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Five Potential Candidates for Patriots Offensive Coordinator 

The Patriots are beginning a search for a new offensive coordinator.

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In an unprecedented statement, the Patriots formally announced that they'll conduct a search for a new offensive coordinator beginning this week.

Although there were rumblings that changes were on the horizon, head coach Bill Belichick made it official in a press release on Thursday night. The Patriots will have a new offensive coordinator in 2023 after a turbulent season that was their worst in the Belichick era on offense.

According to Football Outsiders' DVOA efficiency metric, New England's offense had its worst season since 1995 following longtime offensive coordinator Josh McDaniel's departure. After 13 seasons in two different stints with the team, McDaniels became the head coach of the Raiders, taking top assistants Mick Lombardi (WRs/OC) and Carmen Bricillo (offensive line) with him to Las Vegas. Along with the McDaniels-led exodus, the Pats have also recently lost legendary O-Line coach Dante Scarnecchia and running backs coach Ivan Fears to retirement. The brain drain in Foxborough would've been difficult for any organization to overcome.

Now that the Patriots offense will have a new director next season, what are the most important objectives of the search? From this vantage point, the primary goal should be catering an offense to second-year quarterback Mac Jones's strengths. However, there are also schematic shifts that are worth discussing that could lead the head coach in a specific direction.

For example, the Patriots experimented with shifting to an outside zone system that 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and Rams head coach Sean McVay popularized. Although McVay and Shanahan aren't the system's originators, they've modernized it to today's game.

Due to having a coaching staff that didn't have experience in an outside zone scheme, New England mostly ditched the system after a failed experiment during training camp. Instead, the Pats were a spread-based attack that majored in duo, inside zone, and gap schemes.

Depending on the schematic direction that head coach Bill Belichick wants to take the offense in moving forward, that could significantly influence the hiring process for the next offensive coordinator.

Here are our top five candidates to be the next Patriots offensive coordinator as a highly-anticipated search begins next week:

1. Bill O'Brien (Current Role: Alabama Offensive Coordinator)

This is an obvious top candidate after spending five seasons on Bill Belichick's staff from 2007-2011, becoming the official offensive coordinator for the Patriots in 2011.

After McDaniels left for the first time following the 2008 season, O'Brien took over play-calling duties and was the architect of the Patriots record-breaking 2011 offense. Although it's easy to forget, O'Brien designed New England's prolific two-tight end offense, not McDaniels.

Furthermore, O'Brien's recent stint with Belichick's coaching confidant, Nick Saban, gives him a unique perspective into New England's old system and Alabama's offense. In other words, the Pats can run a hybrid Patriots-Crimson Tide scheme perfectly suited to Mac Jones, who worked with O'Brien during the veteran coach's transition into the Alabama offense.

It doesn't take long to see O'Brien's fingerprints on Alabama's film. Above, Alabama is running a BOB staple, HOSS Z Juke, which stuck around even after McDaniels returned. The play features mirrored hitch-seam routes on the perimeter with an inside option route, giving the quarterback a read based on the defense's structure that has answers for all coverages.

Specifically to Alabama's offense, O'Brien also adopted the Crimson Tide's legendary RPO package. Jones excelled running Alabama's downfield RPO schemes, such as slant-flat with both zone and gap blocking schemes.

Other elements to O'Brien's offense in Tuscaloosa over the last two seasons include coverage-stressing bunch formations, motion at the snap, air raid schemes (Y cross, mesh) out of spread formations, and downhill blocking schemes such as power and counter.

New England experimented with Alabama'ing their offense this season, but their RPO designs mainly were screens, and their spread elements were too inconsistent. O'Brien could bring the efficiency from the Pats staples over the years while modernizing their spread package.

2. Kliff Kingsbury (Current Role: Former Cardinals Head Coach)

O'Brien is our top choice for continuity purposes, but the creativity and background as a former Patriots quarterback are alluring qualities for the recently fired Cardinals head coach.

Kingsbury was a Belichick draft pick in the 2003 draft, and the two have maintained a relationship as Kingsbury broke into coaching. Although he flamed out in Arizona, Kingsbury's ability to connect with Jones as a former quarterback has been a successful blueprint around the league (examples: Kellen Moore, Mike Kafka, Kevin O'Connell, Ken Dorsey).

