FOXBORO, Mass. — Brendan Daly isn’t just your typical NFL defensive line coach.
Sure, the Patriots D-line coach is intense and fiery. He once bloodied himself head-butting a player still wearing a helmet after a big win in 2010 while coaching with the St. Louis Rams. He specializes in teaching technique and focuses on fundamentals. He’s smart, detailed and checks all of the boxes of a great D-line coach, but he’s still able to take a broad view.
“There are more D-line coaches in this league who just are content with coaching with the D-line, and that’s all they hone in on, kind of like O-line coaches,” former Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo said in a phone interview with NESN.com. “Brendan is more than that in my opinion. He sees the whole picture.”
Spagnuolo worked with Daly on the Rams from 2009 to 2011. Daly was an assistant defensive line coach with the Minnesota Vikings when Spagnuolo hired and promoted him. Spagnuolo was so impressed with Daly in a phone interview — and fearful another team would poach him — he didn’t need to meet him in person before committing to the hire.
The Patriots likely are losing their defensive play-caller after the season as linebackers coach Brian Flores is expected to be hired away as the Miami Dolphins’ head coach. Daly is the top in-house option to replace Flores as defensive play-caller, even though Josh Boyer and Stephen Belichick have been coaching in the Patriots’ organization longer and Bret Bielema has previous defensive coordinator experience. Daly called plays in the Patriots’ fourth preseason game this summer. That’s an indicator that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick views him as the future defensive coordinator.
Another option is Greg Schiano, who previously was the head coach for Rutgers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He most recently was Ohio State’s defensive coordinator.
“Not all defensive line coaches have that. They don’t all see the big picture,” Spagnuolo said. “I think Brendan is one of those guys. And look, Coach Belichick, he sees that in people. My guess is he has also recognized that same thing in Brendan. Now, what he does, I don’t know. But if I had a vote, or if I talked to Bill, I would vote to have Brendan do it. He’s at that point right now where he should be doing that.”
Spagnuolo isn’t the only coach who’s worked with Daly that holds this view.
“I have no doubt from my time talking to Brendan that he’s ready for an opportunity like that,” current Rutgers head coach Chris Ash said in a phone interview with NESN.com. “He just needs to get that opportunity and he’ll do a great job at it.”
Ash has known Daly for a long time. They were teammates at Drake University then went on to become coaches at the school. The two were roommates at this time and were so preoccupied with football, they had nothing, not even a TV, in their apartment. So they grabbed a projector from the athletics office, put it on their coffee table and displayed it on the wall to watch VHS tapes.
Daly was an undersized tight end at Drake. Ash’s scouting report: Average. But that year as young coaches at their alma mater was a critical time in their lives. Current North Carolina State head coach Dave Doeren and former FAU head coach Charlie Partridge also played and coached at the Iowa institute around the same time in the 1990s.
“It was everything, to be honest with you,” Ash said. “We learned on the run. Back then we knew everything, and it’s amazing as we’ve gone along our journey to find how much we really didn’t know.
“We wanted to be the best in the office. We wanted to be the best coach. We competed with each other and the head coach really let us do a lot of different things. It really did shape our passion for football and things we believed in and building that competitive spirit with each other in a good way. And all the guys that we were around at Drake at the time have gone on to be pretty successful in the profession.”
After a year as tight ends coach at Drake, where Daly also set up meals, recruited, worked on the grounds crew and exchanged film with opponents, he went on to become tight ends coach of Villanova in 1999, a graduate assistant at Maryland in 2000, a graduate assistant at Oklahoma State in 2001 and 2002, assistant strength and conditioning coach at Oklahoma State in 2003, tight ends coach of Illinois State in 2004 and then found his real calling as defensive line coach at Villanova in 2005.
He worked there with Sean Spencer, who’s now defensive line coach at Penn State.
“He was a really, really detailed guy,” Spencer said. “He did a great job preparing his guys and understanding the scheme. I was the linebackers coach at the time, so we kind of worked hand in hand. He had unbelievable energy. At practice, he ran around and probably coaches the same way. His eyes bulge out of his head. He had tremendous demeanor on the field, and the guys really loved him.
“I could tell back then that he was a star in the making. I mean, I use a lot of his stuff to this day.”
Daly then went on to become assistant defensive line coach with the Vikings from 2006 to 2008, defensive line coach with the Rams from 2009 to 2011 and defensive line coach with the Vikings from 2012 to 2013 before being hired by the Patriots before the 2014 season.
Daly was hired after he had worked with fellow Patriots assistants Chad O’Shea (wide receivers coach) with the Vikings and Josh McDaniels (offensive coordinator) with the Rams. He took a different path than most Patriots assistants, who are hired in their early 20s and slowly make their way up the ranks. Daly was 38 years old when he joined as a defensive assistant, though he immediately took over the defensive line room.
“I think his fundamental teaching background on the defensive line is outstanding,” Belichick said in 2014. “I think he really has a great understanding of technique, hand placement and fundamental teaching. I would say the way he does it is exactly the way I learned it and we taught it at the Giants. It may not be the exact same terminology, but it’s the same technique, it’s the same points of emphasis.
“I think he’s brought a lot of drill work and some of the coaching points that he uses, I’ve learned a lot from those.”
Daly also has a way of coaching up young players. He worked with pass rushers Chris Long and Robert Quinn with the Rams and Brian Robison, Ray Edwards and Everson Griffen with the Vikings. He’s coached up Chandler Jones, Trey Flowers, Adam Butler and Deatrich Wise with the Patriots.
“I’ve improved a lot,” Flowers said. “Just the work and attention to detail he has on fundamentals.”
It sounds obvious, but players appreciate it when a coach helps them improve.
“Some of those guys will test you, and some of them will have an opinion, but if you sell it to them in the right way and stick to it, assuming what you’re teaching is the right stuff which is what Brendan is doing, then eventually they’re going to respect the fact that what you’re teaching them is helping them become a better player,” Spagnuolo said.
“And every NFL player, all they want to do is become better. They’re all motivated for different reasons, a. to win games but b. but to keep a living, to keep having a job. And if somebody knows you’re going to help them keep your job, you tend to listen to them.”
Daly’s work with Flowers should get the defensive end a hefty paycheck as a free agent this offseason.
With a roomful of 11 players, Daly has the biggest positional group of any Patriots assistant. And as he’s expanded his reach to linebackers, he’s received help from Bielema and pass-rush specialist Joe Kim this season. And that assistance has allowed him to keep seeing that bigger picture.
“That’s what he taught me going in,” Wise said. “Don’t learn a play but the whole schematic scheme of what’s going on. What’s everyone doing around you? And that’s one thing he preaches. He doesn’t just preach what one guy does. He wants you to know what the tackle’s doing on this play so if something happens, you should know what they’re doing because all of that should affect what you do.”