The apple typically doesn’t fall far from the tree — unless it’s Bill Belichick’s tree, of course.
For years, NFL teams have been trying to replicate the success of Bill Belichick’s tenure in New England, and it’s an effort that hasn’t proven fruitful. While coaching trees in the NFL are generally overrated and largely unsuccessful, that hasn’t stopped teams from trying to find the next “Hoodie” from Belichick’s staffs.
Belichick understudies have gotten lots of marquee jobs in the NFL since the Patriots’ head coach has become a proven commodity in the league and etched his name into the pantheon of all-time greats. Unfortunately for Belichick (and even more so for his assistants), his reputation of co-activating new leaders and creating quality head coaching candidates isn’t exactly strong.
Here’s a look at the more notable Belichick disciples and their successes — more like failures — in the NFL head coaching ranks since Belichick took over the Patriots in 2000.
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Experience: Cleveland Browns 2005-08, Kansas City Chiefs, (interim 2011, 2012), Houston Texans (interim 2020)
Head coaching record: 32-63
Crennel hasn’t exactly been afforded the best situations: The Browns’ troubles are well documented, after all. Crennel earned one winning season as Browns head coach, and it turned out to be the last winning season the Browns had before Kevin Stefanski took the helm in 2020.
Crennel’s short stint with the Chiefs didn’t prove to be much better, as KC was sputtering before it became the engine it is now.
In summation, Crennel never really rose above very good DC status, but he was also never saddled with great situations. He’s now 74, so the ship to become an NFL head coach has likely sailed.
Experience: Denver Broncos (2009-10), Indianapolis Col … Oh, oh wait.
Head coaching record: 11-17
McDaniels’ Broncos tenure was mired in loads of controversy regarding his personnel: He had a hand in trading quarterback Jay Cutler to the Bears for Kyle Orton, drafted Tim Tebow and traded Brandon Marshall to Miami. Sprinkle in a little video controversy (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?) and you’ve got a coaching stay fit for a Netflix docuseries. The Broncos would love to forget it, too, considering that he was sacked in just his second season as coach.
After a short stay with the Rams and a return to New England, McDaniels got a second crack at a head coaching gig with the Indianapolis Colts until, well, he didn’t; McDaniels pulled out of the job after hiring assistant coaches, returning to Belichick’s waiting arms again, leaving a nasty stain on his résumé and a question of trust hanging over his head.
It’s only a matter of time until McDaniels gets another shot at a head coaching job in the NFL because Patriots. How he’ll respond? We shall see.
Experience: Houston Texans (2014-20), Penn State University (2012-2013)
Head coaching record: 52-48
If nothing else, Bill O’Brien’s Texans tenure was … eventful.
O’Brien was fired after an 0-4 start to the 2020 season, beforehand, trading away DeAndre Hopkins and generally being a disaster as a GM-HC combo deal in Houston. Even if he held the title for just over a year, he left a lot of damage for the new GM Nick Caserio and head coach David Culley to undo.
O’Brien served just one year as Patriots OC, spending five years in total with the organization between 2007 and 2011. A spell in Penn State after the Joe Paterno era proved to be decent , with a 15-9 record over two seasons as Nittany Lions’ head coach. Keep in mind, O’Brien was dealing with the fallout from the Penn State sexual abuse scandal, tough waters for any coach to navigate.
As a head coach, O’Brien was halfway decent, really coming into his own as a boss when he landed a franchise passer in Deshaun Watson.
Still, some positive returns weren’t enough to save his job, with a bad start in 2020, feuds with players and awful roster decisions leading to the axe falling in 2020.
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Experience: Detroit Lions (2018-20)
Head coaching record: 13-29-1
Matt Patricia’s third year as Lions head coach turned out to be his last year as Lions head coach, with a nauseating blowout loss on Thanksgiving night 2020 sealing his fate.
The former Patriots defensive coordinator inherited a pretty decent team with a lot of pieces in place after the Jim Caldwell years and molded the Detroit defense as he saw fit. It resulted in an absolute atrocity that could be turned into a disaster movie.
Patricia and the Lions were somewhat victimized by Matthew Stafford going down with an injury in 2019, but in 2020 the team looked non-competitive and blew big leads in every game under Patricia’s watch. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see the writing on the wall here.
Experience: New York Jets (2006-08), Cleveland Browns (2009-10)
Head coaching record: 33-47
Mangini might be remembered more for blowing the whistle on New England’s cheating ways, but if “Galaxy Brain” was ever a head coach, it would be Mangini.
While the “Mangenius” ended up with two winning seasons in New York, his dry, Belichick-knockoff personality and lack of productive defenses — as a defensive coach, mind you — led to a quick ousting in New York. Also, it’s exceptionally sad to note that Mangini was still trying to mend fences with one-time friend and mentor Belichick following the Spygate whistle blowing.
The Browns decided to take a chance on Mangini, who quickly rubbed people the wrong way in Cleveland, which is really saying something considering Browns fans’ ability to stomach copious amounts of football garbage.
While Mangini scored a few different coordinator gigs after his Browns stay, he eventually fizzled out, and hasn’t coached in the NFL at any capacity since 2015.
The jury is out
Experience: New York Giants (2020-present)
Head coaching record: 9-16
The jury is still out on Joe Judge (ha ha, courtroom puns) , but the early returns have been mixed. While Judge says the things that get football blowhards and traditionalists all hot and bothered, the Giants didn’t exactly have a cohesive, inspiring effort in 2020, leading to a 6-10 record.
Some of that inconsistency is due to injuries, some of that is youth and some of it is uncertainty about what Judge is as a head coach in the NFL.
While there’s still time for Judge to change the narrative of being JAG from the Belichick coaching tree, his second go of it with the Giants hasn’t exactly been inspiring. With clock and game management issues at the forefront, Judge feels more of a coach of Football Past than Football Yet To Come.
If the Giants continue to falter in 2021, there’s a good chance Judge will be out of a job come 2022.
Experience: Miami Dolphins (2019-present)
Head coaching record: 17-23
Of all Belichick’s disciples, Flores shows the most promise as a leader and a coach, even in a down 2021 season.
The Dolphins overachieved in 2020 (if 7-9 is overachieving) but came crashing back down to Earth with a very, very weak 2021 season through Week 9 (2-7). While that lies more on Chris Grier and his assembling of the roster, Flores, who comes from a defensive background, hasn’t done much to help an expensive and talented defensive roster.
Flores’ start to his Dolphins tenure was mired in a bit of controversy with Kenny Stills, but since then his players seem to have bought into what he’s selling. Next season will be more telling of Flores’ future, granted two things: No. 1, if they can get the QB situation solved. No. 2, if he makes it to next season at all.