Bill O’Brien

Patriots To Hire Bill O’Brien As OC

The Patriots’ search for an offensive coordinator has come to an end. New England is reuniting with Bill O’Brien to fill the vacancy, as first reported (on Twitter) by ESPN’s Adam Schefter. O’Brien will also serve as the Pats’ quarterbacks coach, the team announced.

Both during and after New England’s season came to an end with the team sitting outside the postseason (in large part due to their offensive struggles), it became clear that O’Brien was the Patriots’ preferred choice to help the unit rebound in 2023. The 53-year-old spent the past two seasons at the helm of Alabama’s offense, but his next NFL gig will be in a familiar place.

O’Brien began his pro coaching career in New England in 2007 as an offensive assistant. Over time, he took on a larger role on Bill Belichick‘s staff, working with the team’s wide receivers and quarterbacks before being promoted again to offensive coordinator in 2011. While he only held that title for one season, he operated as the team’s play-caller after Josh McDaniels departed in 2009.

Following that time, O’Brien took a two-year head coaching gig at Penn State, which led him to the same role with the Texans. He operated as the team’s bench boss – and, for part of that stretch, the general manager as well – from 2014 to the one-quarter mark of the 2020 campaign. Overall, the Texans sported winning records in five of his six full seasons at the helm, though his firing came as little surprise by the time it happened in the wake of an 0-4 start and several missteps in terms of managerial moves.

O’Brien returned to the college ranks after that, working under Nick Saban and with the help of current Patriots quarterback Mac Jones. The latter helped O’Brien, a Massachusetts native, get acquainted with the Crimson Tide’s scheme, one which allowed Bryce Young develop into a Heisman winner and a serious contender to be selected first overall in the upcoming draft. O’Brien and Jones working together on a full-time basis could be beneficial to unlocking the latter’s potential.

After a rookie campaign in which Jones earned a Pro Bowl nod, the former first-rounder took a step back statistically. Overall, the Patriots finished below-average in almost every offensive category in 2022, a season in which Belichick drew criticism for his arrangement with Matt Patricia calling plays and Joe Judge having a key role in the unit as well. Both ex-head coaches had plenty of experience in New England, but not on the offensive side of the ball.

O’Brien’s hire comes not long after he interviewed for what will be a much more traditional OC role. New England also spoke with their TEs coach Nick Caley, Vikings WRs coach Keenan McCardell, Cardinals assistant head coach Shawn Jefferson and Oregon associate head coach Adrian Klemm in a more expansive, outward-looking search process than many others Belichick has overseen. O’Brien and the Patriots will enter 2023 with expectations for a significant step forward in offensive production to compliment the team’s highly-regarded defense.

Patriots Interview Bill O’Brien For OC Job, To Meet With Keenan McCardell

Rumored to be the favorite for the Patriots’ offensive coordinator gig, Bill O’Brien has now met with the team. The Alabama OC interviewed with the Patriots on Thursday, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.

O’Brien emerged as a contender for this job before the Pats’ season ended, and a report earlier this week indicated he is the favorite. The former Texans HC coming back to New England would continue a trend, as Bill Belichick rehired the likes of Josh McDaniels, Matt Patricia and Joe Judge following their initial dismissals as HCs.

Like McDaniels at the time of his New England return, O’Brien has experience running the Pats’ offense. While McDaniels was in Denver and St. Louis, O’Brien took over as Belichick’s top offensive assistant. He finished his New England tenure with the official title of offensive coordinator, something Belichick did not give Patricia this year — despite the ex-Lions HC being the Pats’ primary play-caller. After Belichick placing a career-long defensive coach in this role predictably backfired, the Pats are operating intently with their OC search this time around.

This search is different from the most recent such pursuits. Belichick promoted McDaniels to OC in 2006 and elevated O’Brien from the position coach level to OC in 2011. Thus far, the Pats have reached out to a few outside staffers. The team conducting an official search mandates an interview with at least one external minority candidate. Thus far, the Patriots have three on their radar.

