How Patriots Can Replace Josh McDaniels If He Lands Head Coach Job

The Raiders reportedly could be targeting McDaniels

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Could the Las Vegas Raiders be preparing to poach the New England Patriots’ most important assistant coach?

As of Tuesday morning, the Raiders had yet to submit an official interview request for Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. But multiple recent reports have indicated McDaniels could be in their crosshairs as they search for their next permanent head coach.

At this point, that’s far from guaranteed, as a McDaniels hire likely would hinge on Las Vegas’ choice for general manager.

If Dave Ziegler — the Patriots’ director of player personnel and a former college teammate of McDaniels’ at John Carroll University — lands the GM job, the odds of McDaniels following him to the desert would increase exponentially. If the Raiders go with someone like, say, Indianapolis Colts assistant GM Ed Dodds, McDaniels might be out.

ESPN’s Mike Reiss reported on Tuesday reported McDaniels “has relayed to interested teams that aligning with someone he knows well on the personnel side is a top priority.” Reiss also noted McDaniels gave Ziegler his NFL start with Denver in 2010, illustrating the pair’s long-standing connection.

Las Vegas is set to interview Jerod Mayo for its head-coaching vacancy, as well, so McDaniels isn’t the only Patriots assistant in the mix. And other candidates also are being considered, including interim head coach Rich Bisaccia, who led the Raiders to a playoff berth following Jon Gruden’s October resignation.

But if McDaniels does leave New England for this or any other head-coaching job this offseason, how would the Patriots replace him? That’s a question with no straightforward answer.

There is no obvious successor for McDaniels on New England’s current coaching staff, as none of his offensive assistants have prior play-calling experience.

Running backs: Ivan Fears
Running backs: Vinnie Sunseri
Wide receivers: Mick Lombardi
Wide receivers/kick returners: Troy Brown
Tight ends/fullbacks: Nick Caley
Offensive line: Carmen Bricillo
Assistant offensive line: Billy Yates
Quality control/quarterbacks: Bo Hardegree

Fears has been with the organization the longest — longer even than head coach Bill Belichick — but if he had offensive coordinator aspirations, he likely would have pursued that job years ago. The 67-year-old also could retire this offseason.

Of these eight coaches, Lombardi and Caley look like the most likely OC candidates.

Lombardi, the son of longtime Belichick buddy Michael Lombardi, just completed his third season with the Patriots, working first with quarterbacks under McDaniels and then with wideouts. Caley has coached New England’s tight ends for the last five seasons after two as a coaching assistant. He’s the Patriots’ longest-tenured offensive assistant outside of Fears and McDaniels and recently appeared on an NFL Media list of potential head-coaching hopefuls to watch in the coming years.

But handing the keys of New England’s offense — and, even more importantly, quarterback Mac Jones’ development — to an inexperienced coordinator would be a dangerous proposition. In a conference that’s overflowing with emerging QB talent, the Patriots need to do all they can to help their young signal-caller, who’s had an ideal early-career guide in McDaniels.

The Patriots’ lack of obvious internal replacements increases the likelihood of an outside hire if McDaniels departs. One option we’ve previously mentioned: Bill O’Brien, who spent five seasons as a Patriots assistant from 2007 through 2011 and most recently served as Alabama’s offensive coordinator.

In O’Brien’s three seasons as New England’s offensive play-caller, the Patriots ranked sixth, first and third in scoring and first, first and third in Football Outsiders’ offensive DVOA (while, of course, boasting Tom Brady and a superb collection of offensive weapons). He never coached Jones in Tuscaloosa, but the two did overlap during the leadup to the 2021 NFL Draft, with Jones helping teach O’Brien the Crimson Tide offense. Integrating aspects of that offense into the Patriots’ scheme could help Jones reach new heights as a passer in Year 2.

If O’Brien fails to land a head-coaching job in his hiring cycle — he’s interviewed for the Jacksonville Jaguars’ opening — and is open to a return to Foxboro, Mass., he’d make sense.

The Patriots have not had a change in leadership on the offensive side since 2012, when McDaniels returned following two seasons in Denver and one in St. Louis. We’ll see if that continuity is broken this offseason.

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick with quarterback Mac Jones (10)
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