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Could Rams new tight ends coach be the next offensive coordinator, if not head coach?

Nick Caley follows mentorship under Bill Belichick with a role for Sean McVay

New England Patriots v Detroit Lions

Nick Caley’s tenure with the New England Patriots had its highs and lows, but ultimately he left that franchise with eight years to learn from Bill Belichick and the experience of winning two Super Bowl championships as an assistant. After six years as the Patriots tight ends coach, plus additional duties as fullbacks coach for two seasons, Caley parted ways with New England when Belichick brought back Bill O’Brien as offensive coordinator this past January.

But first, the Patriots interviewed Caley for the offensive coordinator role, something that many felt they should have done a year earlier, and he also interviewed for the same position with the Houston Texans and New York Jets. That’s three offensive coordinator interviews in one hiring cycle for a 40-year-old tight ends coach who ultimately didn’t land any of those gigs.

Instead, Caley was hired by Sean McVay to replace Thomas Brown as tight ends coach, now the offensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers. The Texans ultimately opted to hire Bobby Slowik, most likely because of his connection to DeMeco Ryans because the two were on the same staff with the San Francisco 49ers, and the Jets went with Nathaniel Hackett likely because of their expected trade for Aaron Rodgers. New York’s former offensive coordinator, Mike LaFleur, is now the Rams offensive coordinator, and Caley’s new “boss” after seven years with the Patriots.

But should LaFleur’s tenure go as poorly as Liam Coen’s did in 2022, or perhaps as well as Kevin O’Connell’s prior to being hired by the Minnesota Vikings, it could be Caley next in line to be L.A.’s offensive coordinator. He could also work his way up to being an option as an in-house successor to McVay, something that no assistant, including Raheem Morris, has yet to really prove worthy of so far.

New England Patriots v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images

Nick Caley went to college at the legendary coaching pipeline of John Carroll University, the same alma mater as former Rams assistants such as Brandon Staley, Chris Shula, and Jonathan Cooley, as well as Josh McDaniels, Greg Roman, and former Rams linebacker London Fletcher.

He bounced around college programs for 10 years prior to becoming an offensive assistant with the Patriots in 2015, and his connection with McDaniels and then-front office exec Nick Caserio (also a John Carroll grad) probably didn’t hurt, and he was promoted to tight ends coach in 2017. The simple truth is that the Patriots tight ends haven’t performed up to standards in the last seven years, apart from late-stage Rob Gronkowski (which Caley can’t really take much credit for) and some decent work by Hunter Henry lately.

But New England spent a boatload to acquire Hunter and Jonnu Smith in free agency, plus they spent two third round picks on tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene in 2020, both day two busts.

However, legendary Patriots assistant Dante Scarnecchia expected Caley to be in line for a promotion last year when McDaniels left New England for the Las Vegas Raiders.

“When you coach the tight ends, you’re coaching a position that transcends the entire offense,” Scarnecchia said. “He’s involved in the passing game, so Nick has been in every passing-game meeting. And the run game, so he’s been in every run-game meeting. Nick has been in a lot of meetings, as has Joe Judge. They’ve got to get somebody who can mentor the quarterback. Somebody has to oversee the offense.”

Instead, Belichick went with a combination of Joe Judge and Matt Patricia, which turned out to be one of the biggest disasters of his entire New England tenure.

It’s really not surprising though that Belichick decided to go back to O’Brien, his assistant for five seasons, including the offensive coordinator in 2011, and it seemed like the right time then for Caley to move on for a chance to prove himself elsewhere. Plus, O’Brien may have felt he wanted some of his own handpicked assistants and Caley’s contract had expired this year. Now he will be tasked with turning around a position that has left a lot to be desired under McVay.

Setting aside that Gerald Everett never reached his full potential but was still serviceable, L.A.’s most recent two tight end picks—Brycen Hopkins and Jacob Harris—were all but wasted selections. The Rams have held onto Tyler Higbee so far for another season and picked Davis Allen out of Clemson in the fifth round. He will be competing with Hunter Long, a third round pick of the Dolphins acquired in the Jalen Ramsey trade, and Hopkins for a chance to succeed Higbee.

If Nick Caley can find a gem from this group, he could be back to interviewing for offensive coordinator roles again in 2024. He may not have to look far to find that next job, as the Rams are on the look for the next Staley or O’Connell and they might not want to lose him this time.