Chad O'Shea

Which coaches will slide in as Belichick's top assistants?

Which coaches will slide in as Belichick's top assistants?

Now that we know, officially, that the Patriots have lost both of their coordinators of the past six seasons to head-coaching gigs, let's peek ahead to see who could slide in as Bill Belichick's top assistants for the 2018 season. 

OFFENSE
Chad O'Shea, wide receivers coach: O'Shea has been given the preseason play-calling responsibilities in the past, an indication that he would be called upon to serve as offensive coordinator should anything happen that would prevent Josh McDaniels from carrying out his game-day gig. O'Shea is instrumental in not only tutoring a position group that gets its cues from one of the most demanding quarterbacks in history, but he also makes critical contributions in game-planning and has been responsible for putting together the team's red-zone packages. O'Shea just finished his 15th NFL season and his ninth in New England.

Offensive notes: Jerry Schuplinski, who received some hard-earned recognition last season for his work with rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett, was a potential candidate for the offensive coordinator duties. Perhaps he would have been named quarterbacks coach and taken on the coordinator duties. (The Patriots went without an offensive coordinator in 2009 and 2010 and Bill O'Brien served as quarterbacks coach.) As the assistant quarterbacks coach, Schuplinski has been in meetings with Brady and McDaniels, and his work in helping young quarterbacks Brissett or Jimmy Garoppolo has been valuable. However, ESPN has reported that Schuplinski is expected to join McDaniels in Indianapolis. Schuplinski played his college football at John Carroll University, where he was teammates with McDaniels, Nick Caserio and director of pro personnel Dave Ziegler... Dante Scarnecchia will be 70 later this month. He told NBC Sports Boston that he could envision himself coaching next season, but he would not commit to 2018. Should he depart, coaching assistant Cole Popovich would be among the favorites to replace Scarnecchia.

DEFENSE
Brian Flores, linebackers coach: Flores already received interest from the Cardinals to interview for their head-coaching job before Arizona hired Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks for the job. He could be due for a promotion. Like O'Shea for the offense, Flores has previously taken on play-calling duties for the defense in preseason games, indicating he would have been relied upon in Matt Patricia's absence. Flores joined the Patriots as a scouting assistant in 2004 after finishing up his playing career as a two-year starter at Boston College. He's in his 14th season with the Patriots and his 10th season as a coach. For the past two seasons, he's led the linebackers after serving as safeties coach for four seasons. During Super Bowl week last year, Flores reportedly had interest from the 49ers to take over their open defensive coordinator spot. 

Defensive notes: It has been reported that Greg Schiano could take on defensive coordinator duties for the Patriots. The former Rutgers and Buccaneers head coach has plenty of experience running a program and his most recent gig has been as the associate head coach/defensive coordinator/safeties coach at Ohio State. Schiano has a long-time supporter in Belichick and it would come as no surprise if Belichick found him a place on the staff. Schiano coached Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon and safeties coach Steve Belichick in their Rutgers days...Belichick could opt to go without a coordinator and spend more (a lot more) time focusing on that side of the ball. In 2010 and 2011, the Patriots did not have a defensive coordinator. 

Special teams notes: It has been widely reported that Joe Judge could join Josh McDaniels in Indianapolis, but if he does not, he'd be expected to return to his role running the kicking game for the Patriots. His official title in 2017 was special teams coach. Perhaps, if he has an offer elsewhere and the Patriots want to keep him in-house, he could be named special teams coordinator. Should Judge end up with McDaniels, assistant special teams coach Ray Ventrone would be the logical choice to fill in. Ventrone just finished his third season as a coach. He spent nine seasons as a player, including parts of three seasons with the Patriots. 

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Patriots win the turnover battle on the coaching staff, too

Patriots win the turnover battle on the coaching staff, too

FOXBORO -  Josh McDaniels stood on the Patriots practice fields before the start of their first spring workout and spoke about starting from scratch. 

