top of page

Gaffney's State of the Patriots 2024 Part 1: Determining Bill Belichick's Successor

Although the announcement on Thursday didn't come as a complete shock, as we had this piece started up over a full 24 hours beforehand, the Patriots are in the market for a Head Coach for the first time in nearly a quarter century. The Bill Belichick era, the greatest in team, and, quite frankly, sports history, is over, but the more things change, the more they stay the same. As of today, three perceived men are in line for the Patriots' Head Coach job. One of whom coached under him in years past, one played under him in years past, and the perceived leader in the clubhouse has done both.

But it's also worth noting something Robert Kraft said to end his availability on Thursday afternoon, relating to what he's looking for in Belichick's successor; "Someone who can help us get back to the playoffs and win." I believe the three perceived front runners can all do that, as does my throw-in name that I'd like to see them at least interview. Here they all are ranked, and what each would bring to the table as the next Head Coach of the New England Patriots.

Note: I do not view Ben Johnson as a realistic option. Things, of course, can change rapidly. I (yes, me) would also be the best and cheapest option for the Patriots' now vacant GM gig. If Ryan Griggson can get four separate jobs after ruining Andrew Luck's career, I am in no way, shape, or form unqualified for a GM gig.

My Patriots Head Coaching Options to Replace Bill Belichick (Ranked)

No. 4 - Joe Brady (Buffalo Bills Offensive Coordinator)



- Was the mastermind behind the now legendary 2019 LSU passing offense as pass game coordinator and receivers coach.

- His promotion to Bills Offensive Coordinator completely changed the trajectory of their season, committing to getting the ball in James Cook's hands early and often.

- Has six years of NFL assistant coaching experience (New Orleans, Carolina, and Buffalo), plus an additional five in the college ranks (William & Mary, Penn State, LSU) at just 34 years old.

- Has no prior head coaching experience, and really only two season's worth of NFL coordinator experience.

- Although scapegoated with the Panthers, the offense notably regressed in year two before he was let go, and the red zone offense was in the bottom third of the league both years.

- Unclear how a staff underneath him would look.

Brady is a guy who I've been a fan of for quite some time, and wanted him to get the Patriots' offensive coordinator job last year, as the Bills wouldn't be allowed to block that hypothetical interview. Now, after righting the ship that is the Buffalo offense, I think the 34-year-old Florida native should probably get some head coaching consideration. Had they not switched to Brady from Ken Dorsey, I believe the Bills would've missed the postseason and hit the 10-loss mark at the very least. Getting a new voice in Josh Allen's ear quite literally saved their season.

Now, going with the 34-year-old would be a risk given the lack of NFL experience, and this wouldn't exactly be a McVay situation by any stretch, but I doubt you'd find a single person in that Rams building who regrets the call to bring in McVay when he was just 30 years old. If you're in the 'offensive guy no matter what' camp, Joe Brady is your guy.

No. 3 - Mike Vrabel (Former Tennessee Titans Head Coach)



- Team legend with several good seasons of NFL Head Coaching experience. Nearly had the Titans in the Super Bowl in just his second year. Initially had a staff that included Matt LaFleur, Arthur Smith, and Dean Peas.

- Proven player-coach, simply judging by the comments of his now former players in Tennessee.

- Got the opportunity to work under several notable defensive coaches as an assistant like Romeo Crenell and Luke Fickell before he got his first DC gig with the Texans.

- Although his Tennessee staff started out excellent, he was never able to truly get a suitable offensive coordinator replacement for Arthur Smith.

- Potentially had bad relationships with multiple GMs.

- Ended his stint as Titans Head Coach 13-21 after securing Coach of the Year honors in 2021. That includes a seven-game losing streak which ended the 2022 season.

Vrabel becoming available equally shocks me and doesn't shock me. While the Tennessee Titans massively underperformed once they hit the 2021 postseason and thereafter, it's hard to put much of that on Vrabel. In fact, I don't know many coaches who are succeeding after losing A.J. Brown because the GM didn't want to pay him, then the bevy of injuries that hit Tennessee in that ensuing season. But the NFL is a results-based business, and Vrabel didn't produce in his final nearly three dozen games.

