In the vast, eternal cycle of the Earth's orbit through the solar system, there are certain perennials in the rhythms of life on the planet. Deciduous flora have seasons where they shed their leaves and then bloom again. Fauna have seasons for hibernating, mating, and giving birth. And that great Circle of Life, time of year from about the Winter Solstice to around mid-January, always means creatures from other places come foraging in Foxboro, hoping to find their new head coach or general manager.
I seriously cannot remember the last year when none of the other 31 NFL teams didn't reach out to Bill Belichick asking (begging, pleading) for permission to talk to one of his assistants. Last year the Texans finally landed Nick Caserio after years of trying. But also Jerod Mayo got interviews, and is reportedly getting others this year. And no one has been linked to more head coaching jobs involving more teams over a longer span of time than Josh McDaniels.
I mean, can you believe it's been four full years since he was offered the Colts' job, accepted it, and then left them standing at the altar looking like idiots?
Only to have Andrew Luck retire months later, making him look like a prescient genius? This time two years ago, he and his wife were interviewing in Cleveland. Then last year he spent nine hours talking to the Eagles. So it followed logically that this year would be no different. But just as you brace yourself for the inevitable, the way you have since he first left for the Broncos job in 2009 and came back three seasons later, in 2022 it would appear you've got nothing to worry about:
Source - After taking just one interview in each of the last three offseasons combined he has thus far not received any requests this year.
A total of seven head coaching positions are open at this point in time, but at least as long as the Patriots are in the postseason McDaniels is not expected to pursue any of them. According to a report by Sports Talk 790’s Aaron Wilson, the 45-year-old is “focused solely on preparations for the playoffs” instead of any job opportunities.
You can take that to mean anything you like. The league is no longer impressed with McDaniels. He's happy where he is and told people not to bother trying to hire him away. He's got unfinished business with Mac Jones and wants to remain here to Miyagi him all the way to football's All Valley Karate Championships. I for one choose to just be grateful to have that mentor/mentee dynamic intact for another year of Jones' development and not ask any questions.
But that's just me. The fact is that the last remaining Belichick assistants just got fired this week. So once again everyone will be asking what they've asked for about 15 years or so. Ever since every NFL market and major DI program began the Brain Drain out of Foxboro and wondered why they haven't gotten results. At least why they haven't ended up with the Belichick the Next Generation.
Personally, my answer has always been the same and I see nothing that has changed my mind. Are you ready for it again? Strap yourself in. Gird your loins and prepare to have your mind blown: The branches off the Belichick Coaching Tree have not turned into mighty oaks because they are not Belichick. As JFK put it when he was hosting a dinner for all these Nobel Prize winners, he pointed out the dozens of talented individuals from the fields of science, the arts, medicine, music, literature and so on. And he called it the greatest collection of talent to have dinner in the White House sine Thomas Jefferson dined alone. Belichick is Jefferson. Without unfortunate personal history.
That said, here's my power rankings of the coaches who've been hired away from the Patriots organization and given the chance to build their own kingdom. For the purposes of this, I'm going to omit the ones who were only head coaches in college ball, like Charlie Weis. And this doesn't include the ones Belichick gave a start to in Cleveland, such as Nick Saban, Al Groh (2000 NY Jets) and Jim Bates (interim head coach, 2004 Dolphins). And just because most of these guys have been colossal failures, I'll work from the top to the bottom. It's just more fun this way:
Honorable Mention: Mike Vrabel, Tennessee. W-L 41-24, .631, 2-2 in the playoffs
I'd love to give credit to Belichick for this one. And it could be justified by the fact that if he didn't call Vrabel at the stroke of midnight at the start of the 2001 free agency period, dropping a rope ladder down into the bottom of Dick LeBeau's depth chart and choppering him out of Pittsburgh, Vrabel might not ever have gotten this shot. He was a coach on the field in New England for eight seasons, but that doesn't count. Still, ask any Patriots fan whom they'd like to have here if they couldn't have Belichick, and they'll pretend they didn't hear you because what you're asking them is too horrible to contemplate. But deep down, the choice would be Vrabel. It's not even close.
1) Bill O'Brien, Houston. 52-48, .520, 2-2 in the playoffs.
This frigging guy. First he leaves New England to put on a hazmat suit and clean up the toxic mess left behind in State College, PA by Jerry Sandusky's DNA and Joe Paterno's soiled Depends. Then gets hired by the Texans and makes the playoffs four out of his six full seasons. Only to then blow the opportunity to coach for a decade or more by taking too much control. First, he orchestrated the disastrous DeAndre Hopkins deal. But worse, he brought Jack Easterby into the organization. An untrustworthy snake right out of the Old Testament, who sank his fangs into O'Brien's back and got him fired four weeks into last season, and the Texans have yet to recover. But the man can coach tackle football.
