Bill Belichick is inarguably one of the greatest NFL head coaches of all time, so much so that it almost seems frivolous to debate his current status with the New England Patriots. The only head coach with six Super Bowl trophies under his belt, Belichick ranks third on the all-time regular-season wins list and has more playoff victories (31) than any other coach.
And yet, the seams have started to show in New England. In three post-Tom Brady seasons, Belichick’s Patriots have missed the playoffs twice and failed to win their only postseason game — all while Brady hoisted yet another Lombardi with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Is Bill Belichick on the Hot Seat?
The Patriots finished 8-9 in 2022 and nearly made the playoffs, but that middling record hid what was a disastrous offensive season in New England. Under the leadership of Matt Patricia and Joe Judge (neither of whom had any significant experience on the offensive side of the ball), the Patriots finished 24th in offensive efficiency while second-year quarterback Mac Jones regressed.
Jones’ relationship with Belichick appeared to be strained last season, and there’s no indication it’s gotten any better as the months have progressed. Belichick was reportedly perturbed that Jones sought outside advice about the Patriots’ plan on offense and contacted the University of Alabama coaching staff about scheme details.
At one point this offseason, New England was reportedly shopping Jones, although subsequent reports indicated that Jones may not have been actively on the block. Still, after Jones fell from 16th in QBR in 2021 to 28th last season and was briefly benched for rookie Bailey Zappe, there are reasons to think the former first-round quarterback isn’t on the same page with Belichick.
As Ben Volin of the Boston Globe wrote this week, Jones was apparently present at Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s birthday party in early July and appeared to be one of just a few active players at the event. A tight-knit relationship between Jones and the club’s owners could present a problem for Belichick.
Per Volin, some of Belichick’s friends have privately hinted they’re worried he will be on the hot seat during the upcoming season. Speaking earlier this year, Kraft didn’t give an ultimatum for Belichick, but he also didn’t commit to the future Hall of Fame head coach for the long haul.
“Look, I’d like [Belichick] to break Don Shula’s record, but I’m not looking for any of our players to get great stats,” Kraft said in April. “We’re about winning and doing whatever we can to win… In the end, this is a business. You either execute and win, or you don’t. That’s where we’re at.”
Belichick has brought back former offensive play-caller Bill O’Brien in the same role with the hope that New England’s offense — including Jones — can turn things around in 2023.
But aside from swapping out Jakobi Meyers for JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mike Gesicki, most of the team’s offensive personnel will remain the same. In an AFC that became even more challenging over the offseason, the Patriots are not favored to make the playoffs.
Do the Patriots Have a Head-Coach-In-Waiting?
Belichick is 71 years old. Even if the Patriots allow him to eventually leave on his own accord, Belichick has limited time remaining as an NFL head coach — and New England might already have his successor on staff.
In January, the Patriots issued a press release that was strange for two reasons. For one, the club announced that it planned to interview offensive coordinator candidates for the 2023 campaign. Given that New England is historically one of the most secretive franchises in the league, the statement may have represented Kraft taking a larger hand in staff matters than he had in previous seasons.
Second, the press release indicated the Patriots were negotiating a new contract for inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, a key voice on New England’s coaching staff who drew head coaching interest around the league. Mayo declined an interview with the Carolina Panthers and will return for a fifth season as a Patriots coach.
“I would say I’m confident that I will grow here,” Mayo said in April. “Where that leads, I’m not sure. Hopefully, I’m here for the foreseeable future, but we’ll just have to see. I am confident in the plan they put together as far as my development is concerned. There’s still a lot that I don’t know, and I’m very aware of that.”
In March, Kraft said he views Mayo as a potential heir to Belichick and added that he doesn’t see a ceiling on Mayo’s career. Additionally, Mayo sat in on every interview Belichick conducted with offensive coordinator candidates throughout the offseason.
Mayo has clearly generated widespread respect throughout the Patriots’ building, including from both ownership and Belichick. If Belichick decides to step away (or is forced to step down), Mayo looks like the most obvious replacement.