Patriot coordinators lack name recognition
FOXBOROUGH -- There comes a point in every coach's life when he realizes the "Big Job" is just never going to come. For some, that realization is somewhat of a relief, because they have resigned themselves to being a coordinator, making a nice living, and having a lot of responsibility without the pressures of being the head man.
Monte Kiffin, Tampa Bay's talented defensive coordinator, has reached that point. Good for Jon Gruden. When Kiffin made that decision, the Buccaneers took care of him with a $1.5 million per year salary to oversee Tampa Bay's defense for the next five years. The Philadelphia Eagles, who have never won a Super Bowl, made a similar decision with Jim Johnson. Owner Jeffrey Lurie made sure Johnson, whose name was mentioned as a possible top man in San Francisco, would remain in Philadelphia as defensive coordinator for $1 million per season.
Bill Belichick was a long-time lieutenant under Bill Parcells and some believed Belichick was the main reason Parcells won two Super Bowls with the Giants. By the time Belichick followed Parcells to the Patriots and then Jets after an unsuccessful head coaching experience in Cleveland, Belichick knew he had to free himself from the Tuna, even if it meant turning down a head coaching job with the Jets.
And that brings us to the situation in New England.
Both coordinators -- Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis -- are in the final years of their contracts. They have reached lame-duck status. Compared with other coordinators, the New England pair pull down competitive salaries, but not in the same neighborhood as Kiffin or Johnson.
Belichick earned a two-year extension, which was announced the first day of training camp. Usually when a coach signs an extension, his top assistants are also taken care of. But so far, neither Crennel nor Weis have received extensions corresponding with Belichick's deal, which runs through the 2006 season.
It might be all about leverage, and perhaps neither Crennel nor Weis have any. Crennel interviewed for the 49ers job during Super Bowl week and while he wasn't granted a second interview, according to 49ers general manager Terry Donahue, Crennel was a deserving candidate.
It might be about the Patriots leaving their options open.
While the San Francisco interview was probably the best thing that could have happened to Crennel in terms of national attention, it didn't earn him a lucrative new deal as it did Johnson and Kiffin. Crennel returned to New England to honor the final year of his contract.
Crennel, who has worked with Belichick for 17 years, has the charisma, toughness, and knowledge to be a head man, but what he doesn't appear to have is the recognition. When every sound bite, television clip, and magazine and newspaper story refers to Belichick as a "defensive genius" it's awfully tough for the guy who is actually performing as the coordinator to get any credit.
Upon getting his first head coaching job with the Jets, Herman Edwards said if it wasn't for the media attention he received as assistant head coach/defensive backs coach for Tampa Bay for five seasons he would have never landed the job. Marvin Lewis, now the top man in Cincinnati, has often echoed those sentiments. The attention he received as the architect of the Baltimore defense was invaluable to him and teams soon began to view him as a head coaching candidate.
Brian Billick certainly was able to receive much attention while serving as the coordinator of a highly-potent Minnesota offense under Dennis Green, leading to his opportunity in Baltimore.
One of the problems in New England is that Crennel and Weis are only allowed to speak to the media by appointment. It is rare when Crennel's name appears in the media except when players -- particularly veteran Anthony Pleasant -- go out of their way to mention him.
Pleasant thinks Crennel hasn't received enough credit for the Patriots' defense, and on a few occasions when reporters have referred to it as "Belichick's defense," Pleasant has politely corrected them and mentioned that it's Crennel's defense.
It's certainly no secret that both Crennel and Weis have head coaching aspirations. Weis recently expressed interest in the University of Washington job after Rick Neuheisel was fired. Weis will always be credited with developing Tom Brady during the Super Bowl run. Crennel oversaw a shut-down defense, helping the Patriots win the big game.
Neither coordinator was able to cash in on that incredible story.
Last season, the Patriots failed to make the playoffs. The run defense was poor, and the Patriots' running game was, for the most part, ineffective. There were certainly legitimate reasons why neither coach was able to excel. Crennel was given Steve Martin as a run-stopper. Weis was given Donald Hayes as his big receiver. While the accolades seemed to escape Weis and Crennel two years ago, the criticism found them last season.
"[Stopping the run] is a big focus for us this year," said Crennel, "because we had trouble with the run last year. So we put emphasis on the running game, our run fix, our run forces, so hopefully it does not become a problem this year. We feel if we can solidify the run and make it a one-dimensional game, we can implement more schemes to try to get after the passer."
Certainly the Patriots tout themselves as a team that makes decisions together. Belichick and Crennel have been together so long, they probably think alike. Together they have implemented the new 3-4 scheme, changing it from the 4-3 the team ran last season and for the second half of 2001. Crennel has plugged in all of the players where he feels they will be the most successful. He does the game-planning. With his formations, angles, and changes, he will try to confuse the opposition. And now if it works as it did two years ago, will it finally be called "Crennel's defense?"
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