Today in Patriots History
Happy 57th birthday to Pepper Johnson
Born July 29, 1964 in Detroit
Patriot coach, 2000-2013
Assistant linebackers coach (2000); inside linebackers coach (2001-03); defensive line coach (2004-11); linebackers coach (2012-13)
Thomas "Pepper" (he earned that nickname as a kid because he like to put pepper on his corn flakes) Johnson was a coach for 14 years with the New England Patriots, receiving rings for Super Bowls 36, 38 and 39. He also owns two more as an inside linebacker with the Giants, when he played for head coach Bill Parcells and defensive coordinator Bill Belichick. Over the course of a 13 year NFL career that included two Pro Bowls he made 1,090 tackles, 14 interceptions, 12 forced fumbles, 8 fumble recoveries and 25.5 sacks. Pepper Johnson is now the head football coach at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
During his time as a coach in New England the Patriots compiled a regular season record of 163-61 and a postseason record of 18-8, while making it to the conference championship more often (8 times) than not (6).
Feb 2, 2001:
Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel was introduced to the media Friday, a day after Head Coach Bill Belichick announced the first major change to his coaching staff.
Also spending time with the media Friday was Pepper Johnson, now the inside linebacker’s coach. Like Crennel, Johnson has a long relationship with Belichick. He played for Belichick with the Giants, Browns and Jets. Before stepping away from the game after the 1998 season, Johnson had actually wanted to retire before Belichick asked him to play in Cleveland in 1993.
“I had wanted to retire four years earlier,” Johnson said. “Coach Belichick called me and asked me to help those guys out with the situation they had there. He lured me out of retirement that way, and that’s the kind of relationship he and I have.”
Johnson spent 2000 with the Patriots as a defensive assistant after Belichick asked him to come in and help out during training camp.
Sept 1, 2018:
Pepper Johnson spent 32 seasons in the NFL as a player and coach. From 2000 through 2013 he was with the Patriots. A former player for Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells, Johnson was a defensive coaching mainstay and beloved by his players. But when he was passed over for the defensive coordinator...
Pepper Johnson spent 32 seasons in the NFL as a player and coach. From 2000 through 2013 he was with the Patriots.
A former player for Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells, Johnson was a defensive coaching mainstay and beloved by his players. But when he was passed over for the defensive coordinator spot in favor of Matt Patricia, it rankled him.
The launch point in a sprawling interview with Deadspin’s Dom Consentino is Johnson’s departure from the Jets. And there’s a lot on their dysfunction from ownership to the coaching staff to what went wrong with Muhammad Wilkerson.
All of it’s fascinating. But the headline stuff around here is Johnson’s insights on the Patriots and especially Bill Belichick.
This former longtime Patriots assistant dished on what it's like to go out drinking with Bill Belichick
Tom Brady may say he can’t remember having a beer with Bill Belichick, but Pepper Johnson sure can. Johnson has a long history playing and coaching under Belichick, both as a linebacker for the New York Giants in the 1980s and as a defensive assistant coach for the New England Patriots from 2000...
Uh. [long pause] Belichick would take us out. He would thank us. Most likely it was like a Ruth’s Chris or something like that. Now, have I ever seen Bill with two or three drinks? Yes. But I can’t say I’ve ever seen him—like, he’s not a lush. He came to LT’s 56th birthday in New York; this was when I was coaching with the Jets. The first thing he says to me is something football-related, something LT did or he said—it was something football-related. This guy’s head, it never gets off of football.
Johnson never wanted to let Belichick see him drunk, lest he get ragged on by the coach.
“He would have clowned me,” Johnson said. “We’d be watching film. ‘Yeah, you can turn up that Jack Daniel’s or you can drink that, but you can’t sit over here and make this tackle.’ I didn’t want to give him any ammunition.”
August 31, 2018:
Q&A: Pepper Johnson On Drinking With Bill Belichick, Spygate, And Why The Jets Can't Get It Together
When I got Pepper Johnson on the phone, I had no idea what to expect. I sure as hell didn’t think we’d talk for four hours. But we did, and I still can’t believe it. I don’t think I’ve talked to anyone else for four consecutive hours in my life. But Pepper’s got stories.
