Bill O'Brien and Tom Brady: Revisiting former Patriots OC, quarterback relationship in New England

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Tom Brady-Bill O'Brien
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Bill O'Brien will reportedly return to New England to take on his former role as offensive coordinator, a position he held at Alabama for the last two seasons.

News of O'Brien's return to coach under Bill Belichick has, unsurprisingly, generated renewed interest in a potential return by Tom Brady to play for the Patriots. Ignoring the fact the Patriots would have to move on from third-year quarterback Mac Jones to bring Brady on, the Buccaneers signal-caller is now an unrestricted free agent following his final contract year in Tampa Bay.

Boston Globe columnist Chris Gasper added more intrigue to a potential Belichick-Brady-O'Brien reunion in New England, saying on Friday the quarterback "really has an interest" in pairing back up with O'Brien.

“It seems like Brady really has an interest in Bill O’Brien as someone that makes it easier for him,” Gasper said in an appearance on Boston sports radio station WBZ-FM. "(The Buccaneers) were sniffing around Bill O’Brien because they thought it would give him a better chance with Brady. I think these teams think if they get Bill O’Brien, maybe they can get Brady, too. That it ups their chances.”

MORE: Why are the Patriots hiring Alabama OC Bill O'Brien?

O'Brien in 2017 said coaching Brady made him a better coach, though he acknowledged it was difficult in some aspects:

"One of the most difficult jobs you can have is coaching Tom because he wants to be coached, you coach him every single day, every minute of the day and all year round because he's all football," O'Brien said at the time (via CBS Sports).

Brady's rumored interest in playing under O'Brien again has merit; the latter was Brady's quarterbacks coach in 2009 and 2010 before taking on the role of offensive coordinator in 2011. O'Brien left to become the head coach at Penn State in 2012 and hasn't coached Brady since.

Though the two never won a Super Bowl together, Brady was a three-time Pro Bowler, NFL MVP, NFL Offensive Player of the Year and NFL Comeback Player of the Year under O'Brien's tutelage. With that, The Sporting News revisits their pairing in New England:

MORE: Tom Brady rumors: Latest news, updates on potential 2023 landing spots if he leaves Buccaneers

Bill O'Brien-Tom Brady Patriots timeline

2009 season

O'Brien, then in his third season coaching under Belichick, made a transition from wide receivers coach to quarterbacks coach in 2010 — meaning he began working directly with Brady. The latter was coming off a season in which he missed all but one game with a torn ACL and MCL.

Though he didn't return to his pre-2008 form (when he threw for 4,800 yards and 50 touchdowns in 2007), Brady's play earned him the 2009 NFL Comeback Player of the Year award. He completed 371 of 565 passes (65.7 percent) for 4,398 yards and 28 touchdowns to 13 interceptions. Brady led the team to a 10-6 record and playoff berth, which ended with a wild-card loss to the Ravens.

2010 season

The 2010 season was the second O'Brien-Brady pairing as quarterback and QB coach, one that produced significant dividends for Brady's passing stats. He had comparable completions and throwing percentage to the year before, but significantly improved his scoring output: an NFL-leading 36 touchdowns, compared to 28 before.

Brady in 2010 also led the league in touchdown percentage (7.3), interception percentage (0.8) and adjusted yards per attempt (9.0), among other quarterback metrics. His four interceptions thrown that season were also the second-fewest of his career in a season where he threw at least 100 passes.

For his efforts, Brady earned his second NFL MVP award, second NFL Offensive Player of the Year award and second first-team All-Pro selection.

Another significant improvement Brady made was the Patriots' record, which improved from 10-6 the year prior to 14-2, good for the top seed in the AFC. However, New England once again exited the playoffs following its first game, which ended in a shocking upset by the 6-seed Jets in the divisional round.

MORE: Patriots' Trent Brown likes social media post about replacing Mac Jones with Brady, Garoppolo

2011 season

On top of coaching Brady directly, O'Brien also took on the role of offensive coordinator for the 2011 season — Brady's best statistical season under the coach.

Indeed, Brady at that time enjoyed career-highs in completions (401), attempts (611) and yards (5,235) under O'Brien. He also threw for 39 touchdowns to 12 interceptions, earning his third Pro Bowl berth in as many seasons.

The offense also saw significant improvement as a whole, ranking second in yards per game (428) passing yards per game (317.8) for the 2011 season. New England ranked eighth in total offense (363.8 ypg) and 11th in passing offense (240.4 ypg) the year prior. The scoring output remained largely the same, as well: 32.4 points per game in 2010 to 32.1 in 2011.

That season also saw a viral clip emerge from the New England sidelines: O'Brien yelling at Brady, who at that time was already considered one of the game's all-time quarterbacks.

That spat came after a Brady interception in the end zone, which O'Brien clearly did not appreciate. Brady after the fact said his coach's frustrations were valid:

"He kind of let me have it. I deserved it," Brady said of the argument in 2017. "It was kind of a dumb throw. I deserved it. I kind of chirped back, and he didn't like it. I was kind of fiery at the time, too.

"We cooled off pretty quick. That's Billy's style. Billy's gonna let you know if he doesn't like something that you did. He handles it in the right way, in a way that you really respected. You know he's fiery, you know he just wants to get the job done."

Regardless, that argument illustrated to many that O'Brien was not only a capable Xs and Os coach, but also one who could handle the quarterback who would go on to become the GOAT.

Unfortunately for the pairing, they didn't complete a Super Bowl run in their final year together. Brady and the Patriots lost the Super Bowl for the second time to the Giants following a 13-3 season.

Tom Brady stats under Bill O'Brien

Below are Brady's stats in three years playing under O'Brien:

Year CMP/ATT Pct. Yards TDs/INTs
2009 371/565 65.7 4,398 28/13
2010 324/492 65.9 3,900 36-4
2011 301/611 65.6 5,235 39-12
Total 1,096/1668 65.7 13,533 103-29
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Zac Al-Khateeb is a content producer for The Sporting News.
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