Learning curve is steep for remade Patriots coaching staff


This is the week we see Bill Belichick in his most natural state. Teacher.

The three mandatory minicamp practices that begin Tuesday aren’t about speed, toughness or competition. They are about listening, absorbing and executing.

All the other stuff comes later this week it’s about taking a crew of 90 that includes everything from 20-year veterans to undrafted free agents and explaining how it’s all going to work when they come back for training camp in a month-and-a-half.

This year, the teaching is a little more involved. Belichick has a renovated coaching staff to train as well.

The coaching turnover this offseason was drastic. The team lost its wide receivers coach (Chad O’Shea), a key offensive assistant (Jerry Schulplinski), de facto defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Brian Flores, cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer and defensive line coach Brendan Daly. “Character coach” Jack Easterby also moved on. They thought they had a new defensive coordinator in Greg Schiano and he bailed.

We always have to be careful to not overstate. Belichick wasn’t reduced to putting a “NOW HIRING” sign out on Route 1. And he’s got a track record of finding/molding young coaches into really valuable assets.

But this is a lot.  

First-time coach Jerod Mayo is coaching inside linebackers, Demarcus Covington has his first job as an NFL position coach with outside linebackers. Twenty-six-year-old Mike Pellegrino will replace Boyer, Joe Judge goes from special teams to wide receivers and former Arkansas head coach Bret Beilema is the new defensive line coach.

There are other changes too but the Patriots still haven’t released the official changes and new titles. Reboots happen. But a team with the smallest coaching staff in the league swapping out several coaches at once is a huge challenge. And that makes the degree of difficulty for 2019 a little higher.

I also think Belichick revels in that. The steeper the incline, the better it feels when you’re at the summit.

It’s hard to be a game-plan defense, morphing week-to-week depending on the opponent and making key players know about six different jobs? Too bad.

It’s hard to run a precision offense that depends on post-snap reads with about 10 different skill players who can be featured or mothballed at any time? That’s too bad, too.

It’s nerve-wracking to still be pulling personnel levers and adjusting game-plan knobs in September and October. Sorry.

The rest of the league needs a Pentagon-sized staff to decide on lunch. 

The Patriots braintrust fits in a Fiat. Sometimes a kayak.

Draft picks? Sometimes need ‘em. Sometimes don’t.

Free Agent Frenzy (!!!) begins on a Tuesday in March? They’ll make a move on Friday once amateur hour ends.

Scouting and personnel staff the size of the Red Army? Patriots de facto GM Nick Caserio GMs like a sonofabitch and is a de facto coach, too.

Don’t you think Belichick rejoices in beating teams that have literally twice as many coaches as his team?  Of course. What would he chalk that up to? I would suppose: A) outworking the competition, B) outthinking the competition and C) not being ascared of fleeting things like media or public opinion.

Maniacal work ethic is, to him, a badge of honor.  

Does anything sum up Bill Belichick better than him trying to get a million people playing hooky to chant “No days off!!!” 

And this week is the end of the very beginning.

Even though there will be dutiful reports of how many passes Danny Etling completes in goal-line 7-on-7 the statistics couldn’t possibly matter less.

And Belichick will remind us all of that.

Here was his answer in 2014 when we asked how much the team accomplished in the three-day minicamp.

“With all due respect, we haven’t really done anything on the field,” he said with a hint of exasperation if I remember correctly [and I do]. “We talked a lot, hopefully, we’ve learned a lot, but we haven’t had the competition that we’re going to have in training camp. It’s just not the same. And on top of that, we have a lot of guys who even though they may know what to do, they haven’t had much experience doing it.

“By the time we get to training camp, we’ll be in a little bit different position where the players will have a better understanding of what to do,” Belichick continued. “They will have done it at least in a controlled setting. And then we’ll see based on competition how they’re able to do it against somebody else who is competing at that same level. That’s when we’ll really see that.

“We’re not really going to see that now nor are we looking for that now,” he added. “We don’t want to go out there and have a bunch of piles, have guys rolled up. We’re trying to teach ‘em, get ’em to understand what to do to have some confidence, so they can go out there, when we do get to training camp, they’re able to go out there and do it at their best level and compete against the other guys trying to compete against them. So that’s what this is really about. Now is not the time for (anything else).”

It’s all about the teaching and a big part of the faculty is new.

This season isn’t going to be easy for a number of reasons and the fleet of new coaches is one of them. Which, I suppose, is exactly the way Belichick likes it.


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