JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Gil Brandt, the general manager of the Dallas Cowboys during the Tom Landry era, bristles when he recalls the defections from Landry's staff.
"It was the demise of our Cowboys," Brandt said. "We lost Mike Ditka, Dan Reeves, and Gene Stallings. When you have great coaches, it's very hard to bring in others, who might be outstanding coaches, but to replace the success you had . . .
"I'm sure if anyone can pull it off, Bill [Belichick] can. But when you lose quality coaches, it becomes a situation where the head coach is basically teaching the new coordinators how to do the job."
The staff Belichick assembled in New England is in its third Super Bowl in four years, having won two, but major changes are on tap after Sunday. Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis already has been named head coach at Notre Dame, and all indications are that Crennel will depart to become head coach of the Cleveland Browns.
There are also indications that defensive line coach Pepper Johnson, defensive backs coach Eric Mangini, and linebackers coach Dean Pees will have opportunities to be coordinators in Cleveland or Miami.
Weis agreed not to take any of Belichick's assistant coaches with him to Notre Dame, but it is unclear whether Crennel made a similar promise. Mangini turned down a $1 million-a-year opportunity to become the Oakland Raiders' defensive coordinator last offseason, a job that went to former Patriots linebackers coach Rob Ryan. It was seen by some as a sign that Mangini was being groomed as the heir apparent to Crennel. But now Mangini is drawing interest from Miami, where new head man Nick Saban has the same defensive philosophy as Belichick -- and a lot of money to spend on assistant coaches.
Belichick won't lose Scott Pioli, the Patriots' vice president of player personnel, who took his name out of the running for a general manager position in Cleveland or San Francisco.
The Krafts have made it clear to potential suitors that they would deny requests to interview Pioli based on their interpretation that he's a high-ranking executive. But the league is fairly clear in its interpretation of the tampering rules, which state that if the person is the team's decision-maker (which Pioli is not), then other teams must seek permission to speak with him.
If there's a dispute over those interpretations, the commissioner's office would settle it. But Pioli never wanted it to get that far and has publicly said he will fulfill his contract, which runs through April 2006.
As for retooling the Patriots' staff, ESPN analyst Sean Salisbury said, "Bill's Bill, and he'll find a way. We know that Romeo's role with the team is understated, but that's Bill's areas of expertise. The biggest change for my money will be on the offensive side. I think Charlie is as good of an offensive coordinator as you'll see in the NFL.
"If [Belichick] stays in-house, that will be the same system, yes, but there will still be an adjustment period to the new coordinator."
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, who has been among the most highly regarded coordinators in the game, agrees that losing two coordinators would be difficult. But, he said, "First of all, the head coach is Bill Belichick. As long as he's around, things will be OK. The other point is, if a positional coach is advanced to the position, that's a good thing because it's good for morale to advance a positional coach and the players have some familiarity.
"Heck, I was a positional coach and I got the chance and I made the most of it. It's tough at first, but you grow into the job."
One AFC defensive coordinator said it takes time for players to adjust when an assistant coach is promoted to coordinator.
"I think when it doesn't work right away, it gives the players an excuse to blame losing on the coaching changes, for one thing," the coordinator said. "Not everyone can do it. You're used to focusing on one thing when you're a positional coach, where you're spending 90 minutes with the players every day, and suddenly you're in a role where you're coordinating all the positional coaches and the positions themselves as well as putting together a game plan.
"It takes a special guy to do that. It's amazing to me that there aren't more quality-control coaches or more special teams coaches hired into those positions."
Putting it together
Belichick's "dream team" began to take shape in 2000, when he hired Weis to be his offensive coordinator and decided that until he could find the right candidate for defensive coordinator, he would handle the duties himself. During that 5-11 season, Belichick allowed Mangini to make some of the defensive calls and do some game planning.
Crennel, who had been Chris Palmer's defensive coordinator in Cleveland, became available in 2001 after Palmer was fired, and Belichick didn't hesitate to hire his former defensive coach with the Giants. Belichick also gave Pepper Johnson, a linebacker with his great Giants defenses, a chance to become an assistant coach.
Belichick was not averse to keeping some of Pete Carroll's staff -- namely, special teams coordinator Brad Seely, running backs coach Ivan Fears, assistant head coach/offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, and tight ends/assistant offensive line coach Jeff Davidson, who many believe is the heir apparent to Weis.
When Belichick lost Ryan last season, he moved Johnson from the inside linebackers to the defensive line. Belichick went to the college ranks for Pees, who had been Saban's defensive coordinator at Michigan State and was very familiar with the Belichick-Saban style.
When he first took the job in New England, Belichick made a surprising move by firing strength coach Johnny Parker, despite a long association with Parker from their Giants days. Belichick felt Parker was more aligned with Bill Parcells, with whom Belichick had broken ties. Belichick hired former Cowboys strength coach Mike Woicik, who had been a part of three Super Bowl teams in Dallas.
Belichick has added young coaches such as Josh McDaniels (quarterbacks) and Brian Daboll (receivers). When quarterbacks coach Dick Rehbein died unexpectedly prior to the 2001 season, Belichick didn't replace Rehbein until just prior to the 2003 season, when he hired John Hufnagel, who left after last season to become offensive coordinator with the Giants.
It's all blended together in near-perfect harmony.
"It starts with Bill," Seely said. "What he stresses to all of us as coaches and to the players is do your job and don't try to do somebody else's. If everyone does their job, things will work smoothly. It's a great approach that's worked out very well for us as a staff."
Price of success
Johnson was presented with a new challenge of coaching a very young defensive line. He's been able to groom Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren, and he has a standout in Richard Seymour. He said he's been able to get a veteran like Keith Traylor to buy into Belichick's system.
"I just know that Coach Belichick puts in a lot of hours," Johnson said. "I remember when I was a player and every now and then he'll be a little scruffy around the chin area. I'd say to him, `You had a rough night last night, huh?' I just know how hard he works and as his assistants, we need to work that hard.
"I think we're always looking for ways to get better. And that motivates all of us as coaches and players."
There are those who believe as long as Belichick is around, the staff adjustments will be seamless.
"It'll break up the continuity they've built, there's no question about that," said former linebacker Bryan Cox, who played for Belichick in New York and New England. "But I'm sure Bill has all of that sorted out in his mind, and as soon as the season is over, it probably will be resolved.
"It's got to be tough for Bill because he's been around Charlie and Romeo for so long. It's been such a great staff. So much success. You hate to see it disassembled, but that's what success does."