When Bill Belichick was asked about Greg Schiano at a postgame press conference in November of 2017, the Patriots coach used the opportunity to sing the praises of a man who at the time was reportedly going to get the head coach's job at the University of Tennessee.
Belichick went on for almost two minutes.
"He’s one of the very best coaches I think in our profession," Belichick said of Schiano. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for Greg and the way he runs his program and the job that he does.
"I would say the most impressive thing for me is the way that our players, which we’ve had a lot of Rutgers players come through here, the loyalty and the, I would say, love of the program, the college program that they were in at Rutgers when he was there, how they maintained that for years and years after they had left. Not taking anything away from any other school, but I would just say that it’s extremely strong. I think the relationship that he has with his kids, with his players and how well prepared his players are to come into this league is exceptional . . .
"He’s a great coach. I’m sure he’ll be a great head coach. Again, he’s done an awful lot. He’s helped me in a lot of different ways and I have a lot of respect for him."
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The Vols head coaching search was eventually supremely botched, and Schiano remained at Ohio State. But he and Belichick remained close, and it came as little surprise that Schiano was jumping aboard Belichick's staff this offseason following the departures of Patriots defensive play-caller Brian Flores and defensive assistants Josh Boyer and Brendan Daly. The expectation was Schiano would serve as defensive coordinator.
Just a few days ago, in fact, Belichick lauded Schiano's abilities as a coach -- though much more succinctly -- at the NFL Annual Meeting's coaches breakfast. Those were Belichick's first public comments acknowledging the hire.
Schiano is now backing away from the job in New England, releasing a statement Thursday that said he needed time to focus on his faith and family. "I don't want to look back years from now and wish I had done things differently," the statement read.
Where do the Patriots turn for coaching help now following Schiano's decision to step down? There are a few things to consider.
MIGHT BELICHICK CALL PLAYS?
The Patriots defense has been Belichick's defense since 2000. Just because someone else is typically calling the plays -- Romeo Crennel, Dean Pees, Matt Patricia, Brian Flores -- doesn't mean the game plans, philosophies and techniques are any less Belichick's.
But might Belichick take an increased role defensively with no defensive coordinator lined up (yet) for 2019? In 2018, Flores' first season as defensive play-caller, my understanding was that Belichick upped his presence in defensive meetings. Might he be willing to increase his role to the point where it's his voice in Dont'a Hightower or Ja'Whaun Bentley's ears over the coach-to-player communication system on a snap-to-snap basis?
Belichick has gone without defensive coordinators before (2000, 2010-11, 2018), but he has almost always had someone else handle the play-calling. If he were to shoulder that gig in 2019, would it ever prevent him from being the omnipresent sideline teacher -- available to provide coaching points to players and assistants in all three phases at the drop of a hat -- that he's been for the better part of the last two decades?
WHO'S ASSISTING WHERE?
Even if Belichick opts to take on the coordinator duties, questions remain as to where certain coaches will be focusing their efforts next season.
Flores left his post as linebackers coach to become Miami's head coach. Josh Boyer went from New England's corners coach to Miami's pass-defense coordinator this offseason. Brendan Daly left the Patriots to go from Patriots defensive line coach to Kansas City's run-defense coordinator. (Offensively, receivers coach Chad O'Shea headed to Miami to become offensive coordinator under Flores, and assistant quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski left for a similar role with the Dolphins.)
Other than Jerod Mayo taking over as linebackers coach, as Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran has reported, it's unclear how those defensive openings will be filled. Steve Belichick has served as safeties coach for three seasons.
Former Schiano assistant Bob Fraser has a wealth of experience in a variety of roles. He was Bucs linebackers coach in 2012 and assistant defensive coordinator the following year in Tampa Bay, but his duties in New England are not yet known.
Former Wisconsin and Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema may be in the mix for a more specified role after serving as a consultant to the head coach in 2018. He coached linebackers early on in his career and served as defensive coordinator for the Badgers for two years before getting the head job there.
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DeMarcus Covington, a coaching assistant last season, spent a significant amount of time with Patriots linebackers in 2018 as Flores saw his responsibilities increased. Covington was spotted at the Boston College pro day earlier this month working with defensive linemen and linebackers.
The Patriots reportedly hired Mick Lombardi and Carmen Bricillo this offseason, both of whom have experience working on the offensive side. The team is also expected to return assistants Cole Popovich (who has spent a great deal of his time working alongside Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia), Mike Pellegrino and Brian Belichick.
At the moment there is no set date for the announcement of any promotions or changes to job titles.
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