Best potential Josh McDaniels replacements for Patriots offensive coordinator job

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Perry: Taking stock of potential Josh McDaniels replacements for Pats originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Josh McDaniels wouldn't be taking an interview with Las Vegas if he wasn't very serious about accepting the opportunity if it was offered. And he probably would not be taking the interview if he didn't have a good idea that he would be offered.

League sources have said even prior to McDaniels' interview becoming public that the Patriots offensive coordinator was of interest there. This was inevitable, it seems. And now Vegas -- after interviewing Patriots front-office chief Dave Ziegler for its general manager opening -- appears to be just days away from officially adopting a New England West approach.

UPDATE (Sunday, Jan. 30): The Raiders are expected to hire Ziegler as their GM and McDaniels as their head coach, per ESPN's Adam Schefter

Where does that leave Bill Belichick's football team? He's going to need a McDaniels replacement, in all likelihood, and that replacement is going to have the massive responsibility of continuing the developmental track of the team's most important investment: Mac Jones.

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Familiarity will be important. Fluency with the Patriots language will matter.

So which potential candidates would be best? Let's take a look...

Bill O'Brien

If and when McDaniels does leave, it would make all the sense in the world for Belichick and Robert Kraft to make a strong push for their former offensive coordinator. Currently the offensive coordinator at Jones' alma mater, O'Brien would be the ideal candidate.

Jones and O'Brien worked together at Alabama briefly when O'Brien was getting ready to take over the play-calling duties for head coach Nick Saban. But instead of the coach teaching the player, it was the other way around.

The Crimson Tide run their offense, not anyone else's. Because there tends to be a rotating cast of offensive coordinators under Saban, to maintain some level of consistency, Saban has new coordinators learn his system. There is no complete overhaul and importation of a new offensive playbook when a new coach comes aboard. That's why when O'Brien took the job, there were few better candidates to teach him the offense he'd be running than the quarterback who'd just made a real run at winning the Heisman Trophy.

Seems to have gone well. O'Brien led an offense that was sixth in the country in points per game, seventh in yards per game, seventh in passing yards, third in third-down conversions and second in total first downs converted.

If and when McDaniels does leave, it would make all the sense in the world for Belichick and Robert Kraft to make a strong push for their former offensive coordinator. Currently the offensive coordinator at Jones' alma mater, O'Brien would be the ideal candidate.

Phil Perry on Bill O'Brien as an OC candidate

O'Brien of course has experience with the language of the Patriots offense, having served as quarterbacks coach and de facto offensive coordinator in 2009 and 2010 -- helping Tom Brady win an MVP in 2010 -- and then taking on the coordinator title in 2011 when the Patriots featured the most prolific two tight end offense the NFL had ever seen and went to a Super Bowl. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez combined for 169 catches that season, breaking a record set by the 1984 Chargers.

Their 2,237 receiving yards were more than 300 more than any team ever had from its tight ends. According to ESPN Stats and Info, Brady threw 31 touchdowns against just four picks with the duo on the field. He had eight and eight otherwise.

Now, with two highly-paid tight ends on the Patriots roster -- though not on the level of Gronkowski and Hernandez talent-wise -- and a young and accurate quarterback looking to take a Year 2 leap, there is no better candidate for an opening left by McDaniels' possible departure.

O'Brien's previous NFL experience came as head coach of the Texans when he took over a 2-14 team and went 27-21 with two AFC South Division titles over the next three seasons. He went 4-12 when rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson injured his ACL halfway through the season and then went 21-11 over the next two seasons before being fired after going 0-4 to start 2020.

O'Brien is from the area originally, went to Brown University in Providence, and still maintains ties to the area. From the outside, it looks like a perfect marriage.

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Nick Caley

Tight ends coach Nick Caley would make sense as an in-house candidate to take on play-calling duties. Aside from Ivan Fears, who has hinted that time on the staff is winding down, Caley is the longest-tenured offensive assistant in the building (joined in 2015), and has been a key piece to the third-down game-planning operation.

Mick Lombardi

Patriots receivers coach Mick Lombardi would be another one to keep tabs on as an in-house option. He's been in the NFL since 2011 and has served in a variety of roles for several clubs, including scouting assistant (Patriots, 2011-2012), defensive assistant (Niners, 2014-2015) and assistant quarterbacks coach (Jets, 2017; Patriots, 2019).

McDaniels, who also functions as the team's quarterbacks coach, said during the season that Lombardi handles red-zone game-planning duties for the Patriots these days.

Joe Judge

When McDaniels was going to take the Colts head-coaching job, indications were at the time that Joe Judge would be the replacement as offensive coordinator. At the time, he served as special teams coordinator and receivers coach.

Bill Belichick said of Judge in the summer of 2019, "Joe's a really good coach. Joe does a good job. He's smart. He played quarterback, he played offense, so he has a good offensive background... Joe could probably coach any position on the field. He does an excellent job of teaching players. He thinks quickly. The game comes easy to him. He understands concepts and adjustments and fundamental techniques. That's the mark of a good coach. I would definitely put him in that category."

Judge was fired as head coach of the Giants following the 2021 season.

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Jerry Schuplinski

Another former Patriots assistant, Schuplinski was assistant quarterbacks coach in New England from 2016-2018 after three years as an offensive assistant.

He worked closely with McDaniels when it came to helping young quarterbacks like Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett get adjusted to the pro game. Because Brady was on an entirely different level of those players, Schuplinski was given significant responsibility when it came to ensuring young passers developed appropriately.

Chad O'Shea

A longtime receivers coach in Foxboro (2009-2018), O'Shea was a key element of the weekly offensive game-planning process, and has extensive knowledge of the Patriots system.

He was the offensive coordinator for the Dolphins in 2019, and after being relieved of his duties there he became receivers coach and passing-game coordinator in Cleveland. He's been with the Browns the last two seasons.