Palace intrigue: coaching the New England Patriots

By Sterling Pingree

Never has there been so much interest and speculation about how a head coach will leave his current job than Bill Belichick as coach of the New England Patriots. There has been less time and energy spent on investigative journalism surrounding Rick Pitino’s unlawful dalliances and Bobby Knight’s exodus from Indiana than there has been on when Bill will hang up his hoodie.

More fuel was added to the fire this week as offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels backed out of an apparent agreement with the Indianapolis Colts to become their head coach, instead deciding to remain in Foxborough with his current title. McDaniels has long been seen as the heir apparent to Belichick because he left once already to be a head coach in Denver and he wound up coming back after offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien left for Penn State. In that moment of need, McDaniels returned to the Patriots and ever since that time he has been seen as the chosen one to take the throne. As the adage goes: “if you love something, set it free and if it returns to you, love it forever.”

It has been reported by Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston that on Tuesday, before McDaniels had made his final decision to go to the Colts, Bill Belichick, Robert Kraft and Jonathan Kraft took one more stab at tying to retain him. In that meeting Bill Belichick offered McDaniels something that nobody else could offer: the kingdom. Belichick told McDaniels that he would open him up to his world and teach him how he looks at financials, salary cap, player evaluation and coaching strategy. He would allow him to sit under the learning tree in a sort of coaching master class that you can’t get anywhere else.

What coach could turn that offer down? What coach would say no if Vince Lombardi, Bear Bryant or Bill Walsh said: “I’m towards the end of my career, but I want to teach you everything I know and give you the greatest chance to succeed in the profession that you’ve chosen? All you have to do is stay in your current job a little bit longer, with the team you have worked for essentially your entire adult life and I will teach you everything.” That would be like Yoda offering to teach Luke Skywalker the ways of the Jedi and Luke saying he’d rather go fight Darth Vader with some sweet moves he learned from watching Youtube.

I believe there is a clear path of succession in place in New England and that path was revealed to one more on Tuesday. I think Belichick and the Krafts had an idea of where they wanted to go and this week McDaniels was told that one day he will get the keys to the kingdom. We don’t know how many more season Bill Belichick will coach the Patriots, but Josh McDaniels does.

Last Thursday an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary was released called The Two Bills, which outlined the complex relationship between Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells. Bill Belichick was Bill Parcells’ star protégé, which after all that’s transpired since Super Bowl 25 is a bit like trying to imagine your grandparents as toddlers. People I talked to this week were riveted by it because of the complex nature of Parcells exit from New England and the convoluted strategies concocted to get the Tuna to the Jets. This included naming Bill Belichick the interim coach for a year while Parcells deal with the Patriots expired. The most interesting aspect to me, this week especially, is that Parcells had an agreement in place with Jets owner Leon Hess that when he stepped down as Jets head coach, that action would immediately trigger the hiring of Bill Belichick as his replacement. Parcells was so concerned about who would take over the team when he left, that he handpicked his own successor and almost like ratifying a will, had the sole beneficiary sign a contract to immediately replace him when he decided to retire.

Ultimately though, this was not what Belichick wanted, he wanted to come to New England instead. He bucked the wishes of his mentor and decided to strike out on his own. This week McDaniels came to a cross roads in his coaching career, in one direction he could go to Indy and start building his career as a head coach. In the other direction, he could put the car in park, stay where he is and perhaps have a better chance of success. It’s like when you play The Game of Life, do you start a career or go to college? If you take the job, it doesn’t cost you anything but it limits your choices of jobs down to one and your salary to just one card. If you go to college, yes, it takes a little extra time and it costs you money but the rewards are greater because you get to pick from three career choices and three salary cards. At 41 years old, with 4 kids and a wife already in his car, Josh McDaniels made a very big life decision this week and by alienating the rest of the league with his decision he has narrowed his focus to picking just one occupation card in this game. He’s picked the “offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots” card with the hopes of one day of landing the Life tile that names him head coach. That’s the direction he’s pointed in and it is how you play the game that counts.

Sterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree on Twitter)  is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.