The trend of former players turning to coaching after their playing careers end continued today with former Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower getting hired to coach his former team’s linebackers group, according to his agents at SportsTrust Advisors. ESPN’s Mike Reiss posted that the hiring seemed to complete the main coaching hires on the defensive side of the ball, indicating that cornerbacks coach Mike Pellegrino would be returning to coach the position in 2024.
Hightower was a 2012 first-round addition out of Alabama for the Patriots back in 2012. An immediate starter, Hightower performed at a high level for the entirety of his ten-year career, all of which saw him play in red, white, and blue. The two-time Pro Bowler’s only big issue throughout his career was durability. Throughout his time in New England, he only appeared in every game of a season once and missed 11 games in 2017 due to a torn pectoral muscle. He also was one of the few NFL players who opted out of the 2020 season as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hightower would return for the 2021 season and, after going unsigned in 2022, would retire in 2023. Hightower finished his career with 569 total tackles, 43 tackles for loss, 27 sacks, two forced fumbles, and five fumble recoveries. He hit the quarterback 67 times, intercepted them once, and deflected 18 passes over his career.
Hightower will return to the NFL as a coach for the only team he ever played for, joining his former teammate, and new head coach, Jerod Mayo. With former defensive line coach DeMarcus Covington taking over as defensive coordinator, Hightower is joining new defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery, returning safeties coach Brian Belichick, and Pellegrino as the position coaches on the defensive staff. This should conclude the major hires on this side of the ball, though minor roles may still be filled.
Speaking of a minor coaching role, New England is reportedly finalizing a deal to bring in former Panthers assistant offensive line coach Robert Kugler, per Mike Giardi of the Boston Sports Journal. Kugler is a hot name in coaching circles who is viewed as a possible candidate for offensive coordinator jobs in the not-too-distant future.