Patriots

Ian Rapoport: Patriots, Bill O’Brien have ‘mutual interest’ in OC role

The NFL insider suggests the former New England offensive coordinator might be willing to come back to Foxborough to coach Mac Jones.

Bill O'Brien Tom Brady Patriots
New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien, left, speaks with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, right, during a game against the Indianapolis Colts. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
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With Josh McDaniels leaving the nest, the Patriots have to search for a new offensive coordinator for the first time in the last 10 seasons during a crucial moment for the team and young quarterback Mac Jones.

One of the most obvious fits for the new offensive coordinator vacancy might have his eyes on the job as well, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

The NFL insider told WEEI’s “Gresh & Keefe” show Thursday that Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, who has held the same post for the Patriots in the past, might be willing to return to Foxborough for another NFL opportunity.

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“I think there’s interest from them and I think there’s interest from him and a lot of times when that’s the case, these things end up working out,” Rapoport said.

Bringing O’Brien back to New England has a lot of appeal in terms of maintaining continuity for Mac Jones after the young quarterback’s first offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Josh McDaniels, took a head coaching job with the Las Vegas Raiders.

O’Brien excelled in his first go-round with the Patriots, helping create the dynamic two-tight end offense that saw both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez develop into stars and overseeing a unit that dominated opponents on the way to a Super Bowl appearance in 2011. Then, after five total seasons in Foxborough and two years as head coach at Penn State after the school’s sexual assault scandal ended Joe Paterno’s tenure, he took over as the Houston Texans’ head coach in 2014.

Though his teams enjoyed a solid amount of success over his seven-season tenure, winning the AFC South four times and going 52-48 overall, a combination of playoff struggles (2-4 record and no AFC Championship appearances) and poor personnel decisions (trading away star receiver DeAndre Hopkins, for example) lead to his ouster after an 0-4 start in 2020.

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But O’Brien landed on his feet again in 2021, becoming offensive coordinator for Nick Saban at Alabama ahead of last season and helping orchestrate freshman quarterback Bryce Young’s Heisman Trophy-winning season. (Saban, for his part, has said there’s “no indication” O’Brien plans to leave for the NFL.

Though O’Brien never coached Jones with the Crimson Tide, the similarities between New England’s and Alabama’s offensive systems, as well as his own past experience in the offense, could make the transition easier.

Of course, before the Patriots can do that, they’ll need to go through a slow process, according to Rapoport, that notably must include interviewing at least one minority candidate — something that will be watched even more closely as Brian Flores’s lawsuit burns through the NFL.

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