Right around the time when Bill O’Brien was announced as the next head coach at Penn State last January, Josh McDaniels not so coincidentally made his return to the Patriots’ coaching staff. Might they be dealing with déjà vu, just one year later?
Bill Belichick announced the return of former Patriots assistant coach Brian Daboll (2000-2006) to the coaching staff during his weekly conference call on Monday, even drawing similarities to McDaniels’ return last year.
“I’ll just put it out there now that we’re in the process of bringing Brian Daboll back onto our staff,” Belichick said of the move on Monday. “As soon as we get that worked out, he’ll be part of our coaching staff going forward; similar to what Josh (McDaniels) did last year but without any specific responsibility at this time.”
Daboll, who served as offensive coordinator in Kansas City (2012), Miami (2011) and Cleveland (2009-2010) over the past few season, will be joining the Patriots as an offensive consultant — similar to McDaniels’ role at the end of last season. But Daboll’s return could indicate much larger career implications for McDaniels or even Belichick.
McDaniels indicated on Monday that the Patriots were merely bringing in another talented offensive mind to help with the rigors of postseason scouting — and that’s entirely possible.
“Anything you can do to help at this time of year is useful,” McDaniels said. “Whether that’s drawing practice cards or sitting in a meeting and having a few ideas on a certain situation in a game plan or anything like that during the course of a week, everything is so important. Every detail is so critical at this time of the year, and having another good football coach on your staff to help is nothing but helpful for us.”
Then again, this does feel awfully familiar to O’Brien’s situation last year, and the constant head coaching speculation around McDaniels doesn’t do much to dispel those comparisons.
McDaniels was a popular name being tossed in with a lot of head coaching vacancies, mainly the Browns, since the end of the regular season. He’s continually denied interest and interviews for head coaching jobs around the league, but the speculation just continues to rise right along with his stock.
In his first season back in New England, McDaniels guided the Patriots’ offense back to the top of the league in almost every meaningful category. He also changed the Patriots’ offensive philosophy, incorporating a power running attack with Stevan Ridley while also further energizing the passing attack, even utilizing versatile backs like Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen more than in years past. The adjustments saw the Patriots rival their historic production of the 2007 season, making McDaniels even more appealing in a still offensively driven league.
So, maybe Daboll’s return to New England is a sign that McDaniels is planning to interview for jobs at some point this offseason. The Bears, Cardinals, Chargers, Eagles and Jaguars all still have vacancies to fill — although by the time you read this, that list may have changed. Or maybe something even bigger than we realize is going down, and Belichick is the one looking for replacements.
The thought of Belichick retiring is definitely radical, but it’s not entirely farfetched. Belichick is going on 61 years old and has already accomplished just about all there is to accomplish during his 38 NFL seasons — five Super Bowl titles, three Coach of the Year awards and countless other accolades. McDaniels has also long been rumored as a likely heir to the Patriots’ throne, which makes it seem that all the pieces would be in place if Belichick was planning to hang up his patented hoodie for good.
McDaniels’ return was rather peculiar at the end of last season, as Belichick had never before brought back a high-profile assistant onto his staff. Charlie Weis didn’t get a call. Romeo Crennell never made a return. Eric Mangini, Rob Ryan, you name the former Belichick staffer and he’s been around the NFL, but not back in Foxboro after his departure. So, why McDaniels? Sure, he’s a young, innovative offensive mind, and Belichick had an opening with O’Brien’s imminent exit. But could the deeper reasoning be to establish his line of succession before retirement?
Belichick is a staunch competitor who’s shown no signs of quitting and he does have one year remaining on his current contract, so all of this baseless speculation may prove to be nothing more than just that. Under any normal circumstance, Daboll’s return might be nothing more than a passing tidbit found on Twitter or buried deep below a 1,000-word manifesto, but Belichick is a planner. He doesn’t do random. There are always reasons behind his actions and the only logical way to understand him is to analyze every decision he makes.
There’s no proof to this argument beyond educated analysis, and both McDaniels and Belichick may be going nowhere come season end. Daboll’s return, as referenced above, might be nothing more than an added tactic for these very playoffs, just as McDaniels suggested. But it definitely makes you wonder what could be.