2) Brian Flores, Miami. 24-25, .490
Make no mistake: Flores was done dirty, getting fired after just three seasons. The last two of which, he led the Dolphins to back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since Dave Wannstedt did in 2002-03. But as Pro Football Talk pointed out, the problem was not with Flores, it was with absentee ownership listening to the front office and not the coach when it comes to what the organization needs to do to improve. So they naturally scapegoat the guy who doesn't have the owner's ear to protect their phoney baloney jobs. Nice way to reward a guy who beat the team that has dominated the AFC East for the last 20 years four times in six tries, including the last three in a row. If Flores doesn't get one of the seven vacant head coaching jobs, there is something truly screwed up about the NFL in general.
3) Romeo Crennel, Cleveland, Kansas City, Houston. 32-63, .337
There will be guys on this list with higher winning percentages than Crennel, but it's more than just about Ws and Ls. As one of his former linebackers, Matt Chatham pointed out on Do Your Pod this week, Crennel was put in some impossible situations. Hired by a Browns team (stop me if you've heard this before) utterly bereft of talent, he still managed to coax them to a 10-6 record in 2007, for which he should've won the Nobel Prize in coaching. Then he gets the head job in Kansas City and is saddled with another disaster, with Matt Cassel - who had reached the limits of his ability by then - and Brady Quinn (ditto) each going 1-7. But the fact Romeo was still respected and trusted enough around the league to be given the chance to take over for O'Brien in Houston and right the ship (more or less) to a 4-8 record speaks volumes about the man. As does the fact he coached almost 100 games in his career, even with that win %. A younger Crennel, with a viable, competitive roster, would've been a a force in this league.
4) Eric Mangini, NY Jets, Cleveland. 33-47, .413. 0-1 in the playoffs.
It kills me to put Fredo this high on the list. But it's more a reflection of the failures of the others than a compliment to him. Football Judas took over two of the worst franchises in the history of professional North American sports and ran them like two of the worst franchises in the history of professional North American sports. It's laughable to think now, but when he betrayed the man who gave him his entire career (and whom he named his son after) by going to the Jets in 2006 and going 10-6, the tabloids were unironically calling him "Mangenius." He even landed a national endorsement deal for Razor phones (Google it, kids). That "1" in his playoff record was an asskicking at the hands of the guy with Mangina's knife still sticking out of the back of his hoodie, in perhaps the least memorable postseason game in Patriots history. A few years later, he accepted a Gatorade bath from his Browns players for beating the Patriots in that bizarre game that would Peyton Hillis on the cover of Madden. In early November. On a team that went 5-11. He would never coach again after that. Instead, he became the empty, vaguely Eric Mangini-shaped husk of a man who sits forlornly at various ESPN desks and asks himself where he went so horribly, horribly wrong.
5) Joe Judge, NY Giants. 10-23, .303
Joe Judge was meant to be a great experiment in coaching career advancement. A guy coming from the non-traditional career path of Special Teams coordinator to head coach. The logic being, that is the one position on the staff that works in close contact with players from all over the roster. And his failure probably set that cause back a generation. Personally, I'm leaning much more toward Dave Gettleman and Giants management for the debacle. But Judge didn't do himself any favors either with the long-winded speechifying and overly emotional rants. Less is more. And my guess is we'll see a lot less of him behind a podium for the foreseeable future. Meaning, forever.
6) Matt Patricia, Detroit. 13-29, .314
Here's another bright, accomplished guy like Romeo Crennel, who, had he chose to leave for a better franchise with a stronger culture, might have succeeded. But it was obvious from the beginning he didn't have the superhuman strength it would take to turn the Lions into winners. It began when the Detroit media of all damned people, complained because he had players run laps for fumbles and mental errors in training camp. Something that is so routine on the team he left, no one even thinks about it. They simply do it. Roster bubble and superstar alike. Then they all fell on the ground and started having seizures when he dared practice them outside in a dusting of snow. And it didn't matter how many former Patriots he brought onto his roster, that organization just has too much downward momentum to pull them out of the 100-year tailspin they're in. The fact that the Lions record under Patricia was way worse than the one that got Jim Caldwell fired, so he couldn't last past Week 12 of his rooIt was such a total goafuck in Detroit that it's hard to imagine Patricia ever getting another shot.
7) Josh McDaniels, Denver. 11-17, .393
2009-10 was a lifetime ago in football terms. In retrospect, he might have been a child prodigy who was put on the big stage at too young an age. Think Jake Lloyd in "Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace." Unlike Lloyd, he'll get another shot eventually. In fairness to McDaniels, his legacy in Denver was that he gave them the late, great Demaryius Thomas. But he also drafted Tim Tebow in the 1st round, dealt Brandon Marshall after taking massive amounts of abuse from him, wore a grey hoodie with the sleeves cut off, and then got accused of videotaping opponents.
So he was fired after Week 13 of just his second season. But at least he's still ours. Now, for next season, and possibly forever.
Anyway, best of luck to the next team that hires one of Belichick's assistants. Just quit convincing yourself you're going to get the real thing.