"Every year is a different team," he said. "This is a different team obviously than last year's. But this is 17 years for me, and never once have we had the same group come back and really be the same to start with the next year. We gotta work hard now, create a foundation, learn about these guys that we have that we don't really have a lot of experience with, and start to build that trust all over again."

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But as McDaniels embarked on that process, he had an advantage over most offensive coordinators around the league. It was the same advantage from which Matt Patricia benefited as he began working with the Patriots defense: continuity.

McDaniels and Patricia began the season as two of seven coordinators in the NFL who had held their positions since 2012. It's a jarring statistic when one considers that almost 90 percent (55 of 62, the Texans and 49ers don't have offensive coordinators on staff) of all coordinator jobs have turned over at least once in the past five years. 

The understanding that both Patricia and McDaniels have been around the Patriots much longer than five seasons -- that was when Patricia was officially given the coordinator's title, and it was when McDaniels returned for his second go-round at the job -- only bolsters the point that the continuity the Patriots boast at the top of their coaching tree is unmatched. 

Belichick, McDaniels and Patricia's run as a trio, though, could be wrapping up. Both McDaniels and Patricia are frequently mentioned as two of the top head-coaching candidates in football, and there could be about a dozen jobs open after the season.

If one or both decide to leave, they could be replaced by Belichick with in-house candidates to maintain a level of consistency. Receivers coach Chad O'Shea and linebackers coach Brian Flores have seen play-caller reps in the preseason and would be among the options. But if Patricia and McDaniels walked out the door, a measure of familiarity would leave with them.

"We have a lot of consistency on our entire staff," Belichick said back in July. "I thought that was very helpful this year in a relatively short offseason. Those guys were able to – when I say 'those guys,' the entire staff – were able to get into things pretty quickly. There wasn’t really a [period of] catching new staff members up or bringing them up to speed or going over things.

"Pretty much everybody’s been through everything that we’re doing, both in the offseason and the regular season, our game preparation and so forth. Not that we don’t have a lot of work to do. I’m not saying that. But at least we have a level of experience of all doing it together. So, yeah. It’s good."

That consistency on the staff helped the Patriots make one of their biggest acquisitions of the last few years when they coaxed Dante Scarnecchia out of retirement. If the coaches rooms had been lined with new faces in 2015, he might not have been so willing to return.  

"[We] know what to expect of one another," the 69-year-old offensive line coach said. "They know what to expect of us. I think all of that stuff makes it so much easier. I don't know if I would've ever come back if Josh wouldn't have been [here]. Because Josh was here, that was one of the huge reasons . . . And all the guys on defense. You know all those guys. It's really, it's a good bunch of guys to be around in every respect. You come into the office every day. Egos are checked at the door. Just seems like it's a healthy environment."

It's an unusually healthy one compared to the rest of the league, like an NFL medical marvel that science can't solve - around forever and still going strong. 

Walking through the bowels of Gillette Stadium over the summer, Patricia was asked how he could explain the rare longevity that he and McDaniels have enjoyed as coordinators. 

"What I will say is I do feel very blessed," Patricia said. "Especially working with Josh, Nick Caserio, and Bill, and really my staff, of having that continuity. I think we know we have something special with that and we enjoy it. 

"When you get in those situations, you tend to savor them, and you tend to really appreciate them. It's great. Josh and I have been together a long time, from being together on the same side of the ball to now being able to coordinate our sides. Having that relationship and that background, I mean, I'm very, very lucky."

For the players that McDaniels and Patricia coach, the feeling is mutual. Those who have played elsewhere before coming to the Patriots seem to be particularly thankful to land in a place where the path to success is clear and has been manicured by the same sets of hands for years. 

"'I've been in situations where we've had new OCs, new coaches come in, new quarterbacks, and it's not easy getting guys where they need to be," Danny Amendola said. "The biggest thing is having the ability to show film with consistency of the offensive coordinator from past years, and what he wants, and what needs to happen to be successful. That's just what Coach McDaniels offers for us. It's good because there's no gray area. It's pretty black and white: 'This is what you need to do to be successful.' He can put on tape of guys doing it successfully in previous years. The consistency is there, and I know Coach McDaniels loves to be here and everybody loves to play for him.

