Months of speculation tying Bill O’Brien to the New England Patriots could soon come to a head.
NFL Network reported Saturday, citing sources, that O’Brien is a “strong option” to return to New England as its offensive coordinator in 2023 after two seasons in the same role at Alabama.
The report added, “the NFL is a real thought for O’Brien” and there has not been an extension to his two-year contract. Any extension would need to be approved by the university board of trustees’ compensation committee and reported publicly.
O’Brien, who served as the Patriots’ offensive play-caller from 2009-11, had been a speculated target of the Patriots since their offensive coordinator job came open last winter. But O’Brien, the last time he spoke publicly in August, said he made a “commitment” to Nick Saban when he signed his contract.
Bill Belichick instead turned to former Patriots defensive coordinator and former Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia to replace longtime offensive play-caller Josh McDaniels. The change has been widely panned in New England, with the Patriots’ Mac Jones-led offense dropping from sixth in the NFL for points scored in 2021 to 17th this season.
O’Brien has also been the frequent subject of fan criticism while leading an offense that ranks 13th in FBS in yards per game (475.5) and fourth in the FBS in points scored per game (40.8). During Steve Sarkisian’s most recent season as offensive coordinator in 2020, Alabama gained more than 540 yards per game while scoring 48.5 points per contest.
O’Brien, who was Penn State’s head coach from 2012-13 and coached the Houston Texans from 2014-20, had also been a speculated target of college head-coaching searches the past several weeks. In November, The Athletic reported Georgia Tech had been in “deep convos” with O’Brien to serve as its head coach but those later “cooled.” Georgia Tech later made interim coach Brent Key, a former Alabama assistant, its permanent coach.
Saturday’s report tying O’Brien to New England comes as there are broader questions about the future of Belichick as the Patriots’ coach. New England has not won a playoff game since the 2018 season and has fallen to 7-7 this season, prompting speculation this week from both The Athletic and the Boston Herald about what changes Patriots owner Robert Kraft could make after the season.
O’Brien is a Massachusetts native who played college football at Brown University, an Ivy League school in Rhode Island. He will hold a scheduled news conference Wednesday afternoon in New Orleans ahead of next Saturday’s Sugar Bowl against Kansas State.
The Patriots have three games remaining in the regular season, which wraps up Jan. 8.
Mike Rodak is an Alabama beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @mikerodak.
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