiders’ head coaching position left a massive hole in the New England Patriots’ coaching staff. McDaniels, after all, had been the team’s offensive coordinator for the past 10 seasons — the longest active tenure in the NFL until his departure — and one of head coach Bill Belichick’s most trusted assistants.

How the patriots will replace his abilities as a play-caller and mentor, especially with quarterback Mac Jones’ development in mind, remains to be seen. However, the signs are starting to point towards one potential candidate not coming to New England: Bill O’Brien.

A former Patriots offensive coordinator who is currently filling the same role at Jones’ alma mater, the University of Alabama, O’Brien was seen as the prime candidate to take over for McDaniels. In fact, he already did so one: when McDaniels left New England in 2009 to become head coach of the Denver Broncos, O’Brien took over as offensive play-caller and later was given the coordinator title as well.

Given his background in the system and experience with Mac Jones — the two spent some time together before last year’s draft — the 52-year-old was seen as the top candidate out there. Nothing has happened so far, though, and Patriots fans should probably not get their hopes up that anything will happen in the future.

The latest to rain on the “O’Brien ‘22” parade is NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport. Appearing on WEEI’s Gresh & Keefe show on Thursday, Rapoport spoke in pretty clear terms about New England’s coaching situation on the offensive side of the ball in the wake of former assistant Joe Judge returning.

“I think what they were trying to do is add some experience and, sort of, offensive expertise and a little bit of heft to the offensive side of the ball,” Rapoport said. “I do believe Bill O’Brien was considered. I think it’s something that he would have considered as well. But in the end, it ends up being Joe Judge on the offensive side of the ball, not special teams.”

Rapoport added that the Patriots replacing McDaniels one-for-one might not be the plan, at least heading into the 2022 season. Instead, he believes that New England might choose team work over one assistant — or a relative outside like O’Brien — being named coordinator.

“The way the Patriots are configured, it’s always a little different,” Rapoport said. “They’ve gone years — actually this year — without having a defensive coordinator. They’ve gone years without having an offensive coordinator. They have had one in action, but not actually promoted them in a way of shielding them from the press making sure they don’t have to answer questions. They’ve structured things differently.

“I think it’s possible that this may be it on the offensive side of the ball. I feel like it might be Judge with some added responsibility, Nick Caley with some added responsibility, Mick Lombardi with some added responsibility, and kind of do it all as a group and make a decision on an OC potentially next year.”

While a large portion of the statements appear to be more opinion than actual reporting, the gist remains: it points towards O’Brien not returning to the Patriots this year — something that would go in line with what Alabama head coach Nick Saban said this month, namely that his offensive coordinator would have given “no indication” that he would leave Tuscaloosa for an NFL job at this point in time.

Things obviously change rapidly in pro football, but Bill O’Brien coming back to New England to take over as offensive coordinator appears to be far less likely now than it was just two weeks ago.