For a majority of the past two decades, New England has enjoyed the almost unheard-of luxury of one head coach (Bill Belichick) and one quarterback (Tom Brady) working with the same quarterback coach (Josh McDaniels) in the same offensive system. With Brady now calling signals in Tampa, not only will the Patriots have a new, to-be-determined QB under center this season, that player and whoever backs him up on the depth chart will also report directly to a new position coach.
"[We'll] try to keep it the same mentality, but adapt it to the players we have," McDaniels remarked during a video conference with reporters on August 7. "I'm thankful for the experiences I've had when I didn't have Tom… the Matt Cassel year , which I learned a lot about how to tailor something to somebody else's strengths. We had to play that stretch [in 2016] with Jacoby [Brissett] and Jimmy [Garoppolo]. I thought that was helpful. And I was away for three years."
McDaniels, of course, remains on Belichick's staff in his customary offensive coordinator role, a position he's essentially held since 2004 (though he didn't have the title initially), save those aforementioned three seasons from 2009-11 when McDaniels worked for the Broncos and Rams organizations.
As OC, McDaniels is mostly responsible for overseeing the Patriots offense in its entirety and calling plays on game days. Heretofore throughout his lengthy career with New England, McDaniels has also shepherded the QBs in particular, with help from various assistants over the years (e.g., Jerry Schuplinski, Mick Lombardi most recently). In 2020, McDaniels relinquishes the title of quarterback coach to Jedd Fisch, a contemporary with considerable experience in both the major college and NFL coaching ranks.
"Josh is still extremely involved with the quarterbacks. We're doing so much together in that regard," Fisch is quick to point out during a video conference with reporters on August 7. "What it does enable you to do, when you're the coordinator and you have a quarterback coach designated, is that you have the opportunity at times to break away and start working ahead potentially. It's another set of eyes.
"What Josh has done as offensive coordinator and quarterback coach in this league is unmatched. So, to assist him in any way, shape, or form, and then be another set of ears, another person that can help contribute to the game plan, and help teach these [QBs] is just… a great challenge, great opportunity, very exciting, obviously, to be a part of something as special as New England and what they've done offensively over the last 20 years. Specifically, working with Josh, learning from Josh and the entire offensive staff, and Coach Belichick."
McDaniels and Fisch were born two weeks apart, with the latter being the negligibly younger of the two. Despite this, plus the fact that, unlike McDaniels, Fisch never actually played football in high school or college, the now 44-year-old got a two-year head-start on McDaniels in their coaching careers.
Fisch started out as a high school assistant coach in 1997, then an Arena League assistant in 1998. In 1999, Fisch (the University of Florida) and McDaniels (Michigan State) were hired as graduate assistants at major college programs. The pair first met in early 2000 when their respective schools squared off in the Citrus Bowl and have gotten to know and respect one another's work, having crossed paths numerous times since. The opportunity to work on the same staff didn't come along, however, until the Patriots hired Fisch this past January.
"What we've been able to do is have great conversations… not just about what we're doing, but why we're doing it, how we're doing it, and continue to build off the great fundamentals and foundation that's here," Fisch observes. "Working off different systems I've been part of… Just bringing in another voice, having another opinion – maybe there's one or two things we can add to it, but really just looking forward to helping Josh in any way possible."
"As a staff," McDaniels adds, "we've had a lot of conversations about those kind of things. Whatever we don't do well, we won't do it. That's an important factor for us to keep in mind. What matters is what we can actually do well. Whatever that is, we'll try to win that way."
Both men first broke into the NFL in 2001 (Fisch with the Houston Texans and McDaniels here in New England). Yet, while McDaniels stayed put once he found his way to the NFL, Fisch has ricocheted back and forth between college and the pros ever since.
College teams, as Belichick noted in recent comments to the media, normally go straight from their training camps to the regular season. Therefore, Fisch's wealth of college experience could benefit the Patriots as they negotiate a most unusual period in which the NFL will play no preseason games in preparation for the 2020 regular season kickoff in September.
"Obviously, Coach Belichick can ask me anything and I can give him any piece of information I possibly have regarding what we did in college," Fisch points out. "'How did you guys do it at UCLA or Michigan or Miami?' But he's got an incredible plan, an incredibly established program. I just hope that any resource I can be is one that's assisting in what it felt like to prepare for a season without preseason."
No preseason games means the offensive coaching staff has one less environment in which to evaluate the current crop of three veterans – Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer – and one rookie – Brian Lewerke – vying to win jobs at quarterback here in New England. Fisch maintains they're all working hard right now in the classroom portion of camp (on-field practices begin later this month) and that a lack of preseason games isn't necessarily a deterrent to judging their performances.
"I look at it more as a different opportunity than what we've had in the past. You don't have to spend the type of time preparing for preseason games, you don't have to spend the day before a game not practicing at the same level, then the day of the game, how many reps are they taking in a game? Then you have the day after [off, usually].
"This situation," Fisch continues, "you can prepare these quarterbacks, watch them practice, prepare them for the next day, and really be able to talk about your team and their fundamentals and help them grow in our system. Seems like a great opportunity, especially without having a spring [practice season]. We'll see exactly where this all plays out when we start getting on the field and practicing."
"Again, we can't make any declarations about what we're good at yet," McDaniels emphasizes, "because we haven't practiced. I think everybody's champing at the bit, eager to get out there, and start to make some decisions about some things that we want to try to get good at. And if we're ultimately not making a lot of progress, just have to shift gears and go in a different direction.
"I'm going to lean on my experience and the staff and Coach Belichick."