Keenan McCardell, the Vikings’ receivers coach for the past two seasons, is expected to interview for the job today, Josina Anderson of CBS Sports tweets. The team sent out an interview request to the former Belichick Browns wideout Thursday. The Pats are planning to meet with Cardinals receivers coach Shawn Jefferson on Friday and have interviewed Oregon assistant Adrian Klemm. All three also have a history with Belichick — either in New England or Cleveland. The other candidate here, Pats tight ends coach Nick Caley, has been with the team for eight years. Caley has also interviewed with the Jets this week.

With the O’Brien interview done, this process looks like it will wrap soon. He has a few factors working in his favor. Even though O’Brien, 53, was not in place as Alabama’s OC during Mac Jones‘ career, the current Pats quarterback helped the coach learn the Alabama offense following his hire. Patriots ownership is also fond of O’Brien, who is a Massachusetts native. The Texans employed O’Brien as HC from 2014-20, firing him early in the 2020 season after his short GM stint did not go well. As a coach, however, O’Brien is 52-48 with four playoff appearances on his resume.

Bill O’Brien “Primary Target” For Patriots OC Job

The Patriots are looking to revamp their offensive coaching staff, and it sounds like a familiar face is a favorite for the gig. Tom E. Curran of NBC Sports Boston writes that Bill O’Brien is the “primary target” for New England’s offensive coordinator job.

[RELATED: Patriots Will Start OC Interviews Next Week]

Curran notes that there are “other candidates with merit,” but there’s “unanimity on all sides” that O’Brien is the best person for the position. The main thing going for O’Brien is his relationship with the Patriots organization, especially when you consider Bill Belichick‘s penchant for bringing back former assistants. O’Brien spent five years with the Patriots, culminating in him becoming the team’s offensive coordinator. Following head coaching stints with Penn State and the Texans, O’Brien spent the past two years as the offensive coordinator at Alabama under Nick Saban, a close confidant of Belichick.

Speaking of Alabama, O’Brien also has an advantage over the field thanks to his relationship with Mac Jones. While the QB prepared for the 2021 NFL Draft, he also helped O’Brien learn the Alabama offense following the coach’s hiring. O’Brien could look to add elements of Alabama’s quick-strike offense to the Patriots offense. While the familiar scheme would obviously benefit Jones, the offensive philosophy would also take better advantage of Jones’ game-management skills (vs. his average QB skills).

Meanwhile, ESPN’s Mike Reiss looks at a handful of additional potenital candidates for the offensive coordinator position. After O’Brien, Reiss lists former Jets head coach Adam Gase as a candidate considering his mutual respect with Belichick and his experience with Saban. Reiss also lists Vikings receivers coach Keenan McCardell, former Jets/Cardinals associate head coach/receivers coach Shawn Jefferson, Cowboys QBs coach Doug Nussmeier, and current Patriots tight ends coach Nick Caley as potential targets for the job.

In a surprising press release last week, the Patriots revealed that they would begin interviewing offensive coordinator candidates. This follows a 2022 campaign where Belichick opted to go without an OC to replace Josh McDaniels and chose former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and former special teams coordinator Joe Judge to lead the way. The results were ugly, as the inconsistent Patriots offense struggled for much of the year.

Patriots Expected To Shake Up Offensive Staff; Latest On Bill O’Brien, Kliff Kingsbury

Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft met this week to discuss the franchise’s outlook, and although rumors of the owner and legendary coach not being on the same page regarding staffing circulated during the season’s final weeks, NBC Sports Boston’s Tom Curran reports the two are believed to be in step when it comes to the coaching situation.

Patriots staffers have not been informed of any changes yet, Albert Breer of SI.com notes, but Curran adds that Kraft did not need to issue any ultimatums to Belichick to shake up his staff after a strange plan helped produce a disappointing season. Following a season that featured Matt Patricia as the Pats’ primary offensive play-caller, changes will be coming to New England’s offensive staff. Several coaches are under consideration to join the offensive staff, per Curran.

