Countless NFL teams have attempted to find the next Bill Belichick, frequently hiring New England Patriots’ assistant coaches with the hope of striking gold. Whenever the future Hall of Fame coach retires, the Patriots might look toward Bill O’Brien to do the same.
Belichick, entering his 22nd season with the Patriots, has no plans to retire. But it hasn’t stopped speculation about when he’ll step away from coaching. It’s not something New England is worried about right now, especially with Mac Jones showing signs of being the next franchise quarterback.
But Belichick is one of the oldest coaches in the NFL, entering his age-69 season. Considering he’s worked on a coaching staff since 1975, the six-time Super Bowl champion might only hang around for a few more seasons. When he does retire, it will kick start one of the most fascinating coaching searches in NFL history.
Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer, who covered the franchise for years, mentioned O’Brien among three potential candidates who could succeed Belichick. While he acknowledged things went south in Houston, it seems New England remains high on O’Brien.
“But the Krafts really like him and, had Belichick left a couple of years ago when things weren’t great in the Patriots building, I believe O’Brien (then embroiled in a tug of war with then Texans GM Rick Smith) would have been a short-lister in Foxboro. And now he’s part of Nick Saban’s Coaches Revival Program. So I could see his going back home.”
It’s stunning that O’Brien, one of the most maligned NFL coaches in recent memory, would be viewed as a candidate to take over an iconic franchise. But there is a history the Patriots might find appealing.
Bill O’Brien received his first coaching opportunity in the NFL thanks to Belichick. He joined the coaching staff in 2007 as an offensive assistant. A year later, Belichick promoted him to wide receivers coach. O’Brien received another promotion the following season, working alongside Tom Brady as the quarterbacks coach from 2009-10.
After serving as the Patriots’ offensive coordinator in 2011, Penn State surprised many by hiring O’Brien to replace Joe Paterno. Amid sanctions and a gutted roster, O’Brien found success with the Nittany Lions.
Following the termination of Gary Kubiak, the Houston Texans hired O’Brien as their next head coach. Following a 2-14 season under Kubiak, the Texans went 9-7 in 2014 with O’Brien at the helm. Houston made the playoffs the following year with Brian Hoyer as the leading passer.
After consecutive 9-7 seasons, Houston went 4-12 in 2017. It was Deshaun Watson‘s rookie season, but a torn ACL derailed the franchise’s playoff hopes. The team rebounded a year later with an 11-5 record. The Texans reached the AFC divisional round, blowing a 21-0 lead in a 51-31 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
O’Brien, who orchestrated the DeAndre Hopkins and Laremy Tunsil trades, was appointed as Texans’ general manager in January 2020. Following an 0-4 start to the season, with the roster revolting, Houston fired its head coach and general manager.
Entering the fall, O’Brien will serve as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the Alabama Crimson Tide. While it’s hard to imagine his final years in Houston would lead to him taking over the Patriots’ ties to the franchise and Nick Saban mean it’s at least a possibility.