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Screw the Bill Belichick Coaching Tree argument against Matt Patricia

The biggest knock on Matt Patricia is a fallacy to begin with.

New England Patriots v Miami Dolphins Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

As the NFL coaching carousel of 2018 slows its way to a standstill, it appears the New England Patriots’ coaching staff is about to be decimated. Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia is almost assuredly heading to coach the Lions. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is expected to join the Colts. And even linebacker coach Brian Flores may land the head coaching gig with the Cardinals.

Invariably, any time a Patriots coach gets a promotion somewhere else, a large group of defectors and naysayers will appear, touting nothing but the "Patriots Coaching Tree" argument. The basis of that argument is that, insofar, no former Patriots coach from the Bill Belichick era has gone on to succeed elsewhere. There’s the idea that no one can recreate the magic happening in New England, and therefore it’s not worth trying.

It has never really been clear what the basis of that argument is. Is it because the Patriots’ system is making these coaches look better than they actually are? Is it because the Patriots simply have a well-oiled machine from top to bottom, and stealing one cog of the operation will do little to recreate it?

Whatever the basis of the argument is, I’m here to tell you that it’s bunk. It’s an overhyped narrative based on very limited results. And almost none of the arguments apply to Matt Patricia and his future with the Detroit Lions. Let’s break it down.

Only 4 examples

The Bill Belichick Coaching Tree has only spawned four NFL head coaches*: Josh McDaniels, Bill O’Brien, Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini. Using four examples to draw sweeping generalizations is an offensive abuse of data.

*This is only including staff from Belichick’s days in New England, as that’s really when the success started. I’m also not including those who went onto coaching college, as that carries a lot of different responsibilities (see: recruiting).

But let’s combine the data in an effort to contextualize the argument against Patriots coaches. Here’s how The Patriot 4—as I’ll refer to them from now on—has performed outside of New England.

Eric Mangini (Jets): 23-25 (0-1 playoffs)
Eric Mangini (Browns): 10-22
Romeo Crennel (Brown): 24-40
Romeo Crennel (Chiefs): 4-15
Josh McDaniels (Broncos): 11-17
Bill O’Brien (Texans): 31-33 (1-2)

Total: 103-152 (.404), 1-3 playoff record

So, in total, the Patriot 4 averaged about 6.5 wins per season, and exactly zero of them finished with an overall record over .500. Those aren’t exactly horrible numbers, but they are nowhere close to the Patriot standard.

Still, for such a low sample size, there were still some minor successes. O’Brien has kept the Texans’ head above water, finishing with a 9-7 record three years in a row, despite missing the biggest key to success in the NFL: A decent quarterback. Eric Mangini had a winning record in two of three seasons with the Jets.

About those quarterbacks...

The centerpiece to any team is the play of the quarterback, and while the head coach is certainly part of the equation in bringing in and grooming a quarterback, none of these four coaches ever had the talent to help mold a winning team. Check it out:

Eric Mangini (Jets)

  • 2006: Chad Pennington (64.5 comp %, 6.9 Y/A, 82.6 passer rating)
  • 2007: Chad Pennington/Kellen Clemens (60.5 comp %, 6.5 Y/A, 73.9 passer rating)
  • 2008: Brett Favre (65.7 comp %, 6.7 Y/A, 80.2 passer rating)

Eric Mangini (Browns)

  • 2009: Brady Quinn/Derek Anderson (49.4 comp %, 5.1 Y/A, 55.8 passer rating)
  • 2010: Colt McCoy/Jake Delhomme/Seneca Wallace (61.9 comp %, 6.7 Y/A, 75.0 passer rating)

Romeo Crennel (Browns)

  • 2005: Trent Dilfer/Charlie Frye (59.8 comp %, 6.7 Y/A, 75.5 passer rating)
  • 2006: Charlie Frye/Derek Anderson (62.1 comp %, 6.3 Y/A, 69.7 passer rating)
  • 2007: Derek Anderson (56.0 comp %, 7.1 Y/A, 80.7 passer rating)
  • 2008: Derek Anderson/Ken Dorsey/Brady Quinn/Bruce Gradkowski (48.8 comp %, 5.2 Y/A, 54.8 passer rating)

Romeo Crennel (Chiefs)

  • 2011: Matt Cassel, Tyler Palko, Kyle Orton (59.8 comp %, 6.6 Y/A, 73.0 passer rating)
  • 2012: Matt Cassel, Brady Quinn (57.5 comp %, 6.2 Y/A, 63.8 passer rating)

Josh McDaniels (Broncos)

  • 2009: Kyle Orton, Chris Simms (61.1 comp %, 6.9 Y/A, 84.4 passer rating)
  • 2010: Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow (57.6 comp %, 7.4 Y/A, 86.8 passer rating)

Bill O’Brien (Texans)

  • 2014: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum, Ryan Mallett (60.8 comp %, 7.1 Y/A, 86.4 passer rating)
  • 2015: Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates, Brandon Weeden (57.8 comp %, 6.6 Y/A, 85.3 passer rating)
  • 2016: Brock Osweiler, Tom Savage (59.5 comp %, 5.9 Y/A, 73.3 passer rating)
  • 2017: Tom Savage, Deshaun Watson, T.J. Yates (57.0 comp %, 6.9 Y/A, 82.8 passer rating)

Look at all of those quarterbacks. Do you even remember who Tyler Palko is? How about Ken Dorsey? Sure, there’s a Brett Favre in there, but he was a shell of his former self at that point. The best quarterback performance out of this group was the combination of Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow, who combined for an actually respectable 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions—which just goes to show you just how great of an offensive mind Josh McDaniels is.

