Saturday, January 22, 2022

Brian Flores, Joe Judge dismissed: Ranking all the NFL head coaches from Bill Belichick’s coaching tree

Bill Belichick has been doing it a long time, entering the 2021 NFL playoffs to cap his 22nd season as Patriots coach. The all-timer has predictably spawned a big coaching tree along the way, with nine former assistants going on to become NFL head coaches elsewhere. But with the Dolphins‘ surprise dismissal of Brian Flores after the 2021 season, followed by the Giants‘ abrupt change of heart regarding Joe Judge, the playoffs will begin with zero Belichick disciples holding top jobs.

With that in mind, and Flores among products of the Belichick coaching tree likely to land new homes soon, here’s how we’d rank each of the nine NFL head coaches to emerge from under the Patriots great:

9. Joe Judge

NFL head coaching jobs: Giants (2020-2021)

Career record: 10-23

A longtime special teams coordinator under Belichick in New England, Judge brought bravado to his press conferences, and little else. The bar was set low after dismal two-year stints with Ben McAdoo and Pat Shurmur, but his teams — despite occasionally feisty defenses — never materialized on offense and threw in the towel late. At least he talked a good game.

8. Matt Patricia

NFL head coaching jobs: Lions (2018-2020)

Career record: 13-29-1

The bearded wonder helped Bill win three Super Bowls as the Patriots’ defensive coordinator, but he was largely disagreeable in Detroit, guiding some scrappy upsets — including over Belichick’s Pats in 2018 — but ultimately expediting the future relocation of big names like Matthew Stafford and Darius Slay while failing to sniff the playoffs.

7. Romeo Crennel

NFL head coaching jobs: Browns (2005-2008), Chiefs (2011-2012)*, Texans (2020)*

Career record: 32-63

The longtime defensive coordinator is respected and well-liked, hence his repeat role as an interim for failed regimes. But in roughly six seasons of combined experience running the ship, he managed just one winning season and zero playoff bids.

Note: * = Crennel was an interim coach for 15 of his 32 games with the Chiefs and Texans.

6. Josh McDaniels

NFL head coaching jobs: Broncos (2009-2010)

Career record: 11-17

The longtime offensive coordinator probably benefits here because Denver fired him so quickly. Controversy followed him, from a reported dispute with QB Jay Cutler, who left before he coached a game; to a videotaping scandal that prompted NFL fines. He’s long since proven capable of designing an offense, but leadership was apparently an issue.

5. Eric Mangini

NFL head coaching jobs: Jets (2006-2008), Browns (2009-2010)

Career record: 33-47 (0-1 playoffs)

A defensive assistant under Belichick with both the Jets and Patriots, Mangini started hot, finishing 10-6 and guiding Chad Pennington to Comeback Player of the Year honors in his debut, only to fall to Belichick’s Pats in the first round of the playoffs. He never recovered, going 19-29 for the remainder of his career, which included a reportedly alienated locker room in Cleveland.

4. Al Groh

NFL head coaching jobs: Jets (2000)

Career record: 9-7

You can’t tarnish a legacy that barely exists! Groh, of course, is best known for his long run as Virginia’s coach, and a champion Giants assistant, but he spent just one year on the sidelines in New York before resigning to return to college. He at least paved the way for Herm Edwards’ tenure — a five-year run that included three playoff berths and two postseason wins.

3. Nick Saban

NFL head coaching jobs: Dolphins (2005-2006)

Career record: 15-17

A defensive coordinator under Belichick with the Browns, Saban would obviously rank No. 1 if we were including college achievements; he’s the NCAA Belichick running the powerhouse that is Alabama. In Miami, he was just mediocre, which is more than most of these guys can say. His broken promise to stick with the Dolphins rather than bolt for the Crimson Tide will always mar his would-be NFL career, though.

2. Brian Flores

NFL head coaching jobs: Dolphins (2019-2021)

Career record: 24-25

Miscommunication seems to be the chief reason for his departure, with reported disagreements over key spots like QB — where he tried but failed to acquire Deshaun Watson and/or ride a combo of Tua Tagovailoa and Ryan Fitzpatrick to the playoffs. His teams were also very streaky. Still, considering the barren rebuild he inherited, he always kept Miami in contention with a stout “D.”

1. Bill O’Brien

NFL head coaching jobs: Texans (2014-2020)

Career record: 52-48 (2-4 playoffs)

O’Brien helped leave the Texans in their present state of ruin, seizing personnel power and even an official general manager while shipping Pro Bowl stars like DeAndre Hopkins and Laremy Tunsil out of town. But he at least brought toughness and respect to an organization long mired in mediocrity, guiding four playoff runs and two 10-win finishes in just over six seasons.

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Note: Longtime defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who served as Lions head coach from 2009-2013, also worked under Bill Belichick, but as a personnel scout. His biggest achievement was leading the Eagles‘ defense during their 2017 Super Bowl run.

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