Curran: Pinning down the Patriots' succession plan for Belichick


You’ve seen the series on HBO “Succession.” Or at least heard of it.

But if you haven’t, the gist is this: Logan Roy, a feared, revered and aging business titan, is keeping a two-hand vise grip on the empire he created.

As he keeps on at an unlikely age, a Machiavellian dance unfolds with people positioning themselves to succeed him and/or save their own asses while making sure they continue paying deference to the legend.

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Logan drops bread crumbs about his retirement plans but mainly in “Don’t ask, don’t tell” mode. Anyone getting too nosy gets a hearty "f--- off."

What’s his plan? Does he still have it? Doesn’t he trust anyone to succeed him? What if he runs the whole operation aground? Does he deserve the right to do that because he created it in the first place? Or is he being underestimated because a presumed expiration date passed?

There’s a Belichickian flavor to Roy which our great friend Meg Ottolini had some fun pointing out the parallels last week as well.

And with the Patriots in Vegas this week practicing against Josh McDaniels’ Raiders, the post-Bill Belichick succession plan creeps cautiously into the spotlight.

All discussion of a post-Bill Patriots is entered into delicately. The requisite qualifiers are 1) that he’s the greatest coach in NFL history with a record that may never be matched and 2) not only did he win his sixth Super Bowl four seasons ago, he’s in the early stages of a reboot that landed the Patriots in the playoffs last year. He’s a decidedly-young 70 years old.

But when you look this week at McDaniels and what he’s doing with Vegas, you can definitely wonder what might have been. There’s a great chance McDaniels would have stayed in Foxboro if the Patriots -- Belichick and/or the Krafts -- articulated a plan for him to take over. This was his football home. His family was settled here. But that never came. And when it didn’t, McDaniels was all-in on winning the Raiders job and joining former Patriots personnel man Dave Ziegler.

In February 2018, Belichick and the Krafts talked McDaniels out of going to the Colts. But not this time. Why? With Belichick closer to the end of his coaching career than the beginning, did they not view McDaniels as the successor? Or did they feel it was unfair to keep McDaniels waiting in Foxboro when they had no clarity on how long Belichick would stay?

Either way, McDaniels landed in Vegas and immediately began aggressively building a team with every high-priced and big-named bauble he could land.

If the Raiders chew up the AFC West and Vegas lights up the scoreboard with the offense the Patriots are currently moving away from, there might be a little wistfulness about the playing style, team-building and the coach that got away.

Meanwhile, linebackers coach Jerod Mayo -- who’s been on head coaching interviews the past two offseasons -- is just starting his run as a coveted candidate. Do the Patriots envision him as a Belichick successor? Do the Patriots know what they want as a successor? And who’s in charge of the succession plan? Does Belichick even have a say in it?

My understanding as of the offseason was that the team is inclined to let Belichick orchestrate his own exit. He hadn’t said anything about stepping aside and ownership hadn’t asked. Given what Belichick’s built here, there was a sense that he’d give plenty of lead time on any departure decision.

As for successors? Nothing definite. And no great urgency to create a list either because there was no sense anything was imminent.

Hard as it may be to succeed a legend, there won’t be a shortage of candidates in line to take over what’s now become an international brand and one of the planet’s most highly-valued franchises.

Drawing back on the Succession comp, Belichick’s Tom Wambsgans is right there in the form of Matt Patricia. Joe Judge is in the house and seemingly headed toward being offensive coordinator. Bill O’Brien, Steve Belichick, Brian Belichick, Mayo, McDaniels or even an upset candidate like Brian Flores could be in the mix.

Of course, after 20-plus years of the prickly but successful Belichick, maybe the Krafts would want to pivot to someone completely different. It is, after all, their team. Not Bill’s.

Which is where the Logan Roy comp peters out a little. It really isn’t his empire. If Robert Kraft’s dissatisfaction with a three-year playoff drought was a caution rather than an observation, then this season becomes pivotal.

Which could make things ... dramatic.

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