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Ex-Patriots love Bill O’Brien hire in New England


Officially, Bill O’Brien’s titles are offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Unofficially, he also has to be a healer, a rebuilder, a teacher, not to mention the brains behind the Patriots offense.

Talking with several former Patriots who played under O’Brien during his first-go round from 2007-11, the biggest takeaway was: “He’s got this.”

“They couldn’t have picked a better guy,” said former Patriots offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer, who played for O’Brien. “They know what they have in him. He grew up in that system. He knows what he’s getting into. He’s been to Super Bowls, all those things. He’s confident in what he does. He’s worked with Tom (Brady) and other young quarterbacks, and that can only help Mac (Jones).”

Mostly, O’Brien brings credibility to the job after the experiment with Matt Patricia and Joe Judge, two coaches who had little to no experience running an offense, much less coaching quarterbacks, proved disastrous. Speaking with Vollmer, and several other former Patriots, it was interesting how many of the same words and themes kept popping up.

The first? O’Brien elicits strong bonds with his players.

“I love Billy.”

Those words were literally the first ones uttered almost verbatim by Vollmer, Logan Mankins and Dan Koppen when asked separately about O’Brien, and what he brings to the table.

Of course, it’s not essential for players to “love” their coach to perform, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. When it comes to the Patriots, O’Brien was clearly a favorite of the players, even with one infamous sideline dust-up with Brady on the resume along with a few other sideline meltdowns with the collective group.

“I haven’t seen him in 11 years, but I still talk to him,” said Koppen. “It’s that kind of connection and bond that’s formed. He’s a friend for life. It doesn’t matter where he is, or what he’s doing, he’s just a good guy.”

Another common thread was the respect players had for O’Brien as a coach, largely because of how he understood the nuances of the Patriots offense and manipulated the system to best fit his players.

Vollmer explained by saying there are two ways to be a coordinator. One is to run the system, and the players have to adapt to whatever that system requires. Another is running the system within the basic guidelines, but also adjusting it to what the players do well.

“Just like Josh (McDaniels), Bill is a coach that does that. He doesn’t force it,” Vollmer said. “He sees the strengths and weaknesses of his unit, and adjusts blocking schemes, tight end sets, all of those things to what the team can do.”

A third theme?

To a man, they all welcomed O’Brien’s feistiness and occasional fury, be it on the sidelines or in meeting rooms. It signaled his passion for the game and wanting his players to succeed.

Said Vollmer: “I’d rather have a passionate coach than someone who doesn’t care.”

As a coach and offensive coordinator, the players felt O’Brien had the perfect mix of traits, especially considering the situation he’s walking into in Foxboro more than a decade later.

He’s smart, a good communicator, has a healthy rapport with the players, understands how to attack defenses and knows how to get the most out of his unit.

All of that should bode well for the Patriots going forward as they move past last season’s disaster.

“We really enjoyed playing for him. We felt he always had a great game plan, and had us ready to go,” said Mankins. “We loved his attitude. His feistiness. He was one of the guys, also, when you were off the field, he was easy to talk to. He was just a good person to be around. And a good coach that I personally enjoyed playing for.”

Added Koppen: “I thought Bill was a great coach, a great communicator and teacher. He connects with a lot of guys. He’s not easy to play for. That’s not a bad thing. But he’s fair and expects a lot.”

Let’s get back to the famous temper. The players actually had some fun busting O’Brien on that.

Patriots Hall of Fame offensive tackle Matt Light, who was known to provide some levity and comic relief inside the locker room, didn’t spare O’Brien from his pranks.

According to the players, Light was able to get O’Brien, who was nicknamed “Teapot” by Brian Hoyer and Brady thanks to his quick-draw temper, to loosen up a bit. To hear Mankins tell it, the players could sense when O’Brien’s blood was starting to boil and he was about to erupt, especially in the meeting rooms.

That was the cue for Light, who always sat in the last row, to start whistling softly.

“You could always tell when Billy was starting to get mad in meetings. That’s when you’d have Matt Light in the back of the room making a teapot sound, the whistle before it starts erupting,” said Mankins. “Leave it to Light to always be Johnny on the spot with that.”

Often, O’Brien would erupt, but he’d also chuckle with the players afterward.

To a man, they all said they had fun during O’Brien’s watch. Part of that was because the team was winning — they went 14-2 and 13-3 with him as play caller in 2010 and 2011 — and the offense was flowing.

Brady had two of his best seasons under O’Brien, who made good use of tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez during those years.

