Talking Patriots: Bill O’Brien hiring means nothing without Tom Brady

HOUSTON, TEXAS - DECEMBER 01: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots points to head coach Bill O'Brien of the Houston Texans prior to the game at NRG Stadium on December 01, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - DECEMBER 01: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots points to head coach Bill O'Brien of the Houston Texans prior to the game at NRG Stadium on December 01, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

Bill O’Brien is rejoining the New England Patriots as offensive coordinator after about 12 years away from the team doing other football jobs.

O’Brien had been the Patriots’ offensive coordinator for three years from 2009 to 2011 during Tom Brady’s top years.

While euphoria may reign in certain circles, the hiring of O’Brien can be looked at in a number of ways. But before entering into that discussion, let’s first address the process itself.

The O’Brien hire seemed like a lock from the get-go if you pay attention to Patriot politics and demeanor under majordomo Bill Belichick. If you’re an old Friend of Bill (FOB), you’ve always got a leg-up on the competition. In O’Brien’s case, it was a big leg, indeed.

O’Brien had been with the New England Patriots for five years from 2007-2011. They never won a Super Bowl during that time but the amazing and still painful 2007 mega-undefeated regular season and Super Bowl loss was during his initial tenure with the team.

O’Brien was the odds-on favorite from the get-go. The thing that is potentially very irritating about the process is whether the other prospective candidates were cognizant that their appearances may at best be meant to enhance their interviewing situation or at worst, be a despicable use of them in a futile, pre-determined process.

The NFL coaching interviewing process generally is in many cases a sham. If the job was already O’Brien’s, prospective candidates should at least be made aware of the “likelihood” that O’Brien would be hired, and decide if they wanted to waste their time in a sham process.

As an individual who has been personally involved in such a sham process, it is not only insulting but also infuriating. Hopefully, it was not a sham though if you wanted to bet on who’d get the job, the odds of anyone other than O’Brien would have been miserable.

New England Patriots new Offensive Coordinator Bill O’Brien

New England Patriots
Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

Now onto the ramifications of O’Brien’s hiring. The most obvious point is that he has to be an improvement over Matt Patricia, the seemingly de facto OC last season.

Greeted with skepticism, hiring a former defensive coordinator and head coach to run your offense was bizarre at best and obtuse at worst. Anyone outside of Foxborough seemed to be cognizant of that fact.

That is except for Bill Belichick, the Head Coach who put that situation in place. It ended predictably with a terrible offensive performance for most of the season. O’Brien will be a huge improvement over that situation even if just shows up for work every day.

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In addition, O’Brien’s work with the New England Patriots as offensive coordinator was solid. In 2009, they were 10-6, first in the AFC East. In 2010 they were 14-2, first in the AFC East. In 2011 they were 13-3, first in the AFC East. They lost the Super Bowl in 2012 to the New York Giants, 21-17 that season.

O’Brien got solid results in two of his three years as offensive coordinator. But … and it’s a huge “but”, his quarterback was Tom Brady. This season he’ll likely have Mac Jones. That’s quite a difference.

The prospectus for the 2023 New England Patriots offense

That notwithstanding, we can expect a far better showing from whatever version of the New England Patriots offense they run, simply because they’ll at least have a competent offensive coach at the helm.

Whether Jones will be up to the task in his third season with the team is questionable, assuming he’s the starter in 2023. Rumors of Brady’s returning or trading for Lamar Jackson notwithstanding, Jones is likely to be the signal-caller.

After a promising rookie season followed by a lackluster 2022, Jones will be in the spotlight this year. O’Brien’s major undertaking will be to get Jones back on track.

He’ll fail at that without a major rebuild of the offensive line and upgrades to the receiving corps. Those decisions will ultimately be Belichick’s, a poor evaluator of receivers for certain as his atrocious drafting of the same indicates.

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Unfortunately for O’Brien, his success and that of the offense will be dependent on positive personnel decisions in at least these two areas, if not others (e.g. tight end and running back). The good news for O’Brien is that the bar he has to raise from last season is on the floor.

So that’s the view from here on the recent not-so-surprising hiring of Bill O’Brien as the New England Patriots offensive coordinator. The good news is, he has to be better than last season’s muddled effort.

The bad is, there’s no Tom Brady, the all-time best safety valve, to bail him out of Belichick’s poor personal decision-making. Good luck Mr. O’Brien. You’ll need it.