[RELATED: Belichick Confirms Return For 24th Patriots Season]

Bill O’Brien has been linked to a New England return, but Curran tweets the Pats and the current Alabama OC have not been in contact yet. That said, Breer adds O’Brien likely “would love” to return to his home state to aid the Patriots. O’Brien was on Belichick’s staff from 2007-11, finishing that stay as the team’s offensive coordinator during Josh McDaniels‘ three years away. Although O’Brien was not on board as the Crimson Tide’s OC until the 2021 season, Breer mentions Mac Jones helped bring the incoming play-caller up to speed on the program’s offense. Robert and Jonathan Kraft are O’Brien fans as well, per Breer.

Belichick has also done some homework on Kliff Kingsbury, whom he drafted in the 2003 sixth round. The recently fired Cardinals HC spent just more than a year in New England, before being waived, but Breer adds Belichick placed the former Texas Tech QB in a de facto quality control role during a rookie year on IR. That said, Kingsbury may be readier to take a break compared to diving back into a high-pressure situation, Breer and ESPN.com’s Josh Weinfuss (Twitter link) offer. Tight ends coach Nick Caley came up previously as a potential McDaniels heir apparent, and he earned increased responsibility — in Year 6 coaching the Pats’ tight ends — following McDaniels’ departure.

It does not appear Patricia and Joe Judge will need to be too worried about losing their places on Belichick’s staff. The Patriots are expected to find roles for both of their de facto offensive coordinators, Dan Graziano of ESPN.com adds. Belichick thrusting both ex-head coaches into new roles impacted the Pats’ fortunes this season. The Pats plummeted from sixth to 17th in scoring offense, from 15th to 26th in total yards and from ninth to 24th in DVOA. It should be expected whoever calls Patriots plays in 2023 will have at least done it before.

Patriots Notes: Belichick, Patricia, Mayo

The Patriots’ offense has had a difficult time of it in the 2022 season. While the unit ranks in the middle of the pack in terms of points per game, it has posted the seventh-fewest yards per game. More importantly, second-year quarterback Mac Jones has regressed after a promising rookie season, and Jones’ struggles, combined with the offense’s problems as a whole, have led to increased scrutiny of head coach Bill Belichick‘s offseason staffing decisions.

Of course, after longtime OC Josh McDaniels accepted the Raiders’ head coaching job, Belichick installed Matt Patricia and Joe Judge as the Pats’ top offensive coaches. Patricia has served as the offensive play-caller despite not having worked as an offensive coach since 2005, and Judge has operated as the club’s offensive assistant/quarterbacks coach, despite having no coaching experience whatsoever on that side of the ball.

The general ineffectiveness of Belichick’s former staffers, both of whom had flamed out as head coaches elsewhere, means that the end-of-year meeting between Belichick and owner Robert Kraft will be of particular importance, according to Jeff Howe of The Athletic (subscription required). If Kraft — like many league evaluators that spoke to Howe — believes that a shakeup is in order, one wonders how Belichick will respond. Perhaps he will agree and will bring an experienced OC aboard in an effort to maximize Jones’ talents and inject more organization and variety into the offense (the team is already rumored to be interested in a reunion with Bill O’Brien).

But if Belichick does not agree and elects to give Patricia and/or Judge another opportunity in their current roles, then Kraft could have a difficult decision to make about Belichick himself in the near future. While it seems unfathomable that Belichick would not be given the opportunity to walk away on his terms, keeping his 2022 offensive staff intact in 2023 may put the spotlight more squarely on him, particularly if some of this year’s unforced errors — blown assignments, substitution mishaps, late play calls, etc. — should persist.

Now for more Patriots notes:

