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On the menu: turnover

Posted by Tom Wilcox February 26, 2009 05:55 AM

After the Patriots didn’t make the playoffs in 2008, Bill Belichick thought missing the postseason for the first time in six years would give the organization a rare chance to take some time to attend to off-season matters.

As it turns out, Belichick has needed all the extra time he can get.

“It’s been a busy off-season, but I feel like it’s been a productive one,” said Belichick at the NFL scouting combine last weekend. “We definitely have a lot of work to do like the other 31 teams in the league.”

In the seven weeks since the Patriots played their final game of the regular season, other franchises have plucked their staff at a level usually reserved for Super Bowl champions.

The Broncos hired offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as their head coach, special teams coach Brady Seely left for Cleveland, special assistant and secondary coach Dom Capers went to Green Bay, tight ends coach Pete Mangurian departed to become the Buccaneers’ offensive line coach, and former vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli is now the general manager in Kansas City.

As has become customary under Belichick, the coach tabbed replacements from within the organization. He stayed in-house for all but one spot: New special teams coach Scott O’Brien, who had worked with Belichick in Cleveland, came from Denver.

Bill O’Brien has taken over as quarterbacks coach and de facto offensive coordinator, and Belichick bumped up a pair of assistants, with Josh Boyer replacing Capers and Shane Waldron taking over for Mangurian.

Belichick went outside the organization to hire veteran NFL personnel man Floyd Reese to assist new director of player personnel Nick Caserio. Caserio figures to do most of the player evaluation while Reese handles more administrative duties, such as player contracts and managing the salary cap.

“It’s been very invigorating to work with [Caserio] and Floyd over the last few weeks, pulling things together on all fronts, preparing for the draft and free agency and some of our current player and personnel situations, and kind of reorganizing and revamping some things in the personnel department,” said Belichick. “That has been a good experience, and as much as we’ll miss Scott [Pioli], we’re moving on in that direction.”

Those who have moved on are hoping for more success than other figures on the Belichick coaching tree who have left in recent years. Charlie Weis has struggled at Notre Dame, and Eric Mangini and Romeo Crennel were both fired after last season.

With free agency officially commencing Friday, one fear is that former Patriots employees might target the same players New England has on its radar. McDaniels and Pioli have said they don’t think that will be a problem.

“There will be different types of players that we’ll be looking at for different positions,” said Pioli. “I don’t think we’re necessarily battling over the same players as New England.

“The players that I have to go out and get are different because we have a different coach, and
he’s running a different system with a different philosophy.”

McDaniels said he thinks the team is in good hands with Bill O’Brien, promoted from wide receivers coach to replace McDaniels as quarterbacks coach. O’Brien also figures to be the Pats’ play caller, although he doesn’t have the title of offensive coordinator.

“I know he’ll do a great job, very well prepared, awesome, awesome to work with,” said McDaniels. “He’s ultra-prepared, and the players respond to him. He got the opportunity to work with the receivers last year, and I think that’s vital, and he’ll do a great job.”

Pioli also said the Patriots made a great choice in filling his old position with Caserio.

“Nick is a very bright, hard-working football guy,” Pioli said. “He’s one of hardest workers I know.”

Both Pioli and McDaniels had nothing but praise for Matt Cassel, but neither would admit interest in obtaining the quarterback. The Broncos appear unlikely to pursue Cassel with Pro Bowler Jay Cutler already entrenched as the starter, but Pioli may have a strong interest in a trade. The Chiefs started three different QBs last season.

“Free agency hasn’t started,” said Pioli. “[Cassel] is under the franchise tag, so I don’t think it’s anything we can even talk about or want to talk about.”

Tom Wilcox covers the Patriots for OT and can be reached at twilcox@globe.com

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Charles P. Pierce writes for the Boston Globe Magazine. A long-time sportswriter and columnist, Pierce is a frequent guest on national TV and radio.
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