Bill Belichick said a few weeks ago that he hasn't contacted former Patriots offensive coordinator and current Alabama play-caller Bill O'Brien about coming back to Foxborough to save his broken offense next season.
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But if Belichick did pick up the phone, Sports Illustrated insider Albert Breer said, O'Brien would pick up the phone.
"I think Billy's interested. I do," Breer said on NBC Sports Boston's "Next Pats" podcast. "I think he's interested in coming back to the NFL. I think he's potentially interested in potentially coming back here. He's got a relationship with Mac Jones. … He's from here. I believe his wife's from here, too, so I believe there's a lot of things here personally that I think would appeal to him."
Breer also suggested O'Brien might have been interested in returning to New England last year, but he didn't want to force his way out of his contract with Alabama, deciding to "let Bill and Nick [Saban] handle this."
Without O'Brien in the coaching pool, the Patriots decided to make Matt Patricia, who serves as a senior football advisor and offensive line coach, the team's offensive play-caller in addition to those roles, which has led to a disastrous decline for Mac Jones and the offense as a whole.
The last time O'Brien ran New England's offense, by contrast, the team had one of the NFL's best offenses (second in yards, third in points scored) and earned a Super Bowl berth in the 2011 season. He then went on to become Penn State's head coach and then took the head job for the Houston Texans shortly after.
Breer did seem to confirm Belichick's comments, saying the Patriots hadn't contacted O'Brien to his knowledge in the past year.
"I think there's a feeling that Alabama may want to turn over their offense a little bit again and work to move the ball forward with their offense. … I think for O'Brien, there's that feeling of, 'Do I want to be back in the NFL?' and 'Wherever my next head coaching opportunity's going to come (if it comes), what's the best place for me to [go] to facilitate that?'
"I still think a lot of the heavy lifting is going to have to be done by Belichick and Saban because I don't think O'Brien is going to raise his hand and say, 'Look at me over here! I want to go there. Please, please deliver me back to New England.' I don't think he'll do that. I think that those guys would have to facilitate it. And if they don't facilitate it, I think Bill O'Brien could wind up somewhere else in NFL. I do think he's got a real interest in going back to the NFL, not just the Patriots."
O'Brien's contract with the Crimson Tide is reportedly up at the end of February, which means Belichick and Saban might have to talk beforehand to allow the offensive coordinator to jump ship and land in Foxborough. Of course, the Patriots could also just wait until he's officially a coaching free agent to let that happen, but they'd be a bit behind the rest of the coaching cycle if they did wait.
Also, there's the matter of what the Patriots actually decide to do in terms of hiring in the first place.
If the team opts to hire someone with the title of offensive coordinator, they'll need to go through the interview process for coordinators (which includes Rooney Rule stipulations for at least two outside minority candidate interviews). The Patriots have played around with titles many times over the years, but it's notable they've yet to go through this interview process for coordinators since the Rooney Rule was expanded to included coordinators in 2020.
The Patriots could, of course, do what they did with Patricia and hire O'Brien as an "offensive assistant" only to give him play-calling duties later. But it's worth wondering if O'Brien would prefer another NFL position to that arrangement.
They might also just decide to keep Patricia in his current role or simply elevate someone like Nick Caley to call plays if they're done with Patricia in that capacity (which they should be).
O'Brien certainly wouldn't fit the Patriots' most recent MO when it comes to filling out its coaching staff. But it would be a welcome change for this offense and certainly for Mac Jones if it worked out.