  • Albert Breer of SI.com agrees that identifying the team’s 2023 offensive play-caller will be at the top of Kraft’s offseason agenda, and he pegs Patricia’s chances of remaining in his current role at less than 50% (though he does believe that Patricia will remain on the Pats’ coaching staff in some capacity). Breer confirms that O’Brien will be in the mix, though the current Alabama OC could have other NFL opportunities outside of Foxborough.
  • Add Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald to the list of pundits who believe Belichick must make a change at offensive coordinator, lest he put his own job security in jeopardy. “Kraft has to make it clear that Belichick needs to come up with real solutions, as opposed to getting his friends on the cheap with their former teams still paying them,” Guregian writes (via Peter King of NBC Sports). “If Belichick isn’t willing to budge, then Kraft has to decide whether it’s worth it to keep the status quo, or move on from his sure-fire Hall of Fame head coach and clean house.”
  • While neither Patricia nor Judge will be interviewing for head coaching positions anytime soon, linebackers coach Jerod Mayo is a different story. Mayo, 36, interviewed for the Broncos’ and Raiders’ HC positions last year, and Mike Reiss of ESPN.com expects the two-time Pro Bowler to be busy again in the upcoming coaching cycle. Mayo, for his part, is prepared for the challenge, saying, “I think I’m ready to be a head coach in the league.”
  • New England suspended P Jake Bailey and CB Jack Jones on Friday. According to Reiss, the team believed that Bailey — who had been on IR since November 19 — was ready to return to game action, but Bailey apparently believed otherwise. Jones’ suspension, meanwhile, stems in part from his missed rehabilitation appointments, which also led to his being fined by the team. Jones played in only eight snaps in the Pats’ Week 14 victory over the Cardinals due to a knee injury, and he missed the next two contests before being placed on IR on December 31. The agents for both players have noted their objections to the suspensions, with Bailey’s agent indicating that he has filed a grievance. Reiss says that it is difficult to see Bailey playing for the team again, and since his suspension technically voids the guarantees in his contract, he and the Pats could find themselves embroiled in a financial battle in the coming weeks.
  • The Patriots signed cornerback Tae Hayes to their active roster at the end of December, and Reiss tweets that Hayes’ contract is actually a two-year pact. Hayes, who appeared in 24 defensive snaps in his New England debut on January 1, is now one of six CBs under contract for 2023.

Tom Brady Could Return To Buccaneers In 2023

Recent reports have indicated that quarterback Tom Brady will not return to the Bucs in 2023, but Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times says that is not necessarily the case. Assuming Brady wants to continue his playing career, a fourth year in Tampa should not be ruled out.

After all, the future Hall-of-Famer continues to enjoy a strong relationship with team ownership and with GM Jason Licht, and the team has proven throughout Brady’s tenure that it will do whatever it takes to build a contender around him, even if its maneuvers create future salary cap headaches. Plus, the fact that the Bucs clinched the NFC South and qualified for the postseason could encourage Brady to return (although the weakness of the division obviously played a major role in the team’s playoff berth).

Stroud does note that Brady’s preference would be to play for Sean Payton, the former Saints head coach who is presently working as a FOX analyst but who appears ready to return to the sidelines in 2023. At present, only the Broncos have obtained permission to interview Payton, and Denver would be unable to add Brady due to its commitment to Russell Wilson. Of course, Payton and Brady appeared ready to join forces on the Dolphins in 2022, though it is now unclear whether Miami would be willing to make current HC Mike McDaniel a one-and-done just to facilitate a brief Brady-Payton partnership.

Payton could elect to return to the Saints, and New Orleans boasts enough offensive talent to entice Brady to join him there. However, as Stroud notes in a separate piece, joining the Bucs’ division rival would be difficult for Tampa Bay ownership to stomach, and Brady may not want to “stick it” to the Glazers in that way.

Brady will likely have suitors that are interested in only him and not in Payton. The 49ers, Raiders, and Jets could all be in play, and none of those teams appear as if they will be parting with their current head coaches (plus, if Brady elects to sign with Las Vegas, he would be reuniting with longtime offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, which could appeal to him). The upshot here is that all options, including a new deal with the Bucs, remain on the table.

On a related note, it seems that a Brady return to Tampa would lead to a dismissal of OC Byron Leftwich, especially in light of the reported friction between the two men. If that happens, then Stroud expects current Alabama offensive coordinator and former Texans head coach Bill O’Brien — who was on the Patriots’ staff for five of Brady’s years in Foxborough — to be in the mix as a possible replacement. Indeed, O’Brien and Licht have a close relationship, and the Bucs were interested in O’Brien’s services last year, when it appeared as if Leftwich would leave Tampa to become the Jaguars’ head coach.