The former Texas Tech head coach has modified his highly successful air raid system to fit the NFL, incorporating more condensed formations and two tight ends sets. However, at his roots, Kingsbury is still an air raid coach whose offense thrives in shotgun with spacing and speed. Kingsbury's staples are stick, mesh, Y cross, and middle-read/dagger. But he also features an extensive RPO and screen package while using gap runs from the gun in the running game.

Here, the Cardinals are running Kingsbury's middle-read concept where they're high-lowing the zone defender in the middle of cover-two. Rams LB Bobby Wagner can carry the vertical route or collapse on the "over the ball" pattern. But Wagner is in conflict and can't cover both. When he stays deep on the middle-read route, quarterback Colt McCoy takes the shorter route.

Unless he adapts it to more under-center concepts for a pocket passer, Kingsbury's current system would be a far more sophisticated version of what the Patriots wanted to be this year.

3. Zac Robinson (Current Role: Rams QBs Coach/Pass Game Coordinator)

With McVay's future uncertain, the Rams head coach is allowing his staff to seek other opportunities. As we mentioned in the introduction, the Patriots were experimenting with an offensive scheme that resembled the Shanahan tree system throughout training camp this past summer.

However, their current personnel leans more toward the McVay style of doing things than Kyle Shanahan's 49ers. Unlike Shanahan's Niners, the Pats don't currently roster a fullback. Obviously, that could easily change, but they were doing more outside zone from three-receiver sets with condensed or tight splits than heavier personnel groupings—McVay, not Shanahan.

If that's the direction the Patriots want to go in, it brings us to Robinson, another former Belichick selection in the 2010 draft. Robinson's mentorship of young quarterbacks as a former quarterback has received praise in terms of working mechanics and improving velocity, which could keep Jones buttoned up in-season and continue progressing as a downfield thrower.

Plus, Robinson's adaptations alongside McVay to Los Angeles's base offense are intriguing. With veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford joining the Rams in the 2021 season, Stafford preferred to operate in the shotgun. To cater to their eventual Super Bowl-winning quarterback, McVay and Robinson ran more west coast concepts and empty formations from the gun.

For instance, the Rams rode their "choice stucko" concept to a Super Bowl where the option route runner, typically Cooper Kupp, used the space underneath to break open off leverage. This is a staple in the Shanahan playbook as well, but again, the Rams became less under-center and more gun-heavy with Stafford because that was the quarterback's preference.

The downside to hiring Robinson, or Kingsbury for that matter, is that it'll be Jones's third offensive system in as many seasons. But there's a reason the scheme is taking over the NFL.

4. Nick Caley (Current Role: Patriots Tight Ends Coach)

Although it's fair to want the Patriots to move on entirely from their current coaching staff, Caley has earned an interview as an internal candidate. Caley has spent the past six seasons coaching tight ends with eight years of experience in New England overall. It's hard to say what a Caley-led offense would look like, but one would assume that he'd install a similar system to the McDaniels playbook since he worked under the former Pats OC for most of his time here. It's also very common for tight ends coaches, who are involved in the pass and run game, to work their way up to offensive coordinator. For example, McVay was Washington's tight ends coach before becoming the Comanders' offensive coordinator.

5. Charlie Weis Jr. (Current Role: Ole Miss Co-Offensive Coordinator, QB Coach)

Here's our outside-the-box suggestion that is still Belichick coaching tree adjacent. Yes, Charlie Weis Jr. is the son of former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. Weis's father, of course, was the architect of the Pats offenses in dynasty 1.0, while the son had a short stint with the Pats as a low-level assistant. Currently, Weis Jr. is working under former Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. Kiffin runs one of college football's most aggressive offenses. Typically, Kiffin had a pass-heavy approach in a spread system that was the root of Alabama's philosophical shift on offense. But in Weis's first season with the Rebels, Ole Miss ran the ball at the highest clip Kiffin's ran the ball in recent memory with power-gun schemes. Like most of these candidates, Weis would put a modern-spread spin on things.

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