The apple typically doesn’t fall far from the tree — unless it’s Bill Belichick’s tree, of course.
For years, NFL teams have been trying to replicate the success of Bill Belichick’s tenure in New England, and it’s an effort that hasn’t proven fruitful. While coaching trees in the NFL are generally overrated and largely unsuccessful, that hasn’t stopped teams from trying to find the next Belichick from Belichick’s tree.
Belichick understudies have gotten lots of marquee jobs in the NFL since the Patriots’ head coach has become a proven commodity in the league and etched his name into the pantheon of all-time greats. Unfortunately for Belichick (and even moreso for his assistants), his reputation of co-activating new leaders and creating quality head coaching candidates isn’t exactly strong.
Here’s a look at the more notable Belichick disciples and their successes — more like failures — in the NFL head coaching ranks since Belichick took over the Patriots in 2000.
Experience: Cleveland Browns 2005-08, Kansas City Chiefs, (interim 2011, 2012), Houston Texans (interim 2020)
Head coaching record: 32-58
Crennel hasn’t exactly been afforded the best situations: The Browns’ troubles are well documented, after all. Crennel earned one winning season as Browns head coach, and it turned out to be the last winning season the Browns have had.
Crennel’s short stint with the Chiefs didn’t prove to be much better, as KC was sputtering before it became the powerhouse it is now.
In summation, Crennel never really rose above very good DC status, but he was also never saddled with great situations. He’s now 73, so the ship to become an NFL head coach has likely sailed, though he’ll get one last shot to prove he can hack it in the head coaching ranks as Texans interim coach, replacing another Bill Belichick pupil.
Experience: Denver Broncos (2009-10), Indianapolis Col … Oh, oh wait.
Head coaching record: 11-17
McDaniels’ Broncos tenure was mired in loads of controversy regarding his personnel: He had a hand in trading quarterback Jay Cutler to the Bears for Kyle Orton, drafted Tim Tebow and traded Brandon Marshall to Miami. Sprinkle in a little video controversy (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?) and you’ve got a coaching stay to forget. The Broncos would love to forget it, too, considering that he was sacked in just his second season as coach.
After a short stay with the Rams and a return to New England, McDaniels got a second crack at a head coaching gig with the Indianapolis Colts until, well, he didn’t. McDaniels pulled out of the job after hiring assistant coaches, returning to New England again, leaving a nasty stain on his résumé and a question of trust surrounding him.
It’s only a matter of time until McDaniels gets another shot at a head coaching job in the NFL because Patriots. How he’ll respond? We shall see.
Experience: Houston Texans (2014-20), Penn State University (2012-2013)
Head coaching record: 52-48
If nothing else, Bill O’Brien’s Texans tenure was … eventful.
O’Brien was fired after an 0-4 start to the 2020 season, trading away DeAndre Hopkins and generally being a disaster as a GM in Houston. Even if he held the title for just over a year, he left a lot of damage for the next GM and head coach to undo.
O’Brien served just one year as Patriots OC, spending five years in total with the organization between 2007 and 2011. A spell in Penn State after the Joe Paterno era proved to be decent, with a 15-9 record over two seasons as Nittany Lions’ head coach. Keep in mind, O’Brien was dealing with the fallout from the Penn State sexual abuse scandal, tough waters for any coach to navigate.
As a head coach, O’Brien was halfway decent, really coming into his own as a coach when he landed a franchise passer in Deshaun Watson. Still, that wasn’t enough to save his job, with a bad start in 2020, feuds with players and awful roster decisions leading to the axe falling earlier this season.
Experience: Detroit Lions (2018-20)
Head coaching record: 13-29-1
Matt Patricia’s third year as Lions head coach turned out to be his last year as Lions head coach, with a nauseating blowout loss on Thanksgiving night sealing his fate.
The former Patriots defensive coordinator inherited a pretty decent team with a lot of pieces in place after the Jim Caldwell years and molded the Detroit defense as he saw fit. It resulted in an absolutely atrocious showing throughout the Patricia tenure.
Patricia and the Lions were somewhat victimized by Matthew Stafford going down with an injury in 2019, but in 2020 the team looked non-competitive and has blown big leads in every game they’ve played so far this season. 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 might be remembered more for blowing the whistle on New England’s cheating ways, but if “Galaxy Brain” was ever a head coach, it would be Mangini.
While the “Mangenius” ended up with two winning seasons in New York, his dry, Belichick-knockoff personality and lack of productive defenses — as a defensive coach, mind you — led to a quick ousting in New York. Also, it’s exceptionally sad to note that Mangini was still trying to mend fences with one-time friend and mentor Belichick.
The Browns decided to take a chance on Mangini, who quickly rubbed people the wrong way in Cleveland, which is really saying something considering Browns fans’ ability to stomach copious amounts of football garbage.
While Mangini scored a few different coordinator gigs after that, he eventually fizzled out, and hasn’t coached in the NFL at any capacity since 2015.
Experience: New York Giants (2020)
Head coaching record: 3-7
The jury is still out on Joe Judge (ha ha, courtroom puns), but the early returns have been mixed-to-good. While Judge says the things that get football blowhards and traditionalists all hot and bothered, the Giants haven’t been an entirely cohesive unit so far in 2020, though that’s starting to change. Some of the inconsistency is due to injuries, some of that is youth and some of it is uncertainty about what Judge is as a head coach in the NFL.
Still, there’s plenty of time for Judge to change the narrative of being JAG from the Belichick coaching tree, and his mentor vouching and campaigning for Judge to get the job in New York carries some weight. But we’re still a ways away from knowing who Judge is and what he’ll be one way or another. Case closed.
Experience: Miami Dolphins (2019 to present)
Head coaching record: 11-15
Flores’ start to his Dolphins tenure was mired in a bit of controversy with Kenny Stills, but since then his players seem to have bought into what he’s selling. The next few seasons are going to be very telling of what kind of coach he will be as the Dolphins continue to rebuild. Of all Belichick’s disciples, Flores shows the most promise as a leader and a coach.
Flores has the Dolphins in playoff contention through 11 weeks, and with Tua Tagovailoa the future of the Dolphins QB, the franchise’s future is as bright as the South Beach sun.