Let’s take a look at Patriots’ Bill Belichick’s head coaching tree after Matt Patricia was fired.
With the Detroit Lions moving on from Matt Patricia, there have been two former Belichick assistants who have lost their jobs this season. The other, Bill O’Brien, had found some success as a head coach, but still ultimately failed with the Houston Texans. Of course, neither of those two were the first to fail once they left New England.
It’s an incredibly long list, partly due to Belichick’s longevity and success.
Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis both left for head coaching jobs in 2005, with the Cleveland Browns and Notre Dame, respectively. Things never got off the ground in Cleveland for Crennel and he was fired after four seasons. Crennel then moved up the ranks in Kansas City, but went 2-14 after taking over for the fired Todd Haley in 2012. He was gone after that campaign.
Charlie Weis, meanwhile, went to Notre Dame with bravado and was confident his offensive system would dominate college defenses, but left with his tail between his legs and a buyout in his bank account. He got another shot at Kansas, but a 6-22 record saw him fired again midway through his third season there.
Eric Mangini, who had been on the staff since Belichick took over in New England and replaced Crennel as defensive coordinator, moved onto coach the New York Jets. He became a whistleblower in Spygate, which made for a media circus surrounding his relationship with Belichick. He lost his job the very next season. He’d wash up in Cleveland, but no one wins with the Browns, and after two 5-11 seasons Mangini was out of work again. Since then, he’s only had one job with the San Francisco 49ers as an assistant and is currently out of football.
Weis’ replacement, Josh McDaniels, got a head coaching job in 2009 with the Denver Broncos after being with the Patriots since 2001. After a promising 8-8 record in his first season, year two was a disaster. McDaniels was caught up in a scandal where the Broncos director of video operations taped a 49ers’ walkthrough. McDaniels was fired for the scandal, but his 3-9 record at the time didn’t help. Obviously, he ended up back in New England after offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien took the Penn State job.
For his part, O’Brien has had more success than most Belichick disciples. He took over Penn State coming off the Jerry Sandusky scandal. He was also replacing Joe Paterno, who coached the Nittany Lions for 46 seasons. After a 15-9 record, he left Happy Valley for the Houston Texans, but was fired this season after an 0-4 start — and Crennel took over as head coach! O’Brien was consistently a little above .500, but couldn’t get over the hump. Given he was also the general manager, there wasn’t any blame to go around for anyone but himself.
Two other notable names to mention: Nick Saban and Jim Schwartz. Saban, who is the best college coach of the modern era, left Miami after two seasons with a losing record (he was Belichick’s defensive coordinator in Cleveland from 1991-1994). Schwartz, who was an assistant for Belichick in Cleveland, couldn’t get off the ground in Detroit. He’s now the Eagles’ DC.
Today, there are still to members of the Belichick coaching in the NFL. Brian Flores of the Dolphins and Joe Judge of the New York Giants. Flores has looked great in two seasons, turning an awful Dolphins team around and putting them in playoff position in 2020. For Judge, it has been a difficult first season in New York, but he’s beginning to turn it around. All in all, the jury is still out on these two.
The broader question is, how can Belichick have so much success, but his assistants struggle to succeed?
It starts with the fact that organizations hiring new coaches typically don’t have good teams, whether it’s due to culture or talent. Changing that culture is a tall task, whereas most of them either inherited culture and talent in New England, along with not having the full pressure of being the head coach.
A lot of these coaches also bring Belichick’s mentality to their new jobs. It works in New England because the Patriots win, but it’s not proven to work elsewhere, and it’s not really a philosophy a lot of players buy into. We’ve heard our fair share of guys criticize Belichick’s ways after departing New England. You need a certain type of personnel to buy into the mentality, and you’re not getting that when you’re inheriting a roster you didn’t construct.
More important than any of that, though, is that when these coaches leave the Patriots, they don’t have Belichick and Tom Brady anymore. That combination of Belichick’s defensive mind and methodical approach and Brady’s inherent greatness make it really easy to look like a great assistant.
Until one of Belichick’s former assistants proves to be a great NFL coach there will always be talk about why they struggle outside of New England. The deck is always stacked against them because the expectations are very high and the reality is they can’t replicate what the greatest head coach of all time does. He’s the greatest. for a reason, after all.
This is his way and nobody else’s.