Ex-Pats staffers: Titles are overrated

INDIANAPOLIS -- Josh McDaniels understands the public perception of how a team without a coordinator appears to have a major hole on its coaching staff. When it comes to the 2010 New England Patriots, such a void would appear even more significant because they are a team without two coordinators.

McDaniels is now on the outside looking in -- entering his second season as Denver Broncos head coach -- but he still offers a unique perspective as to what life is like on the inside when a team is operating without an official coordinator. He lived it in 2005.

And his feelings are probably best summed up this way: No coordinator, no problem.

McDaniels had been serving as Patriots quarterbacks coach in 2004 when offensive coordinator Charlie Weis left after the season to become Notre Dame's head coach. Bill Belichick told McDaniels he was upping his responsibilities, but he never mentioned anything about the coordinator title. McDaniels was OK with that.

"In my history, I've been given responsibility to which I feel like I've earned. When I wasn't given something, I just felt like maybe I didn't deserve it yet and I'd just keep working," he said Saturday at the NFL combine. "The title in 2005 was insignificant to me. I was excited to call plays and excited to be a part of the design of the offense and the game-planning and all that stuff."

While such a setup might seem ripe for confusion among players as to who is in charge, it was a case where the outside perception didn't match the internal reality. It was quickly clear that McDaniels was the coordinator -- just without the title. He was leading all the meetings.

As for how McDaniels' experience possibly applies to the 2010 Patriots, the answers are clearer on offense than defense.

Quarterbacks coach Bill O'Brien is in a similar role as McDaniels was in 2005, the offensive coordinator without the title for the second straight year. But with Belichick planning to become more involved on defense it remains an unknown as to how the responsibilities will shake out on that side of the ball.

Will it be linebackers coach Matt Patricia stepping up when Belichick is pulled away from the unit? Or defensive line coach Pepper Johnson? Could a combination of the two work effectively?

The Patriots are the only team in the NFL without official coordinators, but some former team staffers believe that might be an overblown storyline.

"I've been with programs that have been successful with and without coordinators," said former Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli, now in his second season as Kansas City Chiefs general manager. "The bottom line is people in the locker room know who the boss is, and who's making decisions. Just because there isn't a title out there for the rest of the world to see doesn't mean that the people inside [don't know]. It's never a secret to the players."

Former Patriots director of college scouting Thomas Dimitroff, now in his third season as Atlanta Falcons general manager, added: "I'll never second-guess Coach Belichick's approach to that. I understand that seems out of the norm, but he's got a plan. He's very calculating with his decisions."

As for McDaniels, it wasn't until the 2006 season that he officially earned the offensive coordinator title in New England.

"There was not a lot that changed," he said. "I don't think [players] really listened or paid closer attention to me. I think your approach and your preparation says everything about you and what you're about. That's what they care about. They care about trying to get better and if you can help them get better, they're all in. If you're talking, and you have no business talking, no one wants to listen."

Thus not surprisingly, McDaniels, much like his mentor Belichick, believes that titles are overrated.

"I've never had a business card since I've been in the NFL," he said. "I don't know what the value of that is, other than you can say that. When you're doing it, and you do it well, you're going to get more things given to you."

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.