There is something to be said though, that Vrabel could have conceivably had two Super Bowl births in his opening four seasons with the Titans (2019, 2021). Guys were willing to run through a brick wall for him, and that wasn't just in Tennesee. The same can be said about the Texans in his four years there. While I would be concerned about the kind of offensive staff he'd be able to put together, the Patriots could do much worse than one of the best players in team history for Bill Belichick's successor.

No. 2 - Brian Flores (Minnesota Vikings Defensive Coordinator)



- A familiar face to players and fans alike, and one of the best defensive game planners, game callers, and motivators in the game, as shown this year with the Vikings.

- Proved he's more than just a Belichick assistant with largely successful assistant stints outside of Foxborough in the last two years.

- Has plenty of new contacts to fill out a revamped staff.

- Was unable to foster a good relationship with Dolphins' quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in his stint there, and had issues with superstar safety Minkah Fitzpatrick over how he was being used, leading to his departure from Miami literal days after some public comments.

- Tried to evolve his Miami staff into more than just a Patriots South outfit with not much success.

- Went 24-25 as the Head Coach of the Dolphins.

Outside of Josh Dobbs-mania, I wouldn't blame you if you didn't catch many Vikings games, but as far as coaching performances in 2023, I don't think there was a better assistant in the league than Brian Flores. Outside of about a half dozen guys, there's not much to speak of on the Minnesota defense, especially from a pass coverage standpoint. His blitz usages and the subsequent play of Danielle Hunter, quite literally had the Vikings competing for a playoff spot, despite not having Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson for a good swath of the season.

The big reason why I'd prefer Flores over Vrabel would be this. After being fired by Miami, I respect that he went to Pittsburgh and then Minnesota to prove to the whole league he isn't just another Bill Belichick assistant and that he's a good coach in his own right. I'd like to think he's learned from the missteps he made as the Dolphins head coach, and even if it's not in New England, B-Flo will be a fantastic coach for someone here, hopefully very soon.

No. 1 - Jerod Mayo (New England Patriots Co-Defensive Coordinator)



- Former First-Team All-Pro and Super Bowl Champion Linebacker with the team, who already knows this team inside and out.

- Has had several chances to interview for head coaching jobs outside of Foxborough over the last several years (Denver, Philly, Carolina, most notably).

- The ideal replacement in the sense he can bring the core tennats of the Patriot Way into the next generation, as someone with playing and coaching experience exclusively with the team.

- Is on the record that he'd try to get Dont'a Hightower to join his staff.

- No prior Head Coaching experience and just five years of assistant coaching experience.

- Unclear if he would be able to bring in notable assistant coaches under him at this time, namely at the coordinator spots.

- To the best of our knowledge, did not call the defensive plays during the majority of his tenure so far.

A little under a year ago, Robert Kraft essentially told the world that Jerod Mayo is the heir apparent to Bill Belichick, and in that time, my opinion of him hasn't shifted. He should still be considered the leader in the clubhouse, and it would be an upset if he didn't get the promotion in my eyes. If for nothing else, because he's had several chances to get head coaching opportunities elsewhere and opted to stay in an assistant capacity where he wasn't even calling plays defensively. Loyalty has long been something valued in the Patriots organization, and to break from that in this instance would feel odd.

For those asking why Mayo is the best choice, much of that, in my opinion, lies in what happened in Houston this year. DeMeco Ryans is similar to Mayo in many respects. A former first-round pick who enjoyed a great NFL career, including a First-Team All-Pro selection and several Pro Bowls, and ever since getting into coaching, has rocketed up the ranks before coaching the team he played his entire career for. Now, it's fair to point out that Texans' OC Bobby Slowik is a big part of the equation for Houston, but Ryans is an undeniable motivator who got his boys up for every game this year and are now far ahead of schedule in just his first year running his own operation.

While much of the Ryans' blueprint with Mayo would rely on him getting a surefire offensive showrunner, there's something to be said about how this Patriots defense was playing lights-out football for about 90 percent of the season, and at least some of that has to be credited to the former linebacker. Even with just six years of coaching experience, I'd feel perfectly comfortable allowing Mayo to sink or swim on his own in New England. Also, he'd bring in Dont'a Hightower, which instantly wins over me by default, so that's fantastic.

Main Image via


bottom of page