Bill Belichick coach tree mistake: Joe Judge tries to avoid a long series of NFL head coaching flops
The apple usually doesn’t fall far from the trunk – unless it’s Bill Belichick’s tree, of course.
For years, NFL teams have tried to replicate the success of Bill Belichick’s tenure in New England, and it’s an effort that has not proven fruitful. While coaching trees are generally overrated and largely unsuccessful in the NFL, that hasn’t stopped teams from finding the next “hoodie” from Belichick’s tree.
Belichick students have gotten many marquee jobs in the NFL since the Patriots head coach became a seasoned asset in the league and branded his name on the pantheon of all-time greats. Unfortunately for Belichick (and even more so for his assistants), his reputation for engaging new leaders and creating high quality head coaching candidates isn’t exactly strong.
Here’s a look at the more notable Belichick disciples and their successes – more likely failures – in the ranks of NFL head coaches 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 couldn’t afford the best of times: the Browns’ problems are well documented, after all. Crennel has had a victorious season as the Browns head coach, and it turned out to be the Browns’ last victorious season before Kevin Stefanski took the helm in 2020.
Crennel’s brief stint with the Chiefs didn’t turn out to be much better, as KC stuttered before becoming the engine it is now.
In conclusion, Crennel never really got past very good DC status, but neither was he ever blessed with great situations. He’s 74 now, so the ship slated to be the 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 embroiled in much controversy over his staff: he was involved in trading quarterback Jay Cutler for Kyle Orton to the Bears, drafting Tim Tebow, and trading Brandon Marshall to Miami. Throw in a little video controversy (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?) And you’ve got a coaching stay fit for a Netflix documentary. The Broncos would like to forget that too, considering he’s been fired as coach in his sophomore season.
After a brief stint with the Rams and a return to New England, McDaniels got a second jump at a head coaching gig with the Indianapolis Colts until he didn’t; McDaniels retired from the job after hiring assistant coaches, returning to Belichick’s waiting arms, leaving a bad mark on his résumé and a vote of confidence hanging over his head.
It’s only a matter of time before McDaniels gets another chance at a head coaching job in the NFL, because Patriots. How will he react? We will see.
Experience: Houston Texans (2014-20), Penn State University (2012-2013)
Head coaching record: 52-48
Last but not least, Bill O’Brien’s Texas tenure was… eventful.
O’Brien was previously sacked after a 0-4 start to the 2020 season after selling DeAndre Hopkins and generally being a disaster as a GM-HC combo deal in Houston. While holding the title for just over a year, it left a lot of damage to new GM Nick Caserio and head coach David Culley.
O’Brien only served one year as Patriots OC and spent a total of five years with the organization between 2007 and 2011. A stint at Penn State after the Joe Paterno era turned out to be decent , with a 15-9 record over two seasons as the head coach of the Nittany Lions. Remember, O’Brien faced the aftermath of the Penn State sexual abuse scandal, difficult waters for any coach.
As a head coach, O’Brien was halfway decent and came into its own as a boss when he landed a franchise passerby in Deshaun Watson.
Still, some positive returns weren’t enough to save his job, with a bad start in 2020, feuds with players, and terrible squad decisions that resulted in the ax falling in 2020.
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Experience: Detroit Lions (2018-20)
Head coaching record: 13-29-1
Matt Patricia’s third year as the Lions head coach turned out to be his final year as the Lions head coach, with a sickening blowout loss on Thanksgiving night 2020 that sealed his fate.
The former Patriots defensive coordinator inherited a pretty decent team with lots of parts after the Jim Caldwell years and molded the Detroit defense at will. It resulted in an absolute atrocity that could be turned into a disaster movie.
Patricia and the Lions were somewhat sacrificed to Matthew Stafford’s 2019 injury, but in 2020 the team looked uncompetitive and blew a big lead in every game under Patricia’s supervision. 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 may be more remembered for whistling on New England’s scam methods, but if Galaxy Brain was ever a head coach, it would be Mangini.
While the “Mangenius” won two seasons in New York, his dry, belichick knockoff personality and lack of productive defenses – mind you as a defensive coach – led to a quick ousting in New York. It is also extremely sad to note that after the Spygate whistle, Mangini was still trying to fix fences with former friend and mentor Belichick.
The Browns decided to take a risk with Mangini, which was quickly turning the people of Cleveland in the wrong direction, which really says something considering the Browns fans can take plenty of football junk.
While Mangini scored a couple of different Coordinator gigs after his Browns stint, he eventually fizzled out and hasn’t trained in the NFL in any way since 2015.
Experience: New York Giants (2020-present)
Head coaching record: 6-11
The jury is still with Joe Judge (ha ha, courtroom puns) but early returns were mixed to good. While Judge says the things that make soccer blowhards and traditionalists all hot and bothered, the Giants didn’t exactly have a cohesive, inspiring effort in 2020, resulting in a 6-10 record.
Some of these inconsistencies stem from injuries, some from the youth, and some from the uncertainty about what Judge is as a head coach in the NFL.
Still, there is enough time for Judge to change the narrative of being JAG from the Belichick coaching tree, and his mentor, who vouches for and works to ensure that Judge gets the job in New York, carries some weight. We are still a long way from knowing who Judge is and what he will be one way or another, although 2021 will be a long way to go to prove the case one way or another.
Experience: Miami Dolphins (2019-present)
Head coaching record: 16-17
Flores’ start to his Dolphins tenure was embroiled in a bit of a controversy with Kenny Stills, but since then his players seem to have shopped into what he sells. The next few seasons will be very illuminating on what kind of coach he will be as the Dolphins keep building. Of all the Belichick students, Flores shows the most promising leader and trainer.
While Tua Tagovailoa’s potential as a Miami franchise QB is still asking questions, sunny days are coming for the South Beach troop, and Flores is one of the most compelling reasons to believe in it.