Without so much as an acknowledgment, Bill Belichick is undertaking one of the most daring experiments in the football coaching profession since time time Pat Fitzgerald wore shorts on the sideline for a game back in 2015.
After unsuccessful stints elsewhere (combined record: 23-52-1) in Detroit and New York, Matt Patricia and Joe Judge have flown back to the nest. Patricia and Judge started their pro football careers in New England and now they're back... in roles they've never held before. Not even close.
A former engineer, Patricia was an offensive GA at Syracuse when he joined the Patriots in a similar role in 2004. He was promoted to assistant offensive line coach in 2005, then moved to defense in 2006. He remained on that side of the ball until becoming the Pats' defensive coordinator in 2012, then the Lions head coach in 2018. After three seasons in Michigan, Patricia returned in '21 as a senior football advisor and added offensive line coach to his title in 2022.
A football coach by trade, Judge worked in special teams at Birmingham-Southern and Alabama before joining the Patriots in 2012. Three seasons on the support staff garnered him a promotion to special teams coordinator in 2015. He added wide receivers coaching duties in 2019, but it was his special teams expertise that landed Judge the New York Giants head coaching job in 2020. Two seasons later, he's back, now working with quarterbacks.
And now, Belichick is auditioning his former defensive and special teams coordinators to replace new Las Vegas Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels as his offensive coordinator.
Handling senior roles on multiple sides of the ball is not unheard of, of course. To name one example: LSU offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock switched from offensive coordinator to defensive coordinator over the course of one offseason... but that was at Division II Grand Valley State.
At the highest level of football, with a second-year quarterback and a team coming off a playoff appearance, Belichick is entrusting offensive play-calling duties to assistants who've never coordinated an offense, ever.
Already, the football world operates on a conveyor belt system where the best position coaches become coordinators and the best coordinators become head coaches -- despite universal acknowledgment that head coaching requires an entirely different skillset than coordinating, and success in one job often doesn't translate to success in the other. (See: Judge, Joe; Patricia, Matt.) NFL head coaching hiring often becomes the Peter Principle played out in real time, but at the coordinator level, one can see how success as a position coach demonstrates talent as a coordinator.
But here, Belichick is going the other way. He's saying that it takes little to no experience as an offensive coach to successfully coordinate an offense.
Of course, in typical Belichick fashion, he's barely acknowledging anything abnormal is going on. "Bill, why did you turn the thermostat to 95 degrees?" "Just didn't want to be cold."
Asked point-blank who will call offensive plays for New England in 2022 after Thursday night's preseason opener, Belichick said, "Don't worry about that."
Belichick has been playing hide-the-ball with play-calling duties on both sides of the ball all offseason. Neither side has an official coordinator. On New England's staff page, the first coaches listed on the offense are Patricia ("senior football advisor/offensive line") and Judge ("offensive assistant/quarterbacks"). On defense, there is no coordinator, and the first two coaches listed are Steve Belichick and Jerod Mayo, who both handle linebackers.
It's possible play-calling on both sides will be a by-committee job, and the lips delivering the plays will change depending on the situation. Heck, maybe Belichick will call plays on both sides of the ball and he just doesn't want to tell us. We also shouldn't discount the possibility of a mystical force manifesting play calls out of the ether.
Either way, the Patriots' season will be worth monitoring. But we'll have to monitor the results ourselves, because Bill Belichick will never tell us on his own.