FAB 2. Bucs Should Have Interest In McDaniels, Patricia
I’ll still maintain that there is a good chance that former Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden gets re-hired by the Bucs to replace Dirk Koetter at the end of the season. Having said that, if I’m the Glazers I line up a dossier on a couple of other top candidates just in case their interest in Gruden wanes or he has cold feet about returning to coaching, especially in Tampa Bay.
The Glazers would do well to remember how Bill Parcells jilted them after they fired Tony Dungy in 2001. Parcells was set to replace Dungy in 2002, but backed out at the last minute after further examining the team’s woeful salary cap situation. Because of an aging superstar roster, Parcells would have only one or two years to win a Super Bowl before the Bucs would have to be broken up due to the salary cap.
The Bucs got the save of all saves from the Parcells fiasco when they traded for Gruden, who did just that, winning Super Bowl XXXVII in his first year in Tampa Bay. While Gruden might be at the top of the Glazers’ wish list, they would be wise to do their homework on New England’s offensive and defensive coordinators Josh McDaniel and Matt Patricia.
While other coaches are prone to outsmart themselves or overthink a situation, Bill Belichick has the gift of seeing through all the fog of war on the gridiron with unparalleled clarity. That trait appears to have rubbed off on McDaniels and Patricia.
If you’re watching a game and despite the score on the scoreboard, if it seems like everything is easy for one team and getting every single yard is a struggle for the other, that’s a classic sign of one team making in-game adjustments and the other team not. That’s why the Patriots win so many games each year and made the most historic comeback in Super Bowl history last year, trailing Atlanta 28-3 and then rallying from behind to win in overtime.
The 41-year old McDaniels worked for Belichick for eight years before getting an opportunity to be the head coach in Denver in 2009. After six straight wins to start his rookie season, McDaniels’ Broncos finished 8-8 and missed out on the playoffs. His second season began with a 3-9 record before he was fired.
McDaniels’ tenure in Denver was marred with controversy. He tried to trade quarterback Jay Cutler to New England in March, but that endeavor failed. When news broke of the attempted trade, Cutler said he didn’t trust McDaniels and was subsequently traded to Chicago a month later for Kyle Orton, two first-round picks and a third-round pick. He also spent a first-round pick on quarterback Tim Tebow.
McDaniels also had a director of video operations that illegally taped a San Francisco 49ers walk-through practice in London before the game in 2010. The league fined the Broncos and McDaniels $50,000 each for the incident, but determined that the head coach did not know about the taping.
According to former Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams, McDaniels wasn’t ready to be a head coach the first time around at age 33 from a leadership standpoint.
“I tell people all the time, I’ve never been more prepared for a game – ever, at any level in my career – than with Josh McDaniels,” Williams told the BSN Broncos Podcast. “But he didn’t have that extra factor that would make guys want to run through a wall. When it really gets tough, and it’s hurting, and you can’t go anymore, and you just want to stop, there are some coaches or teammates that are bigger than you where you throw yourself in front of there or just jump on that grenade. It doesn’t matter what happens to you because it’s for a bigger cause.
“He was there with Belichick. He got all the knowledge, and Belichick kind of seems standoffish, but a lot of guys I know that have played with him, when it’s one-on-one it’s relatable. You can talk to him. I don’t think Josh McDaniels learned that yet. I think Josh took all the knowledge and came here with all that knowledge. That’s why we were successful at the beginning and won all those games. But when it hit the fan and things got tough, guys didn’t want to go that extra mile for him. … I honestly see Josh going down the road and becoming a head coach again. I think his second time around he’s going to understand it.”
That’s what happened with Belichick. He took over the Cleveland Browns at age 39 in 1991 and served as head coach for five years until he was fired following a 5-11 campaign in 1995. Belichick had three losing seasons during his first three years, but then took the Browns to the playoffs in 1994 after going 11-5 in the regular season.
Four years later, Belichick took over the New England Patriots and won the franchise its first Super Bowl in his second year during the 2001 season. Like Belichick during his second stint as a head coach, McDaniels is older and has undoubtedly learned from his mistakes in Denver. After being fired in Denver, McDaniels spent one year in St. Louis as an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2011 before returning to New England in 2012 where he has won two more Super Bowls.
McDaniels has worked with Tom Brady for most of the Pro Bowl quarterback’s career, and is responsible for offensive game-planning and play-calling. When the Patriots beat the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay earlier this year, they were without tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was a game-time decision due to injury.
“I think Josh did a great job on that, as he always does. Josh had the game plan ready with or without him,” Belichick said via Boston.com. “We played a lot of four wide receivers and some other personnel groups probably more than we would have played if Rob had been in the game.
“It’s one of the things Josh does a great job of, having some breadth to the offense with different personnel groups and different people and utilizing different combinations so that, if he needs to move from one to another, he can do that pretty easily. I thought he did a great job of that. I thought he called a great game and did a great job of handling the change of personnel as it evolved this week.”
Instead of featuring the tight end position, which would have been the case if Gronkowski played, McDaniels switched to featuring wide receivers Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks, in addition to running back James White. Brady only threw one pass to a tight end, Jacob Hollister, which was batted down at the line of scrimmage by Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
According to a report on Boston.com, “McDaniels’ best work of 2016 came at the beginning, when he was preparing the offense to go the first four games without Tom Brady while the quarterback served his ‘Deflategate’ suspension. Using backup quarterbacks, New England won the first three and scored 81 points. From there, the Patriots’ offense has adjusted, as usual, amid a slew of injuries, including Gronkowski.”
