Stopping ‘Brain Drain’ Might Be Big Factor Behind Patriots’ Hiring Strategy

What, exactly, is the Patriots' plan on offense?


Feb 22, 2022

There are many moving parts on the New England Patriots, and nobody seems to know how they’ll eventually fit — if at all.

What’s the deal with the offensive coaching staff? Will there be an official defensive coordinator? Why was Eliot Wolf not promoted to replace Dave Ziegler? We currently don’t have concrete answers to those questions.

However, insight probably can be found by taking a closer look at an ongoing situation that’s taken on an increasingly popular nickname: “the brain drain.”

Since beating the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII, the Patriots have lost 10 assistant coaches, if you include the reportedly retirement-bound Ivan Fears. Three high-ranking executives — Nick Caserio, Dave Ziegler and Ernie Adams — also have left, as have top scouts Monti Ossenfort and DuJuan Daniels.

First hinted at in late-2018 rumors, the “mass exodus” of Patriots brainpower has come to fruition. And you could argue that Tom Brady belongs in this conversation, too, given he basically was a player-coach.

The most sensical reaction seemingly would be to replace outgoing coaches, execs and scouts with the most highly qualified candidates. The Patriots have a strong collection of young, talented players, and Mac Jones might be a franchise quarterback. Surrounding them with anything other than the best coaches and staffers would be doing them a disservice. Thus, many have identified Bill O’Brien as the ideal person to replace former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

But, barring future — and reportedly unlikely — moves, Bill Belichick apparently is going against conventional wisdom. And it’s hard to not get the impression that his top priority is stopping the bleeding.

O’Brien might be better positioned than anyone to hit the ground running after replacing McDaniels, but he also is a former NFL head coach, one interviewed for a top job this offseason. And Adam Gase, a rumored candidate whom the Patriots reportedly haven’t even contacted, also might have an eye toward a third head-coaching opportunity, though his prospects might not be as strong as O’Brien’s. Is it in Jones’ best interests to replace McDaniels with an OC who would leave in a couple of years?

Multiple reports indicate Joe Judge and Matt Patricia, two of the top head-coaching failures in recent years, will combine for a collaborative approach to the position next season, with help from Belichick and tight ends coach Nick Caley. Judge and Patricia essentially are in career rehab, and some believe Caley is being groomed as a future offensive play-caller. You can’t predict the future, but it’s easy to envision all three sticking around for an extended period of time.

On the defensive side of the ball, Brian Flores, recently hired as an assistant with the Pittsburgh Steelers, would’ve been a great choice to lead New England’s defense. His potential return became especially unlikely after he included alleged texts from Bill Belichick in a lawsuit against the NFL, but making a case for it was as difficult beforehand. Flores clearly is NFL head-coaching material, and hiring him would’ve resulted in effective demotions of Jerod Mayo and Steve Belichick.

As for Mayo, he, too, looks like a future NFL coach, which might be a reason why he hasn’t been named defensive coordinator, something the Tedy Bruschis of the world have called for.

And then there’s the front office. The Patriots surprised many when they tabbed Matt Groh, not Wolf, to replace Ziegler as director of player personnel. Wolf has far more professional-personnel experience than Groh, who worked in college scouting before his promotion. However, Wolf interviewed for multiple general manager vacancies this offseason, and it might be only a matter of time before he’s an NFL GM.

There’s a theme here, one which Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer touched on in his latest Monday Morning Quarterback column. Check out this excerpt:

“My sense is Belichick turned to Groh — who wasn’t a manager in any way until last year (he was the team’s national scout from 2019 to ’20), and was an area scout just three years ago — largely because he wanted someone in there with background in the organization and someone he thought would be around a while. …

“Wolf has also long been in the mix for GM jobs across the NFL, and interviewed for the Bears and Vikings’ jobs in January (feedback I got was that he was considered a strong candidate in both spots). And that, to some degree, makes him a flight risk, and it was probably tough for Belichick to swallow the idea of having to replace his personnel chief for a third straight year in ’23. So he went with a guy he likes a lot, and one, like Judge and Patricia, he can count on sticking around for a while. We’ll see how it goes.”

That last point likely underscores how much of Patriots nation currently is feeling. They’re putting their faith in Belichick, as they always have, but there is real trepidation.

The Patriots are in a tricky spot. Since Brady left, they’ve tried to thread the contend-while-rebuilding needle on the roster, coaching and management levels. And it’s impacted Belichick’s method for building his operation. Affordability and availability long have been identified as Belichick’s preferred abilities with players, but he now is willing to throw tons of money at talented free agent fixes.

The coaching staff and front office? Right now, stability might matter more than anything else.

Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images
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