Josh McDaniels is a polarizing figure.
Bill Belichick, plenty of media members and many Patriots fans love him, as they well should.
But, there is at least a vocal minority of New England fans – and maybe it’s larger than that, as it’s always hard to judge based off Twitter and talk-radio callers – who have nothing but disdain for the man who’s coordinated the Patriots offense for the better part of two decades.
That second group, seemingly got its wish late this week with McDaniels getting the invite to interview for the head coaching job with the Las Vegas Raiders. Based on all reports, McDaniels has become the frontrunner for the opening in Sin City, and could be gone as soon as this snowmageddon weekend.
To those Patriot Nation McDaniels haters seemingly reveling in his second chance at an NFL head coaching job for all the wrong reasons we say this – careful what you wish for.
McDaniels’ potential departure creates major questions not only on Belichick’s offensive coaching staff but more importantly for the future of supposed franchise QB Mac Jones.
Sorry to defy the great philosopher Sheryl Crow, but a change in coordinator almost never does a young quarterback good.
Under McDaniels’ careful molding and play-calling, Jones is coming off an incredibly impressive first NFL season. The rookie not only started all 17 games and led the Patriots back to the playoffs, but finished in the top half of all quarterbacks in most statistical categories, including finishing 8th in the NFL completing 67.6 percent of his passes.
Whether you measure it in wins, stats or leadership, Jones more than did his job in 2021.
And McDaniels was a key part of that. Way back in June when Jones was still competing with Cam Newton for the New England starting job, NFL Networked reported one teammate as saying that the No. 15 overall pick “sees the game the same way” McDaniels does.
So it’s no surprise that he and his mind-melded coach – who spent endless hours preparing together and nearly every game day sideline second saddled up next to each other – meshed to turn a rebuilt Patriots offense into the NFL’s No. 6 unit in points scored.
Because that’s simply what McDaniels has done essentially every season in his 14 years leading the New England offense. He’s found a way to success, even if admittedly most of those years advantageously included Tom Brady.
During McDaniels’ 14 years running the New England offense (2005-08, 2012-21), the unit finished in the top five in the NFL in points scored eight times and in the top 10 13 times, the one outlier the 2020 Newton-led group that finished 27th. The numbers are similar if you prefer total yards as your offensive measure, with McDaniels’ offenses ranking in the top five in yards in six of his 14 seasons and the top 10 in nine times, again the outlier coming with Newton in 2020 when the group ranked 27th.
Like him or not, McDaniels maximized his talent when running the Patriots offense. When it was loaded, like in 2007 or 2017, his unit was the best in the game. But even while developing a first-time starter like Matt Cassel in 2008 or Jones this fall, the final product was always more than good enough to win with.
Losing this kind of coaching talent, one that’s already developed a developmental rapport with Jones is a clear blow the ongoing post-Brady rebuild. There is simply no other way to see it.
This isn’t to say Jones and the Patriots are necessarily doomed.
Nope. The Captain Obvious candidate to replace McDaniels would be former Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, who is currently the offensive coordinator at Alabama. He’s the perfect option to continue Jones’ development and continue the Patriots system that’s been in place in Foxborough since Belichick and Charlie Weis created it back in the early 2000s. And make no mistake Belichick isn’t changing his system 22 years into his historic New England run.
O’Brien, if he’s interested in the job and available, might even be able to blend some of the Alabama system where Jones enjoyed one of the best seasons in the history of college football back in 2020 into the Patriot way. Heck, while he never played for O’Brien, Jones actually reportedly helped teach the incoming coach the Alabama system prior to leaving to embark on his own pro career. So there’s that.
Like McDaniels, O’Brien has had plenty of success over the years. He did in New England with Brady. He did at Penn State and made the playoffs in Houston with Brian Hoyer and Brock Osweiler as well as Deshaun Watson. He’s a more than capable offensive mind. He helped guide current Tide touchdown-tosser Bryce Young to the Heisman Trophy.
But O’Brien’s a different voice with a very different personality. How would that work with Jones? No one could be sure. The only thing we can be sure of is that the continuity coaching a young QB that is generally desired and key to development will be lost.
Oh, and what if O’Brien isn’t an option to replace McDaniels?
What then? Well, then it’s panic time! Because as much as Belichick deserves the benefit of the doubt and faith that he’d fill the void, there just doesn’t seem to be a lot of options. Theoretically logical in-house candidates like wide receivers coach Mick Lombardi and tight ends coach Nick Caley feel far from ready for the role.
Really, though, regardless of the replacement plan, Jones losing his offensive coordinator after his first NFL season, a coach as proven and successful as McDaniels who the young QB clearly clicked with, is a obvious blow to Belichick’s retooling plan in New England.
Jones and the Patriots would survive the loss of McDaniels.
But Jones better off without McDaniels?
But as Taylor Swift so perfectly put it, haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.