The Patriots and Bill O’Brien have reached terms making him their next offensive coordinator, a source confirmed to the Herald.
O’Brien’s hire follows a brief coaching search the team announced two weeks ago with an unprecedented public statement. O’Brien beat out Patriots tight ends coach Nick Caley and three outside assistants who once played on Bill Belichick-coached teams. O’Brien, 53, was long considered the favorite in New England, where he coached from 2007-2011 and was the team’s last offensive coordinator before Josh McDaniels.
According to a league source, there was strong internal belief last week O’Brien would be hired. He reportedly interviewed via video conference on Thursday, and the Patriots finished their search last Friday.
O’Brien arrives after spending the past two years as the offensive coordinator at the University of Alabama. Under Belichick confidant Nick Saban, he coached quarterback Bryce Young to a Heisman Trophy and helped the Crimson Tide to the national championship game in Jan. 2022. Last season, Alabama’s offense averaged 41.4 points per game, the fourth-most in major college football.
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O’Brien’s return should restore a sense of normalcy to the Patriots offense. Last year, Matt Patricia, whose coaching background is primarily on defense, served as the team’s de facto offensive coordinator, and the Patriots averaged 18.1 offensive points per game. The Pats finished 8-9 and with their worst offense since 1995 by Football Outsiders’ opponent-and-situation-adjusted metric, DVOA.
Patricia also coached the team’s offensive line, which allowed 41 sacks, the eighth-most in the league. His future in New England is uncertain, according to a source. First-year quarterbacks coach Joe Judge came under similar scrutiny during the season after working as a special teams coordinator and failed head coach with the Giants.
Under Judge, Patriots quarterback Mac Jones regressed statistically from a strong rookie campaign in 2021. Jones also said he wanted to be coached harder after a tough loss to Buffalo on Dec. 1.
O’Brien could coach the team’s quarterbacks moving forward, something he did over his last three seasons in New England. Under O’Brien’s direct tutelage from 2009-11, former Patriots quarterback Tom Brady made three straight Pro Bowls, one All-Pro team and won his second MVP award. The Patriots offense also finished sixth, first and third in scoring during those seasons when O’Brien called offensive plays.
O’Brien later helped develop three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson and took Texans teams led by quarterbacks Brock Osweiler and Brian Hoyer to the playoffs.
Belichick’s search appears to confirm reports that O’Brien was the primary target from the start. No other candidate — Caley, Vikings wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell, Cardinals associate head coach/wide receivers coach Shawn Jefferson or University of Oregon associate head coach Adrian Klemm — has experience as an offensive coordinator or head coach. Before his hiring at Alabama, O’Brien won four division titles in seven years as the Texans’ head coach and coached at Penn State from 2012-13.
O’Brien briefly overlapped with Jones at Alabama in spring 2021. As Jones prepared for the NFL Draft, he reportedly answered questions O’Brien had about the Crimson Tide’s offense inside the team’s facility. O’Brien later told reporters Jones was of great help, considering it was the first time in more than a decade he was teaching a new system.
“I had a lot of people help me, people that were here before, guys on the coaching staff, obviously Bryce [Young]. I’ve said before, Mac Jones, when he was working out for the draft, helped me a little bit, which was great,” O’Brien said before the 2021 Cotton Bowl. “So I’m really thankful to those people. That was the most challenging thing because I had been involved with an offense for 10 to 15 years, whatever it was, similar offense. But when you come here, you’re running Alabama’s offense; you’re not bringing your offense in here.”
It’s expected O’Brien will put his own spin on the system the Patriots ran last year, a blend of McDaniels’ offense and a pared-down Shanahan-style scheme.
ESPN first reported O’Brien’s hiring.