In charge of both sides of the ball, Belichick is more than doing his job(s)
FOXBOROUGH — Back in February the decision was made. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees wasn’t coming back to the Patriots. So Bill Belichick stepped in.
Instead of naming a replacement, Belichick revealed he would be more involved in the team’s defensive planning, falling back on his years of coaching experience. The news came weeks after Pees said he would let his contract expire after four seasons as coordinator. After the dust settled, Belichick said he would share the defensive duties with his assistants.
Having already operated last season without an offensive coordinator, the Patriots enter the 2010 season as the only team without coordinators by title and have one of the smallest coaching staffs in the NFL.
During training camp, the Patriots defense learned what’s in store this season. Linebacker Tully Banta-Cain is entering his sixth season with the Patriots and eighth NFL season overall, and he said Belichick’s presence is noticeable.
“It just adds a little bit more attention to detail because it is the head coach and he is doing a majority of the evaluation, so you want to make sure that he’s the one saying ‘good job’ to you and not someone else. If there was anyone to impress, it’s Bill,’’ Banta-Cain said. “When he’s the guy giving the direct orders and he’s in front of the meeting running the meetings, you want to be at full attention, and on the field it’s the same. It does make it that much more intense.’’
The last time the Patriots operated with two official coordinators was in 2008, when Josh McDaniels ran the offense and Pees the defense. The next season, McDaniels was off to Denver for his first head coaching job. Quarterbacks coach Bill O’Brien took over as the primary play-caller, but the Patriots never officially named an offensive coordinator.
A head coach has to consider the chemistry of the staff when bringing in new assistants, former Ravens coach Brian Billick said.
“You think in terms of a succession plan because that’s the nature of the league,’’ said Billick, now an analyst on Fox. “Coaches are going to come and go to a certain degree and that’s altogether not a bad thing. You like staff stability, certainly, but any time a new coach comes into an organization and adds certain energy or a different perspective, that can be very positive, but you don’t do it arbitrarily. You have to have specific ideas about what that coach’s role is going to be and how he is going to fit into the chemistry and how that chemistry is going to be affected, just like when you add a player to a team. That does change it and you have to be mindful of it.’’
The Patriots brought former safety Corwin Brown on board this season to be the defensive backs coach. He was the only addition to the coaching staff, but the fifth assistant to join the staff since 2009. When a new coach comes on board, it is up to the current staff to fill the new guy in, defensive line coach Pepper Johnson said.
“We, the other coaches that have been hanging around, we try to help out as much as possible for things that [Belichick] doesn’t really say and wants you to do and don’t want you to do and how to carry yourself and our learning and growing process,’’ said Johnson, enteringhis 11th season with the Patriots. “We try to help out as much as possible so it’s good that we have the whole offseason for that . . . We cover everything in detail during the offseason so when the season starts rolling around, everyone is prepared for it.’’
For all the staff changes this season, there are some constants, like running backs coach Ivan Fears, who is in his 14th season with the team, and offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who is in his 27th season. Having that consistency allows information to be easily passed on to new coaches.
“It’s been kind of easier for me, being the guy that’s been in the system a long time and knowing this system,’’ Fears said. “Everybody else adds their little tweak to it and Bill will too, but we’re still basically running the same system and that’s important for us.’’
Having coaches with familiarity with a system can be helpful, but not always realistic, said Billick.
“As a head coach, you always like continuity,’’ Billick said. “You’d love, selfishly, for your guys not to go anywhere and just stay intact, but the fact of the matter is everyone is looking for upward mobility within a career.
“I always felt like our approach was that we kind of had an obligation to nurture that. The people that I owed for my growth in the league, people like Bill Walsh and Dennis Green, I could never really repay them for what they did for me other than to provide those same things for coaches that I had.’’
Three coaches who formerly worked under Belichick are currently head coaches in the NFL: McDaniels in Denver, Eric Mangini in Cleveland, and Jim Schwartz with the Lions.
While Belichick is in charge, the assistants feel they have chances to give their input to the overall makeup of the team. Even without official coordinators, Belichick has delegated some responsibilities. In the preseason, linebackers coach Matt Patricia wore the headset to communicate plays onto the field.
In the end, Belichick is running the team how he sees fit.
“He’s making the final say-so and for the most part, we all have experience with him and have understanding with him,’’ said Johnson. “I have 23 years of experience with him. So we know what he wants and what he’s looking for.’’