April 01, 2005
Belichick To Face Toughest Career Challenge?
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
Last in a series of positional analysis of the 2004 New England Patriots. Today: coaching.
Bill Parcells has won zero Super Bowls without Bill Belichick. Belichick has won three without Parcells.
Now, Belichick has won three Super Bowls with Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel. What will happen with both these coordinators now gone?
This may either turn out to be the biggest case of “what goes around comes around” or the biggest display of Belichick’s genius. Most NFL coaches suffer the loss of one coordinator now and then. But two gone in the same year? Not since Denver’s Mike Shanahan lost two coordinators following the Broncos’ conquest of Atlanta in Super Bowl XXXIII has a head coach suffered such a hit to his staff.
Weis and Crennel followed their dreams to the Midwest. Weis tempted fate by taking the only head coaching job in the country with a hotter seat than Terry Francona’s, that being the Notre Dame job. Crennel took a less high profile job in Cleveland, but the Dawg Pound will let Crennel know how he’s doing much the same way the Notre Dame student body will to Weis. Both Weis and Crennel have their work cut out for them, taking on programs with rabid fan bases and lots of work ahead.
Belichick, meanwhile, doesn’t have the rebuilding job his former colleagues have. But he does have a rebuilding job of a different sort. He has to rebuild a coaching staff, and he has to do so with the added burden of getting a late start on hiring, brought upon by his team winning the Super Bowl and not being able to add top assistants while his team was still active.
Defensively, the transition will be a lot smoother. Despite two other teams pursuing him and throwing more money at him, Eric Mangini followed the party line of taking less money to stay and win and will move up from secondary coach to defensive coordinator. This seemed like a preordained rite of passage, despite Cleveland (ahem, Crennel) and Miami (former Belichick protégé Nick Saban) making runs at the then hottest assistant coaching prospect in the league. Mangini will stay in Foxborough and take over Crennel’s job, and expectations for his success will be through the roof.
If Mangini had needed change of address forms, it was rumoured that linebacker coach Dean Pees would have become defensive coordinator. As it stands, the former Kent State head coach is staying put, but was also mentioned for some defensive coordinator jobs. Pees fit right in as Rob Ryan’s replacement (Ryan became Oakland’s defensive coordinator last year), and he himself faces a daunting rebuilding task if Tedy Bruschi is indeed finished and if Roman Phifer stays gone.
Pepper Johnson remains on the staff, as defensive line coach. The former Giants linebacker was also rumoured to be headed to Cleveland, but he stayed home. Johnson, who became somewhat famous for his “There’s no more practices!” speech on NFL Films during Super Bowl XXXVIII, heads into his second season as line coach after four seasons coaching linebackers. He has the pleasant duty of working with a deep and talented line, and all without Rodney Bailey in 2004. Jarvis Green’s stepping in and spelling the injured Richard Seymour in the 2004 postseason may have been the high water mark for the defensive line last year.
Joel Collier takes the place of Mangini, with the official title of “Defensive Assistant Secondary”.
Without an offensive coordinator in official title, Belichick is poised to take over that job by himself. In 2000, Belichick’s first season with the Patriots, he coordinated the defense along with the head duties, and the team stumbled to a 5-11 record. Crennel came in the following year, and the team won the Super Bowl. This is not to suggest that the 5-11 record was because of the absence of a defensive coordinator, but Belichick became a much more effective head coach when he got one. Whether or not this will come into play in 2005 remains to be seen.
Some folks thought Dante Scarnecchia would become top offensive dog. Scar will remain “assistant head coach, offensive line” and proctor a group of linemen which continues to confound the league with its effectiveness despite the lack of marquee talent. Josh McDaniels, Ivan Fears and Brian Daboll remain as quarterback, running back and wide receiver coaches. Pete Mangurian joins the staff as tight ends coach, while Matt Patricia will assist Scarnecchia on the line, taking the place of Jeff Davidson, who went with Crennel to Cleveland.
Brad Seely will enter his seventh season as special teams coach, as well as one of the holdovers from the Pete Carroll era. Seely, considered one of the top coaches of his kind in the league, took some heat in 2004 for his punt and kickoff coverage teams that allowed more than their share of return yards. He has two solid kickers in Adam Vinatieri and Josh Miller, but his return coverage squads will have to improve in 2005.
Mike Woicik remains as the strength and conditioning coach, in his sixth season after taking over for the popular Johnny Parker. Harold Nash will assist Woicik, taking over for the departed Markus Paul. Despite the notoriety of Parker leaving the Patriots the way he did in 2000, Patriot teams have been consistently tough over the years, with December and January being Woicik’s pride and joy.
The biggest challenge facing Belichick will be how well he handles the offense, assuming Mangini provides the smooth transition on defense everyone thinks he will do. There are those who believe that Belichick’s unwillingness to hire an offensive head might foreshadow Tom Brady getting more leeway in calling offensive plays. Brady, who has been praised for his ability to think well under pressure and reading defenses, could conceivably run the offense under certain conditions, though there have been no concrete reports that this will actually happen.
Whatever happens, the Patriot way of doing things will be severely tested this coming season. Belichick will have to show the world that this success is really about his genius, and not so much the greatness of his staff. In other words, he has to show the world that he is not another Bill Parcells.
As for Weis and Crennel, they may find themselves longing for Foxborough before long. These were professional chances they simply had to take. But they may find that the road back to the top of the profession may be too slippery for them. They want championships at South Bend, Indiana, and the Dawg Pound needs more than biscuits to pacify them. They will be under great pressure to win. But it’s a pressure they crave, and that they need to experience. Their passage from Foxborough had to happen, plain and simple.
The three men embraced in the dying moments of Super Bowl XXXIX. Talk about a picture saying a thousand words. These great men part ways, with a ton of work to do, and a lifetime of memories to enjoy.
This concludes our series on positional analysis of the 2004 New England Patriots.
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