Curran: Losing McDaniels another brain drain for Bill Belichick's staff


Josh McDaniels is headed to Vegas to be head coach of the Raiders. Should the Patriots have done more to keep him in house? Did they do anything?

Four years ago, when McDaniels was poised to take over in Indy, the Patriots -- owner Robert Kraft especially -- decided he didn’t want to lose him and threw up a Hail Mary.

Kraft, his son Jonathan and Bill Belichick spent 15 hours discussing with McDaniels what it would take to get him to stay.

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McDaniels came out of the meetings with a better "level of clarity" about the future plans of the team. And while he wasn’t guaranteed to be Belichick’s successor, the impression was that he’d be given primary consideration when the time came. Add in a pay bump and McDaniels had a very hard decision to make.

In a stunning move, McDaniels decided to stay. A big part of his decision was discomfort with his Indy autonomy and the notion of uprooting his family. But the chance to one day become head coach here was also a part of it.

Four years later, there’s still no expiration date in sight for Belichick. And one of the best coaches -- never mind coordinators -- in the NFL is moving on in part because a succession plan hasn’t been articulated. McDaniels couldn’t keep waiting for a chance that may have never come.

And now McDaniels and head personnel man Dave Ziegler are out the door.

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The exodus of Patriots coaches and personnel people during the 20-plus year run has been constant. The team’s been repeatedly poached by bad teams hoping that the scent of success will travel. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the guys who flop elsewhere boomerang back to Foxboro. Often, they’re gone for good.

The past few seasons have seen some of the longest-tenured and most highly-valued members of the entire run leave. Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. Belichick consigliere Ernie Adams. Personnel man Nick Caserio. Running backs coach Ivan Fears could be leaving as well. All of them were here for the whole run. The coaching staff has taken additional hits with the departures of Brian Flores, Joe Judge, Jerry Schuplinski, Chad O’Shea and Patrick Graham. Monti Ossenfort, another longtime personnel man, also departed.

Because the Patriots' overall staff has been traditionally small, coaches like McDaniels and Judge would sometimes hold multiple titles. Caserio, meanwhile, was a one-man gang in personnel for Belichick. For all of the coaches, the workload is heavy, expectations are high, the hours are higher and the joy comes from success, which means championships. Anything less is miserable.

The Patriots' current coaching staff is small, young and still developing. It really couldn’t afford to lose the coach that Belichick has almost completely entrusted with running the offense, especially during Mac Jones’ formative years. The Patriots may have in mind that they’ll replace McDaniels with former Patriots OC and current Alabama OC Bill O’Brien. He worked with Jones at ‘Bama. The transition could be close to seamless. But O’Brien has been gone from the Patriots coop for a while and had a lot of experiences elsewhere. Does he want to return as OC?

O’Brien could emerge as a Belichick successor here as well. Jerod Mayo would also be high on the list. Steve Belichick is sometimes mentioned but I’m not sure being a head coach is a position he covets.

Judge and Flores both washed out of their spots in New York and Miami pretty quickly. Judge’s tenure was not good. Flores’ was good but he clashed with the owner and GM. Matt Patricia was very bad in Detroit.

What’s often forgotten, though, is this is an ownership-level decision, not Belichick’s. There’s no way of knowing how much say Belichick will have. It’s been a pretty long reign for him. He’s brought unfathomable success. He’s also eclipsed ownership in terms of the public perception of who runs the team.

Belichick is owed the right to author his own exit. Unlike Tom Brady, Logan Mankins, Richard Seymour (you know the list by now), it’s not necessary to move on a year early rather than a year late because there’s no coaching salary cap to squeeze under and there’s no sign of Belichick slowing down. Despite the late-season faceplant, the rebuild train is out of the station.

But if it was so important to the Patriots in 2018 that McDaniels be pulled back from the altar, why wasn’t it four years later? Was it just because, back then, they didn’t want to lose Patricia and McDaniels in one fell swoop (while suspecting they could lose Judge and Flores soon after) in the waning days of Brady? Or was it really because they envisioned him taking over when Belichick stepped down?

The simple fact is this. The Patriots are going through an unprecedented brain drain, even for them. And they just lost a big chunk of offensive gray matter to the Silver and Black. Four years ago, they stepped up and stopped it. Not this time.

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