FOXBORO -- Following a flurry of activity for the past two days, the search for the New England Patriots offensive coordinator settled down a bit on Friday.
To date, New England has interviewed five candidates for the open position: current tight ends coach Nick Caley, Minnesota Vikings wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell, Oregon assistant Adrian Klemm, Arizona Cardinals associate head coach/wide receivers coach Shawn Jefferson and Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien.
While each candidate is uniquely and competently qualified to navigate New England's offense in 2023 and beyond, O'Brien has become the front-runner throughout sections of the media and the fanbase. Having served under coach Bill Belichick from 2007-11, O’Brien helped navigate a Patriots offense, which featured ball protection, efficient running and spreading the ball to multiple pass catchers. Perhaps most significantly, O’Brien possesses the familiarity with an offensive system designed to accentuate the abilities of quarterback Mac Jones. Having spent the past pair of seasons as Alabama’s offensive coordinator under head coach Nick Saban.
On the surface, O'Brien and the Patriots seem to be a strong logistical fit.
However, one NFL insider provided a cautionary preface to Pats fans and media alike that O'Brien's return to New England is not a forgone conclusion.
"It sounds like everything went smoothly and to plan," MMQB's Albert Breer said on NBC Sports Boston's Early Edition. "I don't think this thing is a slam dunk. There's obviously potentially some other opportunities for him out there. Do the Tennessee Titans give him a call? They've obviously got nobody and they just wrapped up their general manager search. He's also very close with Monti Ossenfort, the new GM in Arizona. So could he get a head-coaching interview in Arizona?"
If the Patriots and O'Brien are unable to come to a quick agreement, they may face. significant competition for his services from both the Titans and Cardinals.
Additionally, the Los Angeles Chargers, Los Angeles Rams, Baltimore Ravens, Washington Commanders, New York Jets, and Indianapolis Colts each are searching for new coordinators heading into 2023.
Jefferson "Movin' on up?"
Multiple outlets reported on Thursday that Jefferson was set to interview with the Patriots for their coaching vacancy, with a source confirming to Patriots Country that the session was to take place on Friday via video conference.
Should the talks with O'Brien reach a standstill, Jefferson may be a name to watch.
Jefferson played 13 seasons in the NFL, which included his four-year stint with the Patriots. Between 1996 and 1999, he compiled 2141 yards on 62 catches with 10 touchdowns in 63 regular season games. He also appeared in six postseason contests, catching 24 passes for 284 yards, including the Pats 35-21 Super Bowl XXXI loss to the Green Bay Packers. During that season, Belichick was the Pats’ assistant head coach/defensive backs coach in Bill Parcells’ final year in 1996. The pair of 'Bills' would leave the team during the ensuing offseason to join the New York Jets.
In addition to the Patriots/Belichick connection, Jefferson is highly regarded by both his peers and his players.
In fact, he earned some of the highest praise possible from Pro Football Hall of Famer Calvin 'Megatron' Johnson, whom Jefferson coached with the Detroit Lions from 2007-12.
In a 2019 interview with Sports Illustrated, Johnson called Jefferson the best receivers coach “I’ve seen in the league;” crediting him with the type of tenacious coaching Johnson required to break Jerry Rice’s single-season receiving yards record, with 1,964 in 2012.
In 2021, Jefferson joined the staff of former Patriots draft pick Kliff Kingsbury with the Arizona Cardinals as their receivers' coach, working closely with potential Pats' trade target DeAndre Hopkins. By all accounts, the two had a solid working relationship -- in contrast to Hopkins' rapport with O'Brien, his former coach with the Houston Texans.
Interviews are expected to continue into early next week, with the Patriots looking to have a coach in place within a compact time frame.
New England and beyond! Get your Patriots game tickets from SI Tickets ... here!
Want the latest in breaking news and insider information on the Patriots? Click Here
More Patriots coverage from Sports Illustrated here.