FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Bill O’Brien will return to the New England Patriots after agreeing to a deal Tuesday to become their next offensive coordinator, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Chris Low.
O’Brien, 53, who spent the past two seasons as the offensive coordinator under Nick Saban at Alabama, now is back to where his NFL career began in 2007 as a coaching assistant.
In that first stint in New England, O’Brien quickly rose through the ranks on Bill Belichick’s staff to quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, spending three years (2009-11) in that role before departing for head-coaching positions with Penn State (2012 -13) and the Houston Texans (2014-20).
A Massachusetts native, O’Brien will be charged with improving a Patriots offense that dipped notably in most key areas in 2022, including:
• red zone efficiency: 11th (39 TDs in 63 trips) to 32nd (19 TDs in 45 trips)
• third-down efficiency: 10th (43.5%) to 27th (34.8%)
• first downs: tied for ninth (362) to 28th (288)
• sacks allowed: eighth (28 for 241 yards) to 19th (41 for 279 yards)
• touchdowns scored: 48 to 31
Belichick didn’t name an official offensive coordinator for the Patriots in 2022, leaning on Matt Patricia as the primary playcaller despite Patricia’s mostly defensive background in his NFL career.
Belichick also oversaw a streamlining of the offense — changing the blocking terminology for offensive linemen — in which one of his goals was to produce more big plays down the field.
But the desired results never came to fruition, leading to the Patriots, who are notoriously tight-lipped about their intentions, publicly announcing on Jan. 12 that they would be interviewing for an offensive coordinator.
In addition to O’Brien, the Patriots also spoke with current New England tight ends coach Nick Caley, Minnesota Vikings wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell, Arizona Cardinals assistant head coach Shawn Jefferson and Oregon associate head coach/offensive line/run-game coordinator Adrian Klemm about the job.
Upon landing at Alabama, where he worked closely with quarterback Bryce Young, O’Brien had also spent time with current Patriots quarterback Mac Jones, who helped O’Brien learn the Tide offense in the months following Jones’ final season with Alabama.
With O’Brien headed back to the NFL, Saban will be looking for his sixth different offensive coordinator in the past eight seasons. The previous five — Steve Sarkisian, Mike Locksley, Brian Daboll, Lane Kiffin and O’Brien — are all now either NFL head coaches or offensive coordinators or Power 5 head coaches.
Saban also is searching for a defensive coordinator after Pete Golding left for the same position at Ole Miss earlier this month. The last time Saban brought in two new coordinators in the same year was after the Crimson Tide’s 2017 national championship season.