Bill Belichick has been the most successful coach in NFL history, with five Super Bowl rings to his credit in the last 17 years.
The one thing he hasn’t had? Anyone successful emerge from his coaching tree at the NFL level. (Belichick lieutenants like Kirk Ferentz and Nick Saban have gone on to immense college success. We’re focusing on the NFL here.) In an offseason when franchises are tripping over themselves to pluck coaches from the New England staff, a word of caution: None of Belichick’s former assistants to get a head coaching job in the NFL has made it to a Conference Championship game.
Here’s the uninspiring list of former Bill Belichick assistants in the NFL*:
Nobody would ever try to say Romeo Crennel is a bad coach. He’s a tremendous defensive coach. That’s well established. But if “you are what your record says you are” is true, Crennel is 28-55 as a head coach. He went 24-40 in Cleveland, with one winning season (Derek Anderson’s Pro Bowl Year). It was ugly in Kansas City, with Crennel going 4-15. He started with a 2-1 mark as interim coach when Todd Haley got canned; then he went 2-14, was fired, and the Chiefs got the 1st pick in the 2013 draft. Andy Reid stepped in and went 11-5.
Started the season 9-4 with the Jets behind 37-year old Vinny Testaverde, before cratering to 9-7 and missing the playoffs. As luck would have it, the Virginia Cavaliers head coaching job opened up. And Groh was gone. He never returned to the NFL.
Sought and secured control of the front office as well as head coach of the Broncos in 2009, and the first thing he tried to do was trade franchise QB Jay Cutler. An angry Cutler refused to play for McDaniels; he was traded for Kyle Orton. Despite a 6-0 start, the Broncos missed the playoffs. Star receiver Brandon Marshall was benched late in the season. After an 8-8 year, McDaniels drafted Tim Tebow in the first round. He was fired before the end of his 2nd season.
Two clear themes with former Belichick assistants: Coaching for largely clueless, petulant owners. Mangini’s 33-47 mark would have been better if Brett Favre hadn’t been thrust upon him by owner Woody Johnson. The Jets went 10-6 and reached the playoffs with Chad Pennington in Mangini’s 1st year. Then Mangini was instrumental in drafting longtime fixtures Darrelle Revis and David Harris the next year. In 2007, Pennington struggled through injuries and the Jets went 4-12. Then came the risky move for Favre. Initially it worked – they began 8-3 – but then things fell apart, and they went 9-7 and missed the playoffs. Johnson fired Mangini, who later resurfaced with the Browns. In Cleveland, Mangini went 10-22 with these four QBs starting the bulk of the games: Brady Quinn, Jake Delhomme, Colt McCoy and Derek Anderson.
You could produce a documentary on Saban’s 2-year NFL stint. No, he never had a QB. Yes, he had a shot at Drew Brees in free agency, but picked Daunte Culpepper instead. Saban says that was a decision made by the medical staff. Either way, Saban went 15-17 in two years. In December of year two, he famously said, “I’m not going to be the Alabama coach.” Less than two weeks later, Saban was the Alabama head coach.
His link to Bill Belichick dates back to getting his start in the 1990s in Cleveland as a young researcher. Schwartz spent a lot of time under Jeff Fisher in Tennessee. As a head coach, Schwartz went 29-51 in Detroit, with one lone playoff trip (loss). His QB, from start to finish, was Matt Stafford, beginning in his rookie year.
He’s the most successful Belichick protege, and it’s not really close. He went 9-7 in each of his 1st three years in Houston, reaching the playoffs with Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brian Hoyer, and Brock Osweiler. But now he has Deshaun Watson, so the ceiling is high. O’Brien has been on/near the hot seat twice, despite the playoff trips. He’s 31-33 in four years, with a 1-2 mark in the playoffs.
* Two of Belichick’s former assistants have found massive success at the college level, Kirk Ferentz and Nick Saban.
** I’m occasionally on TV with Eric Mangini, who I’ve learned more about football from than almost anyone else I’ve worked with at FS1.