The Patriots Let Their Hottest Coaching Prospect Walk as Bill O'Brien Takes Control of the Offense
On the syllabus they hand out on the first day of Blogger School tells you, "Choose sexy topics." And on the scale of blogworthiness, "Tight end coach leaves to go be a tight ends coach somewhere else" is generally speaking no one's idea of subject erotica. And that if it truly is clicks you're looking for, just slap something together about Kliff Kingsbury's girlfriend vacationing on the beaches of Thailand:
So you'll have to pardon my self-indulgence here. Because the way I see it, when it comes to the Patriots losing a staff member to another team, there are always layers to the story that are worth exploring. As one would caves on a Thai beach with Kliff Kingsbury's girlfriend.
For starters, if there's one consistent through-line that has been ever-present around this franchise since they won their first Super Bowl 21 years ago, it's the media panic that arises any time they lose an assistant coach or someone in the front office. From Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel, through Eric Mangini, Scott Pioli, Thomas Dimitroff, Nick Caserio, Matt Patricia, Brian Flores, and dozens of others, it gets portrayed by the professionally hysterical class on sports radio and the football intelligentsia like they're losing the one indispensable man, whose absence is going to leave a hole in the Jenga tower that will leave the Dynasty scattered all over the floor. They said it both times Josh McDaniels left, and when Bill O'Brien left. And there is no doubt in my mind we'll be hearing it about Nick Caley. It's just the line in Seven Samurai, "They say the fish that gets away looks bigger than it really is."
I have no grudge against Caley. In fact, I know next to nothing about him, other than he's been on Bill Belichick's staff since 2015, pulling tight end duty for the last six years, as well as fullbacks for a couple of seasons. But starting last year, there has been enormous amounts of hype about him from the media pundits. All more or less using the same language. Rising star. Impressive. Up and coming. Ownership loves him, and so on. All of which may be true. But still an odd thing for everyone to be in universal agreement about, given that you have to go back to Rob Gronkowski in 2017 (69 [snicker] receptions, 1084 yards, 8 TDs) to find an example of anyone Caley coached truly being, to use the word they use on him, "impressive."
For all I know, he's the next breakout star coach in this league. The Chuck Noll of his generation. A legend who'll get his shot and wind up with a lady friend who gets a blog written every time she goes on a modeling trip. He did, after all, get interviews for offensive coordinator jobs with the Texans, Jets, and Pats themselves. But got none of them and had to settle for taking the same job, but with a team that went 5-12 this year.
Which brings me to what Caley's departure says about the only non-Veronica Bielik part of this story I care about: The Patriots. The fact the Next Big Thing on their coaching staff made a lateral move rather than continue to be up and coming in New England tells us a few things. First, Bill O'Brien's position is not opening up any time soon. It's been reported Belichick didn't want to pursue him at this time last year because he worried he'd become the hottest head coaching commodity in football and be one-and-done here. Then he'd have to conduct yet another search. But when guys with seemingly limitless futures and the support of ownership don't want to stick around, that tells you the offensive coordinator role is filled for years to come. Which is good news.
And to further make that point is yet another aspect of this. O'Brien is reportedly going to fill Caley's vacancy with Will Lawing, who was hired last week but whose job description hasn't been announced. Lawing was with O'Brien in Alabama the last two years. Prior to that, he worked for O'Brien in Houston. And before that, Lawing first broke into coaching working for him at Penn State. I remind you I'm well aware tight end coaching isn't going to make any panties drop, and I apologize if anyone swallows their tongue from boredom. But the fact BOB is adding his most loyal crony to the staff he's in charge of is a great indication of just how much in charge he actually is. Large and in charge.
This again is reason to feel great about the future of this franchise. Short term and long. We've got a guy running the offensive show who know only brings knowledge, experience, and a working relationship with Mac Jones, but the authority to surround himself with people he trusts for their knowledge and experience. And if that means turning over the existing personnel (Caley was the longest active duty offensive coach on staff), no one is going to stand in O'Brien's way. All of which brings us one giant leap further removed from the debacle that was 2022. Now they just need an offensive line coach and our long, regional nightmare will be over. Then we get to spend the rest of the offseason hearing how screwed we are because Nick Caley was the one guy we couldn't afford to lose. That's when we'll know everything is back to normal.