With Josh McDaniels leaving to become the Las Vegas Raiders’ head coach, the New England Patriots will need to find a new offensive coordinator for the first time since 2012.
There are multiple potential candidates that would make sense, including current Patriots tight ends coach Nick Caley or former OC Bill O’Brien. No matter who eventually ends up taking McDaniels’ old spot, there are a few critical boxes that he will have to check in order to set himself and the unit as a whole up for success.
The following are six basic things New England will need from its next offensive coordinator.
A good relationship with Mac Jones
The Patriots invested the 15th overall selection in last year’s draft in Alabama quarterback Mac Jones, and he looked immensely promising during his rookie season under McDaniels. The new offensive coordinator, who will probably also serve as New England’s QB coach, needs to pick up where his predecessor left off: create an environment in which Jones can take the famous second-year jump and build off of last year.
The Patriots are counting on Jones developing into a long-term solution at quarterback and take over the face of the franchise title last held by Tom Brady. The next OC will play a critical role in this process.
During his introductory press conference with the Raiders earlier this week, McDaniels mentioned the mistakes he made as a first-time head coach with the Denver Broncos in 2009.
“When I went to Denver, I knew a little bit of football. I didn’t really know people and how important that aspect of this process and maintaining the culture and building the team was. And I failed. I didn’t succeed at it,” he said.
While the responsibilities of a coordinator differ from those of a head coach, being able to communicate is key at both positions. Whether that means giving clear instructions in practice, building a good relationship with players, or delegating tasks to position coaches and other assistants, communication is at the basis of any successful organizational structure.
Continuity comes in two forms. The first is related to scheme and terminology. The Patriots have run the same basic offensive system since the days of Charlie Weis in the early 2000s, with McDaniels and Bill O’Brien making some adaptations through the years but leaving the foundation intact. The next OC will not be able to implement a whole new offense.
The second form of continuity touches on personnel. A new offensive coordinator coming in and making major changes to the structure in place is not what the team needs; neither is him taking the job and then leaving again in 2023. The Patriots need to hire somebody willing to make a long-term commitment. Few things would be worse for the club and its young quarterback than losing the coach closest to him in back-to-back offseasons.
Make no mistake, the Patriots are losing one of the best offensive coordinators in the game. One big reason for McDaniels’ success leading the unit in New England was his ability to stay flexible: he adapted his scheme to fit the opponent and the players he had available; the last two seasons with Cam Newton and Mac Jones at quarterback are a good example of that.
On top of it all, McDaniels also was one of the NFL’s most creative play designers and never shied away from adding new wrinkles to existing plays. The next OC does not necessarily need to copy McDaniels, but it is imperative that he stays similarly flexible.
The ability to use talent
At one point last year, McDaniels acknowledged that he needed to do a better job of getting one of his players — tight end Jonnu Smith — involved in the offense. His heir will have to do that, and also find a way to get the other players incorporated into his game plans and play designs regardless of position. The Patriots have some talent on offense, and it needs to see its opportunities.
That talent does not end with the last levels of depth on the roster, but it also includes the coaching and scouting staff on both sides of the ball. Properly using all the resources available is key to success in the NFL, and McDaniels’ successor better understands that.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is famous for setting the tone for the entire organization, and its next offensive coordinator will need to follow along as well. One big part of that is being attentive and paying attention to the details.
McDaniels was very good at that, and the results on the field as well as the praise he received from Belichick are both proof of that. Every coach walking through the Gillette Stadium door has to meet the future Hall of Famer’s expectations, but especially one with as much responsibility as an OC.