They weren’t taping the other team’s signals, though. Wasn’t that the issue with Spygate?
But just so that you know, what’s more important? A signal, or what someone is saying? The last I checked, I’ve never seen an offensive coordinator or a defensive coordinator—even the guys up in the booth—cover their mouth when they’re talking. So once upon a time you had lip readers that were sitting up there reading lips.
Who did that?
It was just teams that were doing that. That’s why I’m kind of presenting that as a question to you. If no one was doing anything—if we’re using the word ‘cheating’ or ‘illegal’—then why do those guys cover their mouth? You cannot watch a video on the sideline, right? So if someone videotaped anybody, that’s for a later date, or a later time. They even make sure that you’ve got people in the locker room from the other team. Like, the equipment guy. I guess those guys sit around just to make sure no one is watching the video, or you have no video hookups like that. So you’re talking about the next game.
So Spygate wasn’t a big deal because everyone was doing it?
Let me put it this way: Whomever wasn’t doing anything similar or something like that, they weren’t trying. They didn’t know football.
Why did Eric Mangini turn you guys in, then?
Uh. That’s a whole other story.
Jan 31, 2014:
Defensive line coach, linebacker coach hired
Jan 24, 2015:
Pepper Johnson is coming back to the Jets.
Jan 16, 2015:
Frustrated Pepper Johnson denied again as Tom Coughlin, Giants look elsewhere for a new defensive coordinator
This time, Pepper Johnson was sure his chance was coming. He had finally stepped out from Bill Belichick’s long shadow.
This time, Pepper Johnson was sure his chance was coming. He had finally stepped out from Bill Belichick's long shadow. His old team, the Giants, was talking to him about the defensive coordinator job he has always wanted.
Then his phone rang on Thursday morning and Tom Coughlin told him, "We're going in a different direction." And just like that, Johnson got that same feeling of frustration he has felt for years.
"I feel bottled up," Johnson, the former Giants linebacker, told the Daily News on Thursday afternoon. "I have a lot of knowledge and a lot of information that I feel like I just have to keep to myself."
Johnson, 50, would prefer to share that knowledge, but after 15 years as an NFL assistant coach he feels stuck in a role as a position coach — a fact that remained unchanged on Thursday when the Giants passed him over and rehired Steve Spagnuolo as defensive coordinator instead. Johnson said he felt like he could give so much more to the game if he were running a defense of his own. And he thought getting out of New England — after 14 years of coaching the Patriots' linebackers and defensive linemen — would help push him in that direction, especially after he was passed over by Belichick for the Patriots defensive coordinator job in 2012.
At first it seemed to work. After Johnson spent a season coaching the Buffalo Bills defensive line in 2014, the Giants called to interview him as soon as they fired defensive coordinator Perry Fewell last week. And they weren't doing it as a favor to an old friend, either. A team source insisted Coughlin was genuinely interested in Johnson as a candidate for the job.
Amazingly, it was his first-ever interview for a defensive coordinator position, and Johnson said he left thinking he had a real shot.
"I thought it went real well," Johnson said. "I went out after the interview doing that old Toyota commercial, jumping and clicking my heels."
Now, though, he may instead be left out of a job completely. Johnson said he was told by Rex Ryan, the new Bills coach, that a job would be waiting for him on Ryan's staff if things didn't work out with the Giants. Johnson said he spoke to Ryan about that as recently as Wednesday. But on Thursday, the Bills announced Ryan's new staff and there was no mention of Johnson. And even though Johnson is technically still under contract in Buffalo, it appeared that every defensive job on the staff was filled.
"Moving away from the Patriots, spending a year in Buffalo, I was hoping it would open doors and open some eyes, that more people would be watching," Johnson said, "and (that some team) will give me a call before all this is said and done."
Pepper Johnson finally did land a job as a defensive coordinator - and was fired 24 hours after his first game as a DC.
May 31, 2019:
Retired New York Giants Super Bowl champion, Pepper Johnson, has been named the defensive coordinator of the XFL’s Los Angeles franchise.
Feb 11, 2020:
Former Patriots assistant coach Pepper Johnson was relieved from his coaching duties in the XFL after just one game.
July 7, 2020:
Johnson won five Super Bowls as a player and coach
June 23, 2021: