While Patriots fans are ready to welcome Bill O’Brien back to New England with open arms, Alabama fans are apparently ready to throw a parade for his expected departure.
In New England, O’Brien, who interviewed for the Patriots’ offensive coordinator on Thursday and is widely seen as the favorite to get the job, is viewed as a known commodity who would be a major upgrade over the offensive game-planning and play-calling the Pats got from Matt Patricia and Joe Judge this past season.
In Tuscaloosa, however, O’Brien is widely considered a disappointment who oversaw a Crimson Tide offense that took a step back from its championship levels during his two seasons in charge.
Mike Rodak, who covers Alabama football for AL.com and used to cover the Patriots for ESPN Boston, joined Rich Keefe and Andy Hart on “The Rich Keefe Show” Thursday night to explain why Alabama fans are so down on O’Brien and can’t wait to see him go.
“It’s pretty funny. I’ve done a handful of radio shows in Alabama and a handful in Boston, and it’s two completely different perspectives on the same thing,” Rodak said. “Boston, I think people want him back, after he was obviously there before. But in Alabama, people just want him gone. And it’s pretty universal.
“I mean, I remember being with my wife’s family -- and they’re all from Alabama, they’re all Alabama fans -- at Christmas, and I’m just trying to enjoy my Christmas and people are asking me, ‘When is Bill O’Brien gonna leave? When is he gonna be gone?’ I’m like, ‘I think he’s gonna be gone. I think he’s going back to New England.’ But it’s just been this kind of long, drawn-out process.”
Rodak said that he believes some of the criticism of O’Brien has been over-the-top and that O’Brien has just been an easy scapegoat for fans to use.
“I don’t think it’s as simple as fans make it,” he said. “And it’s really tough to be a coordinator at Alabama, too. Nobody’s ever going to blame Nick Saban. He has seven rings on his fingers, he is a god down here, he is the most powerful person in the state by far. So whenever something goes wrong on the field, it’s always the coordinator’s fault, on either side of the ball. So a lot of that flowed downhill to Bill O’Brien the last couple years.
“It’s not like they were bad. They went from being a top-two, top-three offense under Steve Sarkisian to being top-10 under Bill O’Brien. That’s just not good enough for Alabama fans because they want to be the absolute best, they want to win every single game. That’s just how it is down here. So because they slipped a little bit, it was just an explosion in Bill O’Brien’s face.”
Rodak pointed out that while O’Brien’s offenses didn’t score quite as much as Sarkisian’s, O’Brien also didn’t have the same caliber of weapons.
“That’s part of it, too,” Rodak said. “Steve Sarkisian had DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle and Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy. Bill O’Brien had Jameson Williams for a year, and then he got hurt in the national championship game. If he didn’t get hurt, they probably would’ve beat Georgia two years ago and I think people would look at O’Brien differently. So, personnel matters.
“This past season, for instance, they brought him a transfer from Georgia Tech, running back Jahmyr Gibbs, who’s quite possibly a first-round pick this year. Great catching the ball out of the backfield. And I thought Bill O’Brien used him really well in sort of an Alvin Kamara-type role. … I think O’Brien still used what he had pretty well. It just, personnel-wise, wasn’t quite what they had before.”
Rodak also made it clear that Alabama coach Nick Saban doesn’t feel the same way about O’Brien that the fans do, and suggested that Saban might even welcome O’Brien back for another season if O’Brien doesn’t land with the Patriots or another NFL team for whatever reason.
“I’ve never heard anything about him and Nick Saban butting heads. I think that relationship was good,” Rodak said. “Honestly, fans want O’Brien gone, but I don’t know if Nick Saban necessarily wants O’Brien gone. I think he has a pretty high opinion of him still. If everything fell apart, which I think is doubtful at this point -- I think Bill O’Brien is getting an NFL job and it’s probably going to be in New England -- but if he didn’t, I still think Nick Saban would take Bill O’Brien back for another year.”