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PATRIOTS NOTEBOOK

A system Crennel, Weis can't control

HOUSTON -- Patriots coordinators Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis make their living designing and implementing successful systems. The way they see it, if neither of the top assistants on a team playing in its second Super Bowl in three seasons has an opportunity for career advancement waiting for him after the season, the league's system for hiring head coaches needs adjustment.

"I think that the system, as it currently is, probably was a slight disadvantage to Charlie and myself," Crennel said yesterday. "Everybody assumed we were going to the Super Bowl, which they were correct, and they didn't want to wait until February to have a chance to talk to us again and maybe make a decision about a coaching job. I would have to say it was a disadvantage."

Crennel interviewed for five and Weis two of the seven openings during the Patriots' playoff bye week. The league created the interview window so not to penalize assistants whose teams advanced deep into the playoffs. Apparently, the "window" needs fixing.

"Everyone wants to get started and get moving forward for the next year," Crennel continued. "The more time it takes, they feel like they're getting behind, particularly when other teams make choices by hiring coaches. And they don't want to be the last guy standing.

"They tried to develop a system to give everybody an equal chance and to try to give the hot coaches a chance. When they tweak the system a little bit more, hopefully they will make it an even playing field for everybody."

Said Weis, "They either put a freeze [on hiring] until after the Super Bowl so everybody has an equal playing field, or do it the way they have it."

Crennel said he thought he did well in his interviews. "I thought it went pretty good," he said. "I presented myself well, I thought. I think that when I left those meetings, everybody had a better feel for me and knew me better. I think that they felt better about me coming out of the meeting than they did going into the meetings."

Crennel and Weis aren't the first to be hindered by their teams' success and other teams' desire to move quickly. "It's happened to other guys before," Crennel said. "John Fox, Marvin Lewis. And unless they change the system, it's going to happen to other guys again."

Coincidentally, Fox, the former Giants defensive coordinator, will be on the opposite sideline Sunday coaching the Panthers. And Lewis, the former Ravens and Redskins defensive coordinator, is now head coach of the Bengals. He was at Reliant Stadium yesterday.

"If I were an owner, and I wanted to hire Romeo or Charlie, I would wait and do that," Lewis said. "That would be worth their while. Both guys are very deserving and outstanding. And I know that those two guys' total focus is just to win football games, and that's what's most important."

Hufnagel leaving

A league source has confirmed reports that the New York Giants will hire Patriots quarterbacks coach John Hufnagel as their offensive coordinator after the Super Bowl.

Hufnagel, in his first -- and, apparently, last -- season as tutor for New England's QBs, held the same position in 2002 on new Giants coach Tom Coughlin's Jaguars staff. It is believed Hufnagel signed on with the Patriots for only one year, and therefore would not require permission to interview with the Giants.

Asked yesterday about the Super Bowl being his last game as a Patriot, Hufnagel replied, "I'm talking about the game on Sunday."

Bill Belichick and Weis coached the quarterbacks for two seasons before hiring Hufnagel exactly a year ago today. Under Hufnagel's tutelage, Tom Brady finished third in MVP voting, passing for 3,620 yards, 23 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions.

Bittersweet return

Super Bowl Week marks both a joyous and sad homecoming for Patriots special teams captain Larry Izzo.

Izzo attended high school here, at McCullough High, and was a four-year letterman at Rice University, where New England is practicing this week. His father, Larry, died of cancer days before the Patriots' Oct. 26 game against Cleveland. The following week a memorial was held in Houston, followed by a funeral at West Point, N.Y.

"It's tough," Izzo said yesterday. "I know he wanted to be here. This was a goal of ours, for him to be here to watch this game. I've dedicated this whole season to him and his memory. He's the reason I'm here. It's going to be a tough deal, but I know wherever he is, he's watching. He's proud."

Izzo also addressed publicly his association with BALCO, the California laboratory that was found to be producing steroids. Izzo was summoned to testify in BALCO's trial during the season.

"I went out and had a legitimate relationship with the supplement company and, unfortunately, had to testify," he said. "But it's all done and there are no repercussions. It was what it was."

He's entertainment committee

Former Houston Cougar and Houston resident Antowain Smith hosted a gathering of his teammates Sunday night. "It wasn't really a party," Smith said. "It was just a big cookout for my teammates. It just takes the edge off of things. Sit back, relax, eat, mingle. I did my part. Now they've got to do their part. They've got to come through for me. They've got to help me win Super Bowl Sunday." . . . Free agent defensive lineman Steve Martin, who spent last season with the Patriots and played for the Texans this year, was at Reliant Stadium yesterday working for a local television station. "It's good to see them," Martin said of the Patriots. "I'm happy for them. They earned it." . . . Crennel, on accusations that the Patriots bent the rules (though they weren't penalized for it) in defending the Colts' receivers in the AFC Championship game. "We're a physical team, and we're going to play physical," Crennel said. "I don't think that anything we do is outside the rules. If it was, they'd drop the flag." . . . Fullback Larry Centers, approaching the end of his 14th season, said yesterday that his first Super Bowl could be his last game. "It's getting real close," said Centers, 35. "I've been talking about retirement. If I sit back and say that this is my last game, it doesn't really sound right to me. It could easily be my last game as a football player, if we come away with a win. It would be a great way to go out. What else could I ask for as a player?"

John Powers of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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