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Bob Ryan

