By Kevin Flanagan
In his first public comments since leaving the New England Patriots last month, Pepper Johnson – whose affiliation with Bill Belichick dates back to his days as a player for the New York Giants in the 1980’s – said on Tuesday that he left the Pats coaching staff to “get up from under the shadow of coach Belichick.”
He must have thought it was one heck of a shadow cast by the dour hooded head coach to leave a perennial contender and join the coaching staff of the long time laughing stock, Buffalo Bills.
Buffalo? Really? This is a team whose owner dates back to the age of covered wagons and whose product on the field hasn’t had a sniff at a run for the Lombardi trophy since Marv Levy was a Septuagenarian.
Don’t Google it just trust me, it was a long time ago.
The news of Johnson’s leaving the Pats staff was followed quickly by Patriot lifer Dante Scarnecchia announcing his retirement and was accompanied by tight ends coach George Godsey departing to join former offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien in Houston to assume the quarterbacks coach position for the Texans.
While the residents of Patriot Nation will surely look at the departure of a large portion of Belichick’s coaching staff as a normal bump in the road of an NFL off-season, it begs the question that no one is asking.
Do they know something we don’t know?
As one of the only members of Bill’s former staff willing to discuss the mercurial manager of men, Johnson addressed Belichick’s quirky characteristics during a radio appearance yesterday on the John Murphy Show on WGR 550 in Buffalo.
Johnson said, “I know a lot of players, when they first experience Bill, they think, ‘This guy is dry. He doesn’t address anybody. Did I do anything wrong? Is he mad at me?’ I’m like, ‘Trust me, if he’s not talking to you, it’s a good thing. It’s just being Bill.’ But as soon as he stops you in the hall and starts talking to you, that’s when you need to pay attention and see what you’ve been doing wrong in the past or out there on the field, because something is coming.”
That sounds like a guy you would want to buckle your chin strap and run through a wall for, no?
Look, I get it, being warm and fuzzy does not win you many games in the National Football League and Bill Belichick has the resume to prove he certainly knows how to do that. But for a guy who is involved at the most detailed level of what goes on with his football team, losing three coaches he has relied on for years is not a small thing. Belichick’s managerial style is not an easy one to perform under and the loss of these staff members will most certainly affect the team going forward.
I know, I know, In Bill We Trust, but the question is who can Bill trust on his staff following these departures?
Surely Belichick will fill his staff with young minds willing to learn and he is bound to find the next position coaching genius on the staff of the South Dakota School of Mining and Technology, but will it be good enough to challenge for a championship in the waning days of the Belichick/Brady era?
Does the departure of Johnson et al. point to the sign that even those on the inside see that the Pats days as a perennial contender are at an end and the dynamic duo of coach and quarterback are approaching the likes of Don Shula and Dan Marino of the 1990’s?
It certainly should serve as a warning sign to Patriot Nation that the halcyon day’s of the early 2000’s are nothing but a distant memory and what was a dreamy destination for coaches and players alike is now looked up as a shadow of which they no longer wish to toil under.
The Patriots window is rapidly closing and no one knows it more than those most closely involved in the day to day workings of the team. Their unwillingness to extend to attract high level talent in free agency or retain players looking to get paid have taken a toll on the team. Pepper Johnson had seen enough to decide that it was time for him to go too.
So he left Bill’s shadow and went to Buffalo. Buffalo.