Patriots Coaches, A Season of Change
By Dave Fletcher, Site Contributor
It didnt take long for Bill Belichicks coaching tree to sprout
more branches. The choice apples have fallen off the Patriots tree and landed
everywhere from the NFL to the college ranks and even to higher education in
the Ivy League.
Weeks before winning their third Super Bowl in four years, offensive coordinator
Charlie Weis already had his ticket punched for South Bend, Indiana as the new
head coach of Notre Dame. Mere minutes after hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at
Alltel Stadium, defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel officially let the cat out
of the bag about his intention to accept an offer to become head coach of the
Cleveland Browns. Crennel also managed to lure tight ends coach and Ohio native
Jeff Davidson away from the Patriots to serve as his offensive line coach in
Even chief operating officer Andy Wasynczuk said goodbye to the Patriots in
favor of a position at Harvard Business School. Meanwhile, vice president of
player personnel Scott Pioli has been courted by a number of suitors over the
past two off seasons. Most recently, the Seattle Seahawks were granted permission
by the team to speak to Pioli, who has repeatedly asserted that he will honor
his current contract with the Patriots that runs until the end next season.
Apparently the genius label extends beyond the coach with the hooded sweatshirt
on the sidelines to the men in the suits who watch the game from the executive
The Patriots have already filled the void left by Crennel, replacing him with
defensive backs coach Eric Mangini amidst speculation that Mangini, a longtime
assistant to Belichick, might bolt for more lucrative offers with Crennel in
Cleveland or in Miami with another Belichick disciple, Nick Saban.
In Mangini, New England retained a coach who understands the importance of
being able to plug a replacement cog into the machine without missing a beat.
Despite injuries to all-pro cornerback Ty Law and Tyrone Poole which could have
left the secondary in shambles, the Patriots defense stayed on its feet thanks
to fill-ins Randall Gay and Troy Brown.
Since Mangini took over as New Englands defensive backs coach before
the 2000 season, the Patriots have won three Super Bowls while giving some of
the leagues highest-powered passing offenses fits in the process. As a
unit, the secondary enjoyed its best statistical (and healthiest) year in 2003,
when it led the NFL in interceptions (29), fewest touchdown receptions allowed
(11) and opponents' passer rating (56.2).
Similar to Mangini, the Patriots may be best served to look at recent statistics
when selecting Weis successor as offensive play caller now that Davidson
is no longer an option. Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia makes the most
sense if New England plan another in-house hiring not only because of the Patriots
success in the trenches but also because of tenure. Scarnecchia, 57, boasts
the longest coaching tenure in the franchises history. Since 1982, he
has spent every year except 1989 and 1990 roaming the sidelines in Foxboro,
outlasting the turnover of head coaching regimes associated with names like
Raymond Berry, Dick MacPherson, Bill Parcells and Pete Carroll.
The 2004 season was Scarnecchias sixth straight as coach of the offensive
line, perhaps the most unsung unit during the recent title run. This past season
marked the first time since 1986 that the New England running attack averaged
more than four yards a carry for an entire season. While that number probably
has as much to do with the addition of Corey Dillon as anyone on the offensive
line, consider New Englands pass protection numbers the year before, when
its leading rusher was Antowain Smith (642 yards). In 2003, the Patriots allowed
just 32 sacks (14th in the NFL) despite ranking sixth in pass attempts.
There has also been some speculation that Belichick himself may assume some
play calling duties in 2005, something he is not entirely unaccustomed to despite
his reputation as a defensive mastermind. As was the case at various times in
Cleveland in the early 90s, it may not be totally out of the realm of
possibility that Belichick may divide some of his duties. After all, it seems
the Patriots head coach has been doing a lot of branching out lately.
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