The Patriots are also said to be interested in a reunion with O’Brien.

Bill O’Brien Emerging As “Strong Option” To Be Patriots OC

The Patriots offense has struggled mightily in 2022, and the organization may turn to a familiar face to right the ship. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports that Bill O’Brien is emerging as “a strong option” to be New England’s offensive coordinator next season.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard O’Brien’s name connected to the gig. He was mentioned as a potential option when Josh McDaniels left New England for Las Vegas, but Bill Belichick ultimately didn’t want to steal O’Brien from good friend Nick Saban. O’Brien has served as Alabama’s offensive coordinator for the past two seasons. Rapoport notes that the coach gave Saban a two-year commitment when he joined the program, and no extension has materialized. This has left an NFL return as a “real thought” for O’Brien.

Naturally, the Patriots would be a fit. O’Brien was on New England’s staff for five seasons, culminating in him earning the role of OC. The coach eventually left for Penn State before returning to the NFL as the Texans’ head coach. Houston went 52-48 in O’Brien’s six-plus seasons, including four playoff nods.

Further, the Patriots offense has taken a major step back during Mac Jones‘ second season in the NFL, although the organization hasn’t necessarily put the former first-round pick in a position to succeed. The Patriots have turned to former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and former special teams coordinator Joe Judge to help guide their offense, and as a result, New England ranks in the bottom half of the NFL in most offensive categories.

“I think it goes back to just trusting the process of everything and doing whatever you can do to become a great football player,” Jones said recently (via Rapoport). “Eventually that will show up on film. So a lot of things as an offense, it’s 11 guys and you have to try to push everybody as a quarterback to do the right thing and make sure we’re all on the same page. We’ve done that at times. But just getting that consistency. Obviously with myself, too.”

AFC East Notes: Robinson, Patriots, Judon

James Robinson was a surprise inactive for the Jets win over the Bears on Sunday. Naturally, the midseason acquisition wasn’t happy to be a healthy scratch.

“Obviously, I didn’t come here not to play,” Robinson told ESPN’s Rich Cimini. “Obviously, they brought me here for a reason. I don’t expect anything unless I work for it, and I’ve been working my ass off. Me not playing pisses me off.”

Robinson was told that he’d be inactive last Wedneday, with the running back stating that he was “upset” with the decision. The 24-year-old was acquired from the Jaguars following the season-ending injury to rookie standout Breece Hall. Robinson had 27 touches for 80 yards and one touchdown in his first three games with the Jets. When asked why he was suddenly replaced in the lineup, Robinson didn’t have an answer.

“I mean, picking up the runs, that’s easy,” he said. “The thing is getting used to the pass game, protections and I feel like I’ve picked up that stuff up pretty good…You probably have to ask them what their game plan is for me. I’d do the same, but obviously I’m going to continue to work my ass off. I can’t go in there begging. They can see what I do on the field.”

Running back Zonovan Knight ended up getting the open roster spot, and the rookie had 103 yards from scrimmage in his NFL debut. The Jets could make Robinson an inactive once again this weekend if Michael Carter is able to play through his ankle injury. If Carter can go, he’d join a RB corps that would also include Knight and Ty Johnson. Coach Robert Saleh has acknowledge that the RB room is “a week-to-week thing.”

