Bill Belichick is one of the most successful head coaches in the history of the NFL. He is the only head coach in league history to win six Super Bowl titles — two more as a defensive coordinator. He’s won nine conference championships while producing 18 straight winning seasons. Belichick also has captured an unprecedented 10 consecutive division titles. So if you’re a member of the coaching staff, you’re getting an up-close view of greatness. With all that success, why wouldn’t team owners poach New England Patriots assistants for head coaching positions? After the first quarter of the 2021 season, there’s only one problem. Three branches of the Bill Belichick coaching tree are wilting. Head coaches Bill O’Brien, Matt Patricia, and Joe Judge have combined for a record of 1-11.
The Detroit Lions and New York Giants weren’t expected to compete for a championship this season, but the Houston Texans were. After going 0-4, the Houston Texans fired Bill O’Brien on October 5. Romeo Crennel, another Belichick assistant, will serve as Texans’ interim head coach.
The Coaching Tree of Bill Belichick Has One Less Branch
The Patriots promoted Bill O’Brien to offensive coordinator in 2011 from quarterbacks coach and offensive play-caller. O’Brien was a key contributor to the Patriots’ success for multiple seasons. After a stop at Penn State, the Houston Texans hired O’Brien as their head coach in 2014. O’Brien made the playoffs in his first three seasons with the Texans. Plus Houston only missed the playoffs once during his tenure. But O’Brien made several questionable coaching and personnel decisions that plagued his time in Texas. Yet somehow, he was consistently rewarded for mediocracy. This off-season, the Texans named O’Brien general manager, even as the fans’ frustration with their head coach grew.
The promotion and maneuvering are classic Bill Belichick. Belichick preaches total control over every aspect of the football operations. O’Brien was able to convince Texans’ ownership “If I’m going to be asked to cook the meal, I’d like to be able to pick the groceries.” It’s the classic quote by one of Belichick’s own coaching mentors, Bill Parcells.
O’Brien had an eventful off-season. He traded star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals for running back David Johnson, who many considered a reclamation project. So far, Johnson has not helped the Houston offense. The team is dead last in rushing yards per game. Houston ran the ball a season-high 26 times Sunday and finished with just 96 yards. Overall they are averaging less than four yards per carries on the season. Defensively, the Texans aren’t much better, allowing 181.7 rushing yards per game, including 162 on Sunday. The Texans could no longer afford to waste the talent of Deshaun Watson. Therefore, a coaching change was made.
Belichick Clone Matt Patricia on the Hot Seat
Matt Patricia, one of the newest branches of the Bill Belichick coaching tree is most like the original. Like Belichick, he coaches the defensive side of the ball and dresses exactly like his mentor. Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn hired Patricia, fresh off a Patriots Super Bowl win, to get his team over the playoff hump. While the Lions never posted a record worse than 7-9 under former Lions’ head coach Jim Caldwell, they didn’t make a deep playoff run. Quinn hoped Patricia could finally change the Lions’ culture of losing.
There is a new culture in Detroit, but few wins. Not even the additions of ex-Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins or wide receiver Danny Amendola have made a difference. The Lions won six games in Patricia’s first year as head coach and went 3-12-1 in 2019. This season, Detroit has started the new season 1-3 with two of their losses coming to divisional rivals. Further, with a mandate from ownership to make the playoffs this season, Matt Patricia is officially on the hot seat.
So why isn’t Patricia winning? It starts with the defense and in particular the pass rush. And rather than add playmakers, Patricia and Quinn have purged the team of pass rush talent. Devon Kennard is in Arizona and Damon Harrison isn’t with the team this season. Patricia is considered a defensive guru but hasn’t devised exotic defensive schemes or blitzes. On offense, Patricia and new offensive coordinator Darren Bevell are playing conservatively too. So far this season, Patricia seems content to play for field goals from Matt Prater rather than push the ball down the field. There have been too many punts in opposing field position on fourth-and-short.
It will take more than a sweatshirt and a standoff nature with the media to change the fortunes of the Lions.
Joe Judge: Another Belichick Wannabe
In training camp, first-year New York Giants head coach Joe Judge decided to take an old school approach–borrowed directly from Nick Saban and Bill Belichick. If players or coaches made mistakes on the field, they ran sprints. The New York Daily News wrote about the move, “Belichick’s proteges notoriously fail by trying too hard to be their mentor when they lack the clout of the six-time Super Bowl-winning head coach to back up their tough talk.”
Tough talk and sprints aren’t changing the Giants’ fortunes. Big Blue wasn’t expected to compete for the Vince Lombardi trophy this season, but under Judge, fans wanted to see progress. They wanted better play from the offensive and defensive lines and substantial improvement from their young core of playmakers. At 0-4, the Giants have failed. The season started with the bizarre arrest of Deandre Baker on robbery charges. Then veteran offensive lineman Nate Solder opted-out of the season over COVID-19 concerns, leaving the Giants’ offensive line in flux. The Giants have already lost Saquon Barkley to an ACL tear and quarterback Daniel Jones continues to turn over the football at an alarming rate. The verdict on Joe Judge’s coaching style is very much in the air.
Advice for Belichick Proteges
The Giants are unlikely to fire a head coach after one bad season, so Judge should be safe for now. But as is the case with the entire Bill Belichick coaching tree, it’s not enough to replicate the Patriots way. Each team is different, each city is different, each player is different. The Belichick proteges must quickly realize what worked in New England won’t work everywhere. Belichick is an all-time great, who’s also been extremely fortunate. Tom Brady transformed himself from sixth-round draft pick to an elite signal-caller. The New England Patriots faced little competition from the AFC East for nearly 20 years. That’s not happening in Houston, Detroit, or New York. It’s the inability to pivot away from that Belichick method that could prevent Matt Patricia and Joe Judge from long-term coaching success.