"I remember when I first met him, he came to St. Louis and we were coming off the lockout. We didn't have any time in OTAs together. We were literally thrown into camp, we had two weeks before our first preseason game, and it was tough. It was tough, man. He was showing us Patriots clips. He was showing Broncos. We didn't know where we stacked up in the room. There were a lot of different variables. 

"That consistency we have now is huge for our offense. Every coach, you can turn to. Chad's been here for about 10 years. [Running backs coach Ivan Fears] has been here for no telling how long...The consistency and the template to just playing good football is here. It might be a lot to grasp at first for a new guy. But once you kind of grasp it, it gets a lot easier. It's there for you."

Despite the Patriots running challenging systems both offensively and defensively, the acclimation process for new additions is made easier by the multiple layers of coaching that dots the locker room. With consistent teaching points from year to year, established players end up becoming valuable sounding boards for their newer teammates.

"When you have stability like that, it's huge because guys know what to expect," David Harris said. "They're familiar with the playbook. Being a new guy coming in, a lot of times I can just ask another player, 'How do I play this?' Or, 'What do I do?' instead of having one-on-one meetings with the position coach or the defensive coordinator. That's a huge benefit, the continuity of the coaches here. They've been successful a long time, and it's working."

Harris knows how the other half lives. In 10 years with the Jets, he played under three head coaches (Eric Mangini, Rex Ryan and Todd Bowles) and four defensive coordinators (Bob Sutton, Mike Pettine, Dennis Thurman and Kacy Rodgers). 

Chris Hogan saw even more regular turnover in his four years in Buffalo. First, he played under coach Chan Gailey and offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins. Then it was Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett. Then Rex Ryan took over and Greg Roman ran the offense. 

Dwayne Allen's run in Indianapolis was similarly turbulent. He played for only one head coach in his five years with the team, Chuck Pagano, but the offense changed hands three times. Bruce Arians, Pep Hamilton and Rob Chudzinski all had cracks at it.

For Allen, New England's single-minded approach offensively was refreshing to step into. When he had questions, there was Rob Gronkowski (seven years in the offense) and James Develin (five) to lean on in meetings. On the field, if Nate Solder (six years in the offense) or Marcus Cannon (six) sensed something was off, they could set Allen straight.

"No matter's who's around me," Allen said in camp, "with the ones and the twos, I'm able to turn to my left and my right and ask a question, and they're able to point me in the right direction."

Hogan remembered feeling the same way going into last season. If he wanted them, there were sources of on-the-field advice everywhere. It was a dynamic that couldn't exist if everyone was under a new boss for the third time in four seasons.

"There's guys that have been doing it," Hogan said in camp. "They got guys that can teach people the offense. It doesn't have to always be Josh. It can be Julian [Edelman], Tom [Brady], Danny, [Matthew] Slater, Gronk. They've got guys that have been in this offense for a while.

"You have to have veteran leadership. It doesn't have to always be Josh. I think that's why people can come in here and be successful, because there are so many guys that can teach the offense, coach it. There's not a lot of turnover here. Players, yeah. But the coaches have been here. They know what they're doing. They know what they want."

As long as Belichick remains the head coach and Brady remains the quarterback, the schematic changes will in all likelihood be minimal even if the coordinators move on. But if the voices change, and if the methods change, it would stand to reason that a degree of uncertainty would follow.

McDaniels is a close friend of Brady's, someone who can pull out a game plan from years ago for Brady to execute after a quick sideline powwow, someone Brady immediately acknowledged after throwing one of the most important touchdowns of his career. Patricia is a coach who has been able to connect with his players on multiple levels, tweaking them to give their best, hugging them when they need it, and all the while maintaining his reputation as the rocket scientist with the beautiful football mind.

Those qualities aren't easily replaced, and if the Patriots are forced to change coordinators this offseason it could take some time to reboot. Change can be hard. And change at the top is something the Patriots have managed to avoid during the latest iteration of their dynasty.

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