Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. Not only is there significant change on the Patriots’ coaching staff, there will be significant change with where members of the staff are physically working this offseason. As part of ongoing construction/renovations at Gillette Stadium which will add 25,000 square feet to the east side of the stadium and bring the video and scouting departments together on the same floor, the existing coaching offices are affected. Until the renovations are completed, staffers are expected to use the media workroom as part of their primary workspace. It shouldn’t affect production, but there is one concern from this perspective: Coach Bill Belichick, perhaps looking toward the new Keurig machine installed this year, in addition to the endless supply of Dunkin’ Donuts K-Cups, might determine the media has it a little too good on a daily basis.
2. Before the Cleveland Browns announced the hire of Mike Pettine as head coach on Thursday, they did their due diligence by circling back with Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to see if his stance had changed about taking his name out of consideration for the position. McDaniels told them it hadn’t. This speaks volumes to me about how the Browns viewed McDaniels and also, in part, about what’s important to McDaniels at this point in his life.
3. Dante Scarnecchia retiring … Pepper Johnson departing … George Godsey headed to Houston … Nick Caserio interviewing in Miami for the general manager’s job. Add it all up and it’s understandable why there might be a perception that perhaps there’s something out of the norm brewing internally with the Patriots. Had McDaniels left for Cleveland, I might be more inclined to think perhaps there was something there, but as for the others … Scarnecchia’s move was planned for a few years now; with Johnson, both sides seem to agree that this is the right time and the split is amicable; Godsey’s contract was up and his primary connection to the franchise was through Bill O’Brien (now Houston's head coach); and Caserio remains a Patriots employee who as recently as two years ago was talking about how much he enjoys it here.
4. I’d be surprised if Caserio ultimately takes the Dolphins’ job if it’s offered to him, but money can be a powerful force. (NOTE: Later Sunday the Dolphins hired Buccaneers executive Dennis Hickey as their GM after Caserio turned down the job.) If Dolphins owner Stephen Ross opens up the vault to Caserio, who spent the last two days interviewing for the position, it could create a dilemma of sorts for Caserio. On one side would be the chance for multi-million-dollar financial security similar to what a free-agent player covets when he hits the market. On the other side is the pure football aspect of things, in which Caserio wouldn’t have the final decision-making authority to shape the team in his own image and he’d also be competing in the same division against the coach who gave him his start and also the roster he helped put together in New England. Patriots director of college scouting Jon Robinson would be a strong in-house candidate to replace Caserio in the event it did happen. Late Saturday night, reports from NFL Network and Comcast SportsNet indicated that, as expected, Caserio has decided to stay in New England.
5a. Pettine might turn out to be the right head coach for the Cleveland Browns, but from afar it’s easy to be skeptical of the process the franchise took before hiring him -- firing their prior head coach after just one season, then interviewing 10 different candidates over a 25-day span, while having multiple coaches either pull out or decline interest as every other team with a vacancy filled it. From a public perception standpoint, the Browns look like they settled on their final choice. Time will tell what it means from a pure football standpoint.
5b. One revealing comment from Browns CEO Joe Banner to reporters was that the toughest decision in the coaching search was eliminating Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn from consideration because hiring him would have required waiting until after the Super Bowl. There was concern about doing so and fielding a strong enough coaching staff, which worked to Pettine’s advantage. If the Seahawks remain a contender, look for Quinn to be a hot name in the 2015 coaching carousel.
6. The Bills’ hiring of former Lions head coach Jim Schwartz as their defensive coordinator, which became official Friday night, could change the type of defense the Patriots see twice during the 2014 season. Pettine, the Bills' former coordinator, came up through the Rex Ryan system, meaning he was multiple/hybrid with his defensive front and brought pressure from various places. Schwartz ran more of a pure 4-3 in Detroit and prior to that in his time as Tennessee’s defensive coordinator. These are the types of things Patriots coaches will be studying and analyzing this offseason.
7. Spoke with a scout at the Senior Bowl this past week and it was mentioned how much this year has been different than the past in terms of top talent being there (a result of declined invitations and an influx of underclassmen entering the draft). It was explained to me that usually scouts could go to the Senior Bowl and expect to see the top prospects, but this year has more of a middle-round feel to it. That doesn’t mean it’s any less important, as evidenced by Bill Belichick traveling to Mobile, Ala. two days after the season ended. Just different.
8. A comparison could be drawn between last week’s retirement of longtime Giants offensive lineman David Diehl and the 2012 retirement of longtime Patriots left tackle Matt Light. Both played for the same team throughout their career, were extremely consistent, and weren’t necessarily the physical prototype. So while their retirements might not be viewed as a major blow from a national perspective, those who follow their teams know it otherwise.
9. Given their ties to the Patriots organization, and the success the franchise had while they were working together in personnel, Wednesday’s news of Scott Pioli joining Thomas Dimitroff’s staff in Atlanta had a getting-the-band-back-together-again type feel. We could take it one step further. Pioli is a big Bruce Springsteen fan -- he reminded himself to “Prove it all Night” in his Gillette Stadium office -- and we’d almost say the Dimitroff/Pioli tandem has a Springsteen/Clarence Clemons feel to it: Both solid on their own, but when put together with the rest of the band, you’re particularly drawn to what’s coming next.
10. In addition to serving as the Patriots’ offensive line coach, retiring Dante Scarnecchia also held the title of assistant head coach. I’m interested to see how the Patriots fill that assistant head coaching void, if at all, and the leading candidate if they do would likely be McDaniels. I also wonder if Belichick might consider Greg Schiano, the coach who recruited and cultivated numerous Rutgers players on the current Patriots roster, in some type of role on his staff if Schiano was interested in such an arrangement. It would be a coup because it’s clear how much Belichick respects Schiano’s input and a respected voice like that – one that wouldn’t be afraid to go against the grain – would be beneficial.