By Nick Shook
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Super Bowl LII brings New England, football’s most dominant franchise in this millennium, to the game’s biggest stage yet again.
It’s the eighth time it has happened for the Tom Brady-led Patriots. For this group of coaches, it very well could be their last time together.
Bill Belichick’s coaching tree has been picked many times over the last two-and-a-half decades, and it’s borne some quality fruit over that time (Nick Saban, Kirk Ferentz). But it’s also had its share of excellent coordinators who didn’t end up sticking as head coaches (Romeo Crennel, Charlie Weis).
Josh McDaniels used to be part of that second group. But unlike the others, he’s poised to get a second chance at being a head coach with Indianapolis awaiting the conclusion of New England’s season before hiring him as Colts head coach.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, the player who should know the coordinator the best, called him a “great coach” on Super Bowl Opening Night, adding McDaniels “should get a lot of opportunities because when you’re a great coach, that’s what you get.”
McDaniels’ first run as head coach (with Denver from 2009-2010) started off great but ended far from it. McDaniels won his first six games, then won just five of his final 22 before he was fired in December of 2010. He openly talks about what he learned from that experience as a first-time head coach, when he was just 33 years old.
“I think I’ve learned how to channel those types of things [emotions] the right way,” McDaniels said, via ESPN. “I’m still as emotional as the next guy, but I try to channel things in a way that’s as positive and productive as possible for our team and our offense.”
While folks spend Super Bowl week discussing Brady’s battle against Father Time (it has its own Facebook series now), the truest threat to New England’s famed continuity is the anticipated departure of both McDaniels and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, who is expected to be named the Detroit Lions’ head coach after Super Bowl LII.
Detroit is familiar with Belichick descendants, having employed former low-level Belichick assistant Jim Schwartz as head coach from 2009-2013. They’re both defensive-minded head coaches, but the similarities end there.
Should Patricia and McDaniels depart, it will mark the second time in the Belichick era when both of his coordinators leave simultaneously after a Super Bowl appearance. The last time that happened, Weis, Belichick and Crennel shared a group hug moments before hoisting the Lombardi Trophy on Feb. 6, 2005.
“I think we’ve had five or six of our people are either general managers or head coaches at other teams,” Patriots owner Bob Kraft said, again via ESPN. “It’s a credit, as long as we don’t populate the whole league, but if we’re worthy, I mean, I think it’s a great credit to Bill and the coaching staff for what they’ve been able to accomplish.”
It seems as though New England’s system — the Patriot Way — will produce two more star coordinators. But with Belichick currently at age 65, it’s fair to wonder if this will be the last duo to emerge from his tree. Then again, New England tends to identify and cultivate talent better than any other franchise in the NFL (Sports Illustrated’s Greg Bishop did a wonderful job tackling that subject in his Super Bowl LII preview piece). While we watch Brady closer than ever as he challenges the limitations of age, we’d also be wise to follow those who replace McDaniels and Patricia.
After all, we could be seeing them in Super Bowl LIII.