BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — As Bill Belichick attempts to win his sixth Super Bowl title as coach of the New England Patriots, he will have help from the head coaches of the Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions.
Not officially, of course. Not yet. But very soon after Sunday’s Super Bowl against the Philadelphia Eagles, Belichick will lose his top assistants to the NFL’s final two head coaching vacancies.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is headed to Indianapolis to attempt to restore the Colts to contender status with, he must hope, a healthy Andrew Luck at quarterback. Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia is off to Detroit to work with a former Patriots executive, Lions General Manager Bob Quinn, and franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford.
It is an odd dual existence this week for McDaniels and Patricia, who must prepare their players for the biggest game of the NFL season while readying for the most significant moves of their professional lives. And while neither is publicly acknowledging exactly what is to come next, they said their focus has remained on the task immediately at hand.
“I think that experience has definitely been helpful,” McDaniels said earlier this week. “I think as coaches we naturally multitask a tremendous amount each day. And so there was a time set aside for doing that. That time was used the right way. And then after that, it’s been all about this team and this year and this season and what we’re trying to accomplish as a team here. That’s where my focus has stayed, and that’s where it will stay this week.”
Patricia, seated not far from McDaniels during Monday’s Super Bowl media night, had a similar refrain, saying: “Just in general for me, I went through that process, which is great. I had a great time with that process. But it’s just all about Philly right now.”
Such sets of circumstances have not always worked out well in Super Bowls. Just last year, the Atlanta Falcons arrived in Houston to face the Patriots with their offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, set to become the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. Shanahan had worked wonders, helping Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan to the league’s MVP award. But he had a bad Super Bowl Sunday: His second-half play-calling was questioned as the Falcons squandered a 28-3 lead to lose in overtime.
But Belichick has made it work in the past. His offensive coordinator, Charlie Weis, and defensive coordinator, Romeo Crennel, exited in tandem for head coaching jobs — Weis at Notre Dame, Crennel with the Cleveland Browns — after the Patriots beat the Eagles in the Super Bowl to close the 2004 season. It was, at the time, their third Super Bowl victory in a four-year span.
Owner Robert Kraft was asked this week whether he roots for Patriots coaches and employees who leave for opportunities elsewhere.
“It’s easier to root for them,” Kraft said, “if they’re in the NFC.”
That will be the case with Patricia, who joined the Patriots as an offensive assistant working for Weis in 2004 before moving to the defensive staff and becoming the coordinator in 2012.
“I’ve known Matt for a long time,” quarterback Tom Brady said Tuesday. “He first started as an offensive coach. When Charlie was here, he was kind of the offensive assistant. He did a great job. He moved over to the defense, really worked his way up through the whole system and has done a great job with our defense.
“It’s fun for me. I do love when people joke with me because that means they’re comfortable with me. I like when guys have known me for a while because they feel free to cut loose, and that’s kind of how I am. I like to kind of go back and forth. I think it gets people in the right frame of mind. But it’s very competitive out there [during practices]. Most of the year I’m competing against our defense. The guy who calls the plays usually gets a lot of smack talk going back and forth. So Matt’s been on the other end of it for a long time.”
For McDaniels, it will be his second head coaching job following an unsuccessful stint with the Denver Broncos in 2009 and 2010.
“Sometimes I think failure is the best teacher,” he said. “I’ve learned that certainly over the course of my career whether it’s been here or somewhere else. The things that maybe you didn’t do as well, you understand what the cause of that is, what the source of that is, and then you try to do it better as you move forward and try to implement it as quickly as you can to make yourself better that year. There are so many things I’ve learned.
“I still learn to this day. … I’m nowhere near a finished product as a coach myself. I love the game of football and I’m hungry to try to get better and try to serve the guys that I work for and try to serve the people that I work with. That’s the best attitude I can have and hopefully that’ll serve me well moving forward.”
McDaniels, after quickly restoring his leaguewide coaching reputation in his second stint on Belichick’s coaching staff in New England, had spent the past few NFL hiring cycles biding his time, waiting for what he regarded as the right head coaching opportunity.
“My job is [to] try to be the best I can at the job that I have, and then make the right decision for my family,” McDaniels said. “I’ve got a beautiful wife and four great kids. I just want to make sure they’re blessed with whatever decisions that we’re fortunate to have an opportunity to make. And if that means that I get an opportunity to do that, then I’d be really happy to do that at some point. But right now this week is special for one reason. And that’s because we’re here having an opportunity to compete against the Eagles for the Super Bowl championship.”