Anyways, combining the quarterback play from the Patriot 4, here’s the final average statline:

58.8 completion percentage, 6.5 yards per attempt, 309 TDs, 297 INTs, 76.0 passer rating


Obviously, Matt Patricia will find himself in a much better situation at quarterback. Matthew Stafford hasn’t completed under 59 percent of his passes since his rookie year. He’s averaging nearly a full extra yard per attempt more in his past five seasons. He’s thrown nearly 100 more touchdowns (216) than interceptions (118) in his entire career. And Stafford’s career passer rating of 88.3 is better than any single season a Patriot 4 coach has ever had at quarterback.

Taking over a mess

When a new head coach comes to town, they’re almost always taking over a mess in need of a complete overhaul. That obviously makes sense: A team that’s headed in the wrong direction is likely to make a head coaching change.

But the Patriot 4 seem to have had a tougher task than most, taking over complete disasters.

Eric Mangini (Jets)

  • Season record prior to Mangini: 4-12 (.250)
  • Mangini’s record: 23-25 (.479)

Eric Mangini (Browns)

  • Season record prior to Mangini: 4-12 (.250)
  • Mangini’s record: 10-22 (.313)

Romeo Crennel (Browns)

  • Season record prior to Crennel: 4-12 (.250)
  • Crennel’s record: 24-40 (.375)

Romeo Crennel (Chiefs)

  • Season record prior to Crennel: 5-8* (.385)
  • Crennel’s record: (.210)

*Took over midway through the 2011 season

Josh McDaniels (Broncos)

  • Season record prior to McDaniels: 8-8 (.500)
  • McDaniels’ record: 11-17 (.393)

Bill O’Brien (Texans)

  • Season record prior to O’Brien: 2-14 (.125)
  • O’Brien’s record: 31-33 (.484)

In total, The Patriot 4 have inherited teams with a combined record of 27-66—or an average season of just 4.6 wins. Aside from Crennel’s time in Kansas City and McDaniels’ less than two years in Denver, every head coach actually improved the team they inherited.

Again, by comparison, Patricia is being handed a gem. The Lions franchise is coming off back-to-back 9-7 seasons. In fact, in the past five years combined, the Lions actually have a winning record (43-37). To state the obvious, this Lions teams is much further along than any of the teams the Patriot 4 had to deal with. While those teams needed a full makeover, the Lions just need a new suit.

Management-coach relationship

The Lions have a built-in relationship between Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn, seeing as they worked alongside each other for years in New England. The Patriot 4? Not so much.

Take this snippet from Eric Mangini’s time in New York, regarding signing Brett Favre:

When the idea of acquiring Favre from Green Bay was first presented to Mangini in August 2008, he was against it. He felt it was against everything he and general manager Mike Tannenbaum were building.

But Mangini said owner Woody Johnson talked about the energy Favre would bring to the organization, the excitement he would generate.

“We were selling seats, opening a new stadium,” Mangini said. “All that was part of the discussion. I thought OK for one year we can do this, but we had a very crystal clear understanding that it was an experiment … and then it wasn’t.”

Or this quote from Broncos COO Joe Ellis after allowing Josh McDaniels to, essentially, act as his own general manager:

“I think the responsibilities that he was burdened with, it’s fair to say that we probably burdened him with too much of that and we were unfair to him in that respect,” Ellis said. “And we certainly need to assess that and look at that moving forward.”

In other words, in almost all of these cases, the Patriot 4 coach came in and clashed with management, whether it be with the general manager or the owner. Harmony from the top down to the very bottom is essential for the Patriot Way, and none of these coaches were teamed with a manager that had previous knowledge or experience of the Patriot Way.

... except one. The Chiefs did their best to build their version of the New England Patriots, not only when they hired Romeo Crennel, but when they brought in former Patriots personnel evaluator Scott Pioli as their new general manager. Pioli immediately tried to create a staff of similar-minded people. First, he brought in Todd Haley as head coach—who, like Pioli, comes from the pre-Patriots Belichick tree. The following year, he brought in Crennel to take over the offense.

But the working relationship was far from harmonious. Haley accused Pioli of tapping his phones and eventually grew paranoid of talking on landline phones. Pioli would end up firing Haley in the middle of his third season—less than a year after the Chiefs won their first division title in seven years. When Pioli promoted Crennel for the next couple years, it would end up costing them both of them their jobs.

It’s possible that the Patricia-Quinn pairing could be just as toxic, but there’s little evidence to suggest that. The two spent 12 years under the same roof in New England, and although the two were in very different departments, there’s no doubt they’ve had more experience working together than any of the GM-Coach pairings of the Patriot 4.

Not only is it lazy to make comparisions between Patricia and the Patriot 4, it’s insulting. Patricia’s situation doesn’t resemble any of the Patriots coaches before him, and therefore there’s really no point in bringing them up. Judge Patricia by the man he is, not the men that came before him.

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