Patriots Coaches, A Season of Change

<p> New England Patriots roster changes year to year are nothing new. This year however, the Patriots face an extra challenge in trying to replace key components of their coaching staff in addition to new players. With Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis headed elsewhere, the organization still needs to find replacements, some of whom will obviously have to come from outside.</p>

Patriots Coaches, A Season of Change
By Dave Fletcher
, Site Contributor

It didn’t take long for Bill Belichick’s 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 Cleveland.

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 suites.

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 England’s defensive backs coach before the 2000 season, the Patriots have won three Super Bowls while giving some of the league’s 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 franchise’s 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 Scarnecchia’s 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 England’s 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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