During O’Brien’s final year, the Patriots made it to the Super Bowl, losing to the Giants for a second time. But during his two seasons calling plays, the Pats went a combined 27-5 and had one of the most potent offenses in the league.

That certainly wasn’t the case for the Patriots in 2022 with Patricia and Judge at the controls, and Bill Belichick overseeing.

“I can’t speak to what they were doing last year. Usually, I can sort of tell by watching. But I really wasn’t sure what they were doing,” said Koppen. “I’m not even sure the players were sure what they were doing. But it is what it is.”

Let’s just say they’ll know what they’re doing with O’Brien running the ship, who after being an offensive assistant, along with receivers coach, spent three seasons coordinating Brady and the offense, seven seasons running the Texans (with four playoff appearances), and two seasons calling plays at Alabama.

His first order of business will be mending Mac Jones, and helping the quarterback recapture his rookie form with the promise for more.

Said Koppen: “Having a guy who understands what (Mac’s) going through, and been through it with multiple quarterbacks, and been successful with multiple quarterbacks, I think that’s going to be good for everybody.”

Gronkowski, who also played for O’Brien, endorsed the move on “Up & Adams” with Kay Adams earlier in the week, echoing many of the sentiments expressed by Mankins, Vollmer and Koppen.

“I love Bill O’Brien,” said Gronkowski, who set career highs for catches (90), yards (1,327) and touchdowns (2017) under O’Brien in 2011. “I love playing for him. … He’s going to put his players in the best position to make plays. He’s going to come up with some creative ideas, and I think they’re going to definitely improve as an offense, tremendously, under coach Bill O’Brien.

“That’s who the Patriots had to get. They had to get Bill O’Brien. That’s who they needed to get to restore to back in the old days where they were at on the offensive side of the ball. And they got their guy.”

Germany awaits Pats

The Patriots will be playing in Germany — either Munich or Frankfurt — next season against an opponent to be determined.

Vollmer is excited to see his former team in his home country. He said the Patriots are like rock stars in Germany.

“They’re the No. 1 team with most fans,” said Vollmer. “It’s like Foxboro II … people can’t wait to see them.”

According to Vollmer, the Patriots are sponsoring flag football teams there.

Vollmer said the NFL’s first venture last season went incredibly well with the Buccaneers and Seahawks playing in Munich.

Vollmer said it was incredibly cool to hear 75,000 fans sing “Country Road” and “Sweet Caroline” during that game.

Tom Brady called it “epic.”

Stevenson has a fan

Caught up with former Patriots running LeGarrette Blount, a Super Bowl winner with two teams, during the week.

Had to ask his impression of Rhamondre Stevenson, who rushed for over 1,000 yards during the season.

“I like him, I like him a lot. I think he was one of the most consistent parts of the offense,” said Blount. “I am extremely comfortable with what he’s done, what he’s showcased, what he’s put on tape. I think he’s one of those guys you try and keep around.”

Stevenson will still be around for a few more years on his rookie deal, while Damien Harris is headed to free agency.

Blount, who is currently coaching youth football, said it seemed to him that opposing teams underestimated his ability, but the second-year back still had some things to work on to take it to the next level.

“He knows how to run the football, he knows how to block, he knows how to get open if he has a route to run, he knows all those things,” said Blount, “but I’d say he needs to work on some of the situational elements of the game, being smarter with the football in certain situations, make sure you protect the ball at all costs, knowing when the journey’s over, things like that.

“But that doesn’t take away from him being a big physical back whose speed is underestimated, his physicality is underestimated,” Blount went on. “People don’t understand what he brings to the table most of the time.”

Strong suit

Patriots running back Pierre Strong was among several NFL rookies who were in Los Angles as part of the Panini Rookie Closeout with Panini America.

Strong didn’t see much action in the early going, but with an injury to Damien Harris, got his feet wet. Appearing in five games, he wound up with 10 carries for 100 yards, and a touchdown.

“It was great to be mentored by the coaching staff, the vets, just everything you imagined as a kid,” Strong said from LA. “I just played my role and did whatever was asked if the coaches needed me … it was amazing in my role, just growing as the season went on.”

Was he looking forward to now moving ahead with Bill O’Brien?

“I’ll be ready for anything. Whatever coach needs me to do, I’m going to do it,” said Strong. “I’m going to give my all … I’ll be ready for whatever they throw at me. With the coaching change, I’m still going to give him my all. I’m excited to get to meet him, I’m excited to get to work with him. We’ll see what he brings to the team.”


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