Perhaps the best example of how McDaniels has the ability to adjust quickly is when Belichick demonstrated one of McDaniels’ offensive adjustments from the Patriots’ win over the Texans. Belichick illustrated McDaniels’ quick thinking in a feature for the Patriots website.
McDaniels has helped develop the greatest quarterback to have ever played the game and has overseen a dynamic Patriots offense for years. New England’s offense ranks first with 413.2 yards per game average this season after ranking fourth last year with 386.2 yards per game average. The Patriots are fourth in scoring, averaging 29 points per game, an increase over last year when they also ranked fourth, averaging 27.6 points per game.
With a young franchise quarterback in Jameis Winston that still needs developing, McDaniels is an attractive option to explore if the Glazers are seeking a new head coach for 2018. Perhaps the second go-around for McDaniels as a head coach will showcase his growth and the additional experience he’s gained from being around Belichick. Or if he doesn’t have success it will expose him as someone who isn’t as good as Belichick and needs a great quarterback like Brady to have success.
“There are only 32 of those (jobs) in the world,” McDaniels said. “They’re opportunities that don’t come along very often, and if you would ever be so fortunate and blessed to have another opportunity to do it … it would be an opportunity that I would look forward to.”
Patricia has been the Patriots defensive coordinator since 2012, but has coached alongside Belichick since entering the league in 2004 as an offensive assistant, then an assistant offensive line coach (2005), before becoming the Patriots linebackers coach (2006-10) and the safeties coach (2011). Patricia deserves credit for being able to do more with less in terms of talent for his defense.
Belichick has traded away several big stars, including linebackers Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins in recent years to avoid paying them king-sized contracts in free agency. Patricia has also had to do without Rob Ninkovich for the first four games last year and then his sudden retirement this offseason.
Who are the big-time defenders in New England now – safety Devon McCourty, cornerback Malcolm Butler, aging linebacker David Harris? Not only does Patricia have to rely on a host of role players on defense, his scheme is remade each week depending on the opponent. One week it’s more of a 3-4 front, the next it’s more 4-3. Sometimes it’s both, but the results are always the same.
Patricia’s defense ranked eighth last year in yards allowed with 337 per game, but was the top scoring defense in the league, surrendering just 15.6 points per game. Without Dont’a Hightower, the Patriots defense lacks star power this year and ranks 28th in the league, allowing 375.7 yards per game. But yards don’t win games, points do. New England’s defense ranks ninth in the league in scoring defense, surrendering 18.6 yards per game.
The 43-year old Patricia is known for his trademark look, which is a backwards hat, a sweatshirt, his lumberjack beard and a pencil behind his ear. He’s also known for his brilliant game plans – literally.
Patricia is as smart as they come, having attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute where he was a four-year letterman playing guard and center from 1992-95. The football team was named the “Engineers,” of course. Patricia received a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical Engineering, which actually makes him a rocket scientist.
Patricia’s shining moment came in Super Bowl 49 against Seattle with the game on the line and the Seahawks at the 1-yard line with just seconds left when Butler, a rookie, picked off Russell Wilson to win the game for the Patriots.
“I knew they were going to throw it,” said Butler. “From preparation, I remembered the formation they were in and I knew they were doing a pick route.”
NFL coaches have a way of overcomplicating things and that’s what Seattle head coach Pete Caroll did by throwing the ball instead of having Wilson turn around and hand bruising running back Marshawn Lynch the ball.
“What were they thinking?!” said former Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner, who played for the Patriots. “I just really feel like sometimes these coaches are so intelligent they out-strategize themselves. It’s simple. You turn around and give it to the best back in the game. He picked up like four yards and landed a yard away from the end zone the play before.”
According to a story on SI.com, Belichick started taking Patricia with him on scouting trips when he was a young assistant in order to help develop him. “[Matt] logged a lot of hours driving Bill around,” said former Patriots lineman Matt Light, who is friends with Patricia. “[Bill] wanted him close because he saw the value in a guy like Matt. People talk about players, but a really good coach? That may be more rare than an elite corner or quarterback or defensive end. They’re very difficult to find in this league.”
Not every apple that has fallen from the Belichick tree has been ripe. Many have been rotten, including Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini and Charlie Weis. Even personnel man Scott Pioli didn’t shine when he was hired away New England.
Yet there have been some success stories. General manager Thomas Dimitroff has had success in Atlanta, and Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht has improved the talent on the Bucs roster.
From a coaching standpoint, Nick Saban has had immense success at Alabama at the college level, while Kirk Ferentz has been a mainstay at Iowa for decades. Bill O’Brien was successful at Penn State before making the leap to the Houston Texans.
Belichick believes it’s time for McDaniels to get another shot as a head coach and for Patricia to get his first opportunity at leading a team.
“They should absolutely be on any head coaching list,” Belichick said. “I can’t imagine that there are many other coaches that could present a resume equal or comparable to theirs. They’ve done a great job here for a sustained period of time, so a great track record. I personally think that a list of head-coaching candidates that didn’t include them would be incomplete.”