Patriots Coaching Search: 5 Candidates to Replace Bill Belichick

Josh McDaniels (left) and Jim Harbaugh (right) are potential Patriots coaching search candidates to replace Bill Belichick.

Getty Josh McDaniels (left) and Jim Harbaugh (right) are potential Patriots coaching search candidates to replace Bill Belichick.

After 24 seasons and six Super Bowl rings, the day has finally arrived: Head coach Bill Belichick is out as Patriots coach, according to reports from Adam Schefter and others Thursday, January 11.

Now begins what will be the most interesting coaching search in recent NFL history. His successor will have Hall of Fame shoes to fill, obviously, and will inherit a team with a solid defense, a high pick in the upcoming NFL draft and an utter mess in every unit on the offensive side of the ball.

That said, owner Robert Kraft has Belichick and Bill Parcells on his resume as coaching hires. The track record is good.

So who’s next?

Kraft likely wants someone who has two qualities — head coaching experience and some past tie with the Belichick regime.

With that in mind, here are five of the most likely coaches to take over the Patriots job.

Patriots Great & No Experience vs. Plenty of Experience & No Patriots Ties

Jerod Mayo, Patriots linebackers coach: When Mayo, who was considered a fast-rising head-coaching target around the NFL, was given a long-term extension a year ago, the presumption was that the deal would keep him with the Patriots for long enough to take over for Belichick.

That was expected to be in 2025 or so. Now that it’s here ahead of schedule, the Patriots may have gotten cold feet on giving Mayo the job, with a December report in the Boston Sports Journal suggesting Mayo rubbed some “the wrong way” during the past year.

It’s likely that Mayo will be a head coach in the NFL at some point, but the question is whether that time is now and whether the Patriots — the only team Mayo has known since he was drafted in 2008 — are the team.

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan head coach: The Patriots are being mentioned in connection with Harbaugh, the controversial Michigan coach who appears ready to jump back into the NFL pool.

Harbaugh has been a success with the Wolverines, but the persistent NCAA investigations may have left him exhausted. Rumored interest from the Patriots could just be a negotiating ploy on Harbaugh’s part, as the Las Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders have been the teams most seriously linked to Harbaugh.

He is an odd duck, no doubt, but Harbaugh was 44-19-1 in four years with the 49ers from 2011-14. He can coach.

Successful Head Coaches With Bill Belichick Ties

Brian Flores, Vikings defensive coordinator: Despite the way things ended for him in Miami (with a lawsuit against the team), Flores is still considered head coaching material in the NFL. And his Patriots ties run deep.

Flores spent 10 years cutting his teeth in the league in New England, giving him a link to the team that Kraft values.

When he left in 2019, Flores provided a quick turnaround as a head coach for a Dolphins team that was 5-11 in his first year and a combined 19-14 in his final two seasons.

He might need to hire a top-notch offensive coordinator to persuade the Patriots to give him the job, but he warrants consideration.

Mike Vrabel, Titans head coach: During his tenure with Tennessee, Vrabel went 54-45, and while things look grim for the 4-13 Patriots, the future was quickly dimming with the Titans, too.

Still, it was a surprise when the Titans decided to fire Vrabel on January 9.

A return to New England, where he was inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame in 2023, would give Vrabel a fresh start and buy him some time to rebuild. If the Patriots want someone with ties to the franchise and some proven success as a head coach in the NFL under his belt, Vrabel is the guy.

No other Bill Belichick disciple has had the success Vrabel has had after leaving the organization.

And Then, There’s Josh

Josh McDaniels, ex-Raiders coach: Remember the point about no Belichick disciples having success outside the organization? McDaniels is Exhibit A.

McDaniels is now 20-33 as a head coach in the NFL and was fired by the Raiders on Halloween this year, the second time he has failed to finish two full seasons after he was hired as a head coach.

He is the only coach in NFL history with that dubious distinction. And since his firing, the players he coached in Las Vegas have been open about their disdain for McDaniels.

Still, the Patriots always welcome McDaniels back, don’t they? A coaching search that ends with McDaniels as the heir to Belichick seems a bummer, but a report from NFL Network suggested he could be on the Patriots’ list.