More notes out of the AFC East…

  • Before Bill Belichick settled on Matt Patricia and Joe Judge to guide his offense, there were whispers that the Patriots could recruit former offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien. After serving as Alabama’s OC over the past two years, O’Brien has most recently been linked to Georgia Tech’s head coaching vacancy, although Jeff Schultz of The Athletic recently passed along that the coach could prefer to return to the NFL, particularly as New England’s offensive coordinator. For what it’s worth, Belichick said he hasn’t talked to his former assistant about re-joining the organization. “I haven’t talked to Bill in a little while,” Belichick said during an appearance on WEEI (via Mark Daniels of MassLive.com). “So, I don’t know, I wouldn’t really want to comment on his situation. I think that’s something for him to comment on.”
  • The Patriots opened up a chunk of cap space by restructuring Matt Judon‘s contract today, according to ESPN’s Field Yates (on Twitter). The move created more than $2MM in cap space for the organization. Judon, who inked a four-year, $56MM deal with the Patriots in 2021, leads the NFL with 13 sacks this season.
  • The two-year extension that linebacker Jahlani Tavai recently inked with the Patriots is technically a three-year pact considering the bump in 2022 money, according to Ben Volin of the Boston Globe (on Twitter). Tavai got a raise from $1.15MM to $2MM this season, plus $500K in incentives. The linebacker can earn $1.625MM ($1.15MM guaranteed, $1.958MM cap hit) in 2023 and $1.875MM ($2.158MM cap hit) in 2024. The former Lions second-round pick has started seven of his 11 appearances this season, compiling 38 tackles and 1.5 sacks.

Bill O’Brien, Adam Gase Candidates For Patriots’ OC Vacancy

With Josh McDaniels on his way to Las Vegas, there is a vacancy in New England for an offensive coordinator for the first time in a decade. Two of the names being circulated as potential replacements, according to NFL Network’s Mike Giardi, are ex-head coaches Bill O’Brien and Adam Gase (Twitter link). 

[Related: Raiders Hire Josh McDaniels As HC]

O’Brien has been busy since being dismissed from the Texans in 2020. He spent 2021 as the OC at Alabama, reaching the National Championship game. Following the college season, he interviewed with the Jaguars for their HC vacancy. That was somewhat surprising, given that he wasn’t thought to be on the NFL radar at this time.

O’Brien, 52, made the playoffs four times during his six full seasons in Houston. However, a total of just two postseason wins – along with an increasingly disastrous tenure as the team’s general manager – saw him out of the league two years ago. Given his experience in New England (stretching from 2007 to 2011, in various roles) prior to that, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see him reunite with Bill Belichick.

Gase, meanwhile, is a candidate whose “name keeps popping up when speaking to league sources” with regards to the Patriots’ OC opening. He has experience at the NFL level dating back to 2005, but is of course better remembered for his time with the Dolphins and Jets as a head coach. After an impressive turnaround in 2019, there was optimism he and QB Sam Darnold could take the latter team a step forward in 2020. Instead, the Jets had their worst start in franchise history (0-13) and Gase was fired at the end of the year, while Darnold was traded away. The 43-year-old spent 2021 away from the sidelines.

Giardi adds that “there’s hope for an internal promotion” from within the organization, though any in-house candidates likely wouldn’t hold the title of OC. If the Patriots do elect to hire an external candidate, either of these two would bring plenty of experience – along with some raised eyebrows, in all likelihood – to the table.

Panthers Eyeing Jay Gruden, Bill O’Brien For OC

The Panthers have Bill O’Brien and Jay Gruden on the radar as they search for their next offensive coordinator, according to sources who spoke with ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter. Schefter also hears that Carolina is expected to reach out to Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell about the vacancy.

[RELATED: Panthers Plan To Keep Matt Rhule]

Washington fired Gruden midway through his sixth season after winless start to the 2019 season. He clashed with ownership and team brass throughout his tenure, though he was far from alone in that regard. Dwayne Haskins aside, he offers a solid track record of grooming young quarterbacks, dating back to his early days with the Bengals and QB Andy Dalton. Gruden re-emerged in 2020 as the Jaguars’ offensive coordinator but didn’t make the transition to the short-lived Urban Meyer era.

O’Brien, meanwhile, took the Texans to the playoffs four times, including 2015 and ’16 when he had the likes of Brian Hoyer and Brock Osweiler under center. Still, the Texans came up short in the postseason, despite the presence of Deshaun Watson. His work as a GM left much to be desired, but O’Brien is still in demand — in addition to the Panthers OC job, the Jaguars are eyeing him as a head coaching candidate. His interviews will have to wait at least a couple more days, however, as he guides the Alabama offense through the National Championship game.

After firing previous OC Joe Brady, head coach Matt Rhule is expected to stay put for the 2022 season.