The New England Patriots have found their new offensive coordinator. As reported on Tuesday, the organization has hired Bill O’Brien to take over the unit — returning to a job he already held back in 2011.
In light of his return, let’s take a closer look at O’Brien and find out why the Patriots see him as a coach worth handing the keys to their offense.
Who is Bill O’Brien?
Previous position: University of Alabama offensive coordinator
Playing background: O’Brien played linebacker and defensive end during his time at Brown between 1990 and 1992. His active career did not extend any further than that, though.
Coaching background: Immediately after the end of his college career, O’Brien moved into coaching. He started out as tight ends and inside linebackers coach at his alma mater, before moving to Georgia Tech for the next eight years. Originally starting out as a graduate assistant, he moved up the ladder and by 1998 was named the Yellow Jackets’ running backs coach. Three years later, head coach George O’Leary moved him to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
Following the 2002 season under Chan Gailey, O’Brien left Georgia Tech to joing Ralph Friedgen’s staff at Maryland as running backs coach. He moved back into a coordinator position in 2005, when he was hired by Ted Roof as his new OC and QB coach at Duke.
After two seasons with the Blue Devils, O’Brien made the next jump — joining the Patriots as an offensive assistant in 2007. Originally working under offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, he moved to wide receivers coach in 2008. After McDaniels’ departure to Denver, he took over his previous role as quarterbacks coach while also effectively serving as coordinator without the title. By 2011, he was officially named New England’s OC.
O’Brien spent just one year in the position, leading the Patriots’ third-ranked scoring offense to a Super Bowl appearance. After the season, he took over as head coach at Penn State. Two years and a 15-9 record later, he was on the move once more.
Returning to the NFL, O’Brien was hired as Houston Texans head coach in 2014. He spent six full seasons with the team before his firing following an 0-4 start in Year 7. Until that point, however, he proved himself a successful coach: Houston finished with a winning record in five of his six years at the job, won the AFC South four times, and won a couple of playoff games.
Ultimately, however, he was dismissed during what was a turbulent 2020 campaign for the team. O’Brien reemerged in January 2021, joining the University of Alabama under head coach Nick Saban as the new offensive coordinator.
After two years at Alabama, O’Brien is now returning to the NFL.
Why did the Patriots hire him as offensive coordinator?
New England needed a new offensive coordinator following its disastrous outing on offense in 2022. So, why was O’Brien the choice over the four other candidates interviewed for the job?
It all starts with familiarity, both in relation to head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Mac Jones. Belichick, of course, knows O’Brien from their time together between the 2007 and 2011 seasons. As for Jones, he left Alabama before O’Brien arrived but the two men reportedly spent some time together during that very same offseason — both to prepare Jones for the NFL and the new Crimson Tide offensive coordinator for the offense.
Obviously, though, O’Brien leaving Alabama after two years to come to New England goes beyond the connections he has. His coaching prowess and experience as both a play-caller and quarterbacks coach also plays a role in the decision.
His body of work between his departure from the Patriots in 2012 and his return was a solid one, despite his unceremonious firing from the Texans in 2020. His most recent performance seemingly fell into the same category.
However, as Josh Chatham of SB Nation’s Alabama blog, Roll ‘Bama Roll, recently told Pats Pulpit, assessing O’Brien’s performance while working under a control-freak like Nick Saban is not an easy thing to do.
“For me, assessing any coordinator under Nick Saban comes with the caveat that Nick is a bit of a control freak where scheme is concerned,” he said. “Mac Jones reportedly worked to get O’Brien up to speed on Alabama’s playbook when Bill first arrived in Tuscaloosa. That said, if I’m being frank the majority of Alabama fans want to see him gone.
“While the offense has been outstanding the past couple years in terms of ranking, there has been a drop-off in production since 2020. O’Brien has coordinated the offense since then and thus tends to get an unfair share of the blame.”
As Josh pointed out, the situation O’Brien was hired into was not an easy one to begin with either.
“Bill inherited an offensive unit that had lost nearly all of its receiving production from the transcendent 2020 squad, plus three starters off of one of the better offensive lines college football has seen in the last decade,” he said. “There were some growing pains as a result, but it’s tough to argue with the 41 points per game we saw this season. Alabama fans are used to seeing the team at the top of the heap and can be notoriously hard to please.”
Bill Belichick falls into the same category, but he apparently is confident in O’Brien’s coaching at both Alabama and his potential returning to New England. Hence, he is now the Patriots’ new offensive coordinator.