He seems to fit the bill
O’Brien sure does act like the coordinator
FOXBOROUGH — Technically, Bill O’Brien’s role with the Patriots is quarterbacks coach.
But watch a practice session, and it is clear that O’Brien is basically in charge of the entire offense, even if he won’t admit that is the case.
At times during this week’s minicamp practices, there was no denying that O’Brien had pull on the field, and to speak with those within the organization, he has plenty of pull off it as well.
“Billy’s been coaching a long time, and I’ve had a chance to work with him since 2007,’’ said director of player personnel Nick Caserio. “He’s a great coach, he understands the offense extremely well, he communicates well with not only the quarterback but the entire offense, and when he speaks, people listen.
“Billy’s a great coach. We have a lot of great coaches on the offensive side of the ball and they all work well together.’’
Tom Brady gave a similar assessment of O’Brien earlier this month, his first public show of support for the man who left the college coaching ranks in 2007 to come to New England as a coaching assistant and has climbed the internal ranks quickly.
Not that his rise is a surprise, given his track record.
A native of Andover and graduate of St. John’s Prep, O’Brien decided as a teenager that he wanted to be a football coach. He followed in the footsteps of his father and older brother by playing at Brown, where he was an undersized linebacker/defensive end. He stuck around Providence’s College Hill for his first foray into coaching, spending two years as a graduate assistant with the Bears.
“My parents probably don’t really like the fact that I took a Brown education and went into coaching,’’ O’Brien joked yesterday.
O’Brien also spent time as a grad assistant at Georgia Tech before Brown head coach Phil Estes, who was just taking over, offered him his first paying gig in 1993, as running backs coach and recruiting coordinator.
But this time he didn’t stick around long: Three weeks later, O’Brien got an offer from George O’Leary to return to Georgia Tech as a full-time assistant. That put Estes in a bit of a bind, but he understood the opportunity an ACC school offered.
The move paid off when O’Brien was named the Yellow Jackets’ offensive coordinator just three years later — the same amount of time it took for him to rise from low-level assistant to de facto offensive coordinator in New England.
“I’ve worked for some great head coaches,’’ said O’Brien. “Obviously, Bill [Belichick], Ralph Friedgen [at Maryland], George O’Leary, and I’ve been around some really good assistant coaches.
“But I have my own style, that’s for sure. Enthusiastic. I think I’m a good teacher, and try to be very well-prepared in the meetings and come out here with enthusiasm and try to make sure these guys understand what they’re going into before they hit the field and see how we execute when we get out there. That’s my style.’’
Though the profanity-laced tirade he directed at rookie tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski earlier in the week may indicate otherwise, O’Brien is a fun-loving guy.
Estes has said that O’Brien can do spot-on impressions of those he knows well, including voices and mannerisms. The two bonded quickly at Brown, and he and Estes had their share of moments together — such as the time Estes was trying to get O’Brien’s attention when he was on the phone with another coach and Estes took a pair of scissors and cut the phone cord.
His eyes wide, O’Brien frantically tried twisting the wires back together, desperately saying, “Hello, coach?’’
As silly as he can be, O’Brien is serious about getting the most out of the Patriots offense, whether he carries the title of offensive coordinator or not.
“I’m comfortable with whatever my role is,’’ he said. “It’s a collaborative effort. All of us work at it — game-planning, practice planning. You all have a certain niche as far what our roles are. Whatever Bill asks me to do, I’m going to do.’’