On Mar. 28, Greg Schiano announced his resignation from the position of defensive coordinator for the New England Patriots. The unexpected declaration left NFL analysts and fans adrift in a sea of speculation over the future of the defensive side of the organization.
“I have informed Mr. Kraft and Coach Belichick that I am stepping down from my position at the Patriots.” Stated Schiano. “This is not the result of any one event but rather a realization that I need to spend more time on my faith and family. I don’t want to look back years from now and wish I had done things differently. Therefore, I am taking time away from the game to recalibrate my priorities.”
Many were astonished by the statement. Schiano’s time with the team hovered right under two months, and the Patriots hadn’t even made an official announcement of their intent to hire.
For a team like New England, the situation is highly uncharacteristic.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick asked about losing DC Greg Schiano at this late juncture: “We’re not talking about an unprecedented event here.” Asked more directly about Schiano, Belichick says he wants to “stick to the draft.”— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) April 10, 2019
Reports show that Belichick was aware of Schiano’s deliberations up to two weeks prior to the announcement, yet even the most ardent supporters are unsure if the team is prepared for such a change. Considering the organization essentially lost its entire defensive coaching staff overnight.
Vacancies to Fill
The scenario has brought up many questions: Who will take over as defensive coordinator? What about all of the other vacancies on the defensive side of New England’s staff room? Is there any talent left to make up for such a massive exodus of personnel?
There has been conjecture over whether Bill Belichick will assume a dual role as head coach and defensive coordinator; It isn’t unheard of, as Belichick had success at the head coach/offensive coordinator role in 2009 after Josh McDaniels joined the Denver Broncos.
Still, Bill can’t manage everything.
Bill Belichick turns 67 years old today. His 6 Super Bowl wins are the most of any coach in NFL history, and the Patriots win against the Rams made him the oldest head coach to win a Super Bowl. pic.twitter.com/smS76yNmYV— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) April 16, 2019
With Flores, Boyer, and Daly moving onto their respective teams, safeties coach Steve Belichick is all that remains of the previous defensive regime; and after an error in the pre-draft press release, it seems that he will maintain that position into the 2019 season.
Whoever will fill in the remaining positions remains undecided.
The departure of defensive coordinator Brian Flores and cornerback coach Josh Boyer to the Miami Dolphins was a significant loss. Both Coaches had been cornerstone pieces to New England’s defensive scheme for the last 12-to-14 years.
The loss of defensive line coach Brendan Daly to the Kansas City Chiefs is also concerning.
Because, while the Patriots aren’t known for their pass rush—they touted the second worst sack-per-pass attempt percentage at 4.7% and tied for second worst in total sacks with only 30 in 2018—Daly had still been to four Super Bowls in five years. And in terms of leadership, experience is king.
There were presumptions that Schiano would bring in talent that he had worked with in the past, but his resignation quelled any circulating theories. Once again leaving speculations up-in-the-air.
Maxx Crosby has the athleticism and production to become a dominant pass rusher in the NFL.— PFF NE Patriots (@PFF_Patriots) April 22, 2019
Don’t be surprised if the #Patriots invest heavily on their defense, and Maxx Crosby is an under the radar name to know. https://t.co/b69d1NS1dQ
With that being said, it is a well-known fact that New England likes to promote from within the organization. If the Patriots decide to continue with the culture of in-house promotions, there are coaching assistants that have the potential for advancement.
Starting with the defensive backs, 25-year old Mike Pellegrino is a worthy consideration. He may be young, but he does have four years of experience as a defensive coaching assistant. Three of which resulted in Super Bowl appearances.
His assistance in Super Bowl 53 might be his most noteworthy qualification for the position. In preparation for the upcoming Super Bowl, Pellegrino spent his time scouting the Los Angeles Rams’ wide receivers, and working with New England’s defensive backs.
His efforts paid off. As New England’s secondary had a dominant performance.
Jared Goff ended the game with a 50% completion rate, a quarterback rating of 57.9, an interception, and no touchdowns. The Patriots held a Rams team that ranked number two overall in team offense to only three points.
In terms of coaching experience, the linebackers’ position might be the least volatile weak spot of New England’s defensive staff. With the recent addition of former Patriot Jerod Mayo (2008-2015) alongside DeMarcus Covington—who was an assistant to Brian Flores during his tenure as linebackers’ coach— the Patriots have given their veteran roster plenty of support.
The hiring of Mayo has also given Covington the option to focus his talents elsewhere. Namely the defensive line.
Stephon Gilmore said the Patriots haven’t been told which coaches will be coaching which positions on defense this season. Safeties coach Steve Belichick is the only defensive position coach left from last year. pic.twitter.com/t0TMyTlcnB— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) April 18, 2019
The former co-defensive coordinator of Eastern Illinois University has only been on the team since 2017, but he does have collegiate experience with coaching defensive linemen. In fact, Covington’s first full-time coaching position was with the University of Tennessee-Martin as a defensive line coach in 2015.
While it isn’t the equivalent of NFL experience, Covington’s time with Tennessee-Martin does give New England some stability in the short-term, if they want to look elsewhere.
There’s no denying it, the departure of so many strategic veterans on the defensive side of the ball is a hard obstacle to overcome, but Bill Belichick seems to embrace the coming changes.
During a radio interview, with Mike Krzyzewski on SiriusXM, Belichick addressed the departures.
“That’s the price you pay for success,” he stated. “We have other younger staff members that have been working their way up, and they’ll get an opportunity.”
It is a promising statement for New England. Because while it is unlikely the organization allows things to remain as they are, it shows that Belichick and the Patriots are willing to let younger talent step up.
With under five months before the regular season begins on Sep. 5, there isn’t much room for hesitation.
Having Pellegrino and Steve Belichick working with the defensive backfield, Mayo taking over at the linebackers’ position, and Covington focusing on the defensive line, the only concern would be whether or not Bill Belichick plays his hand at the defensive coordinator/head coach combo.
It is likely these staff issues won’t be addressed until after the draft takes place. Either way, the beginning of the 2019 regular season will be one of the most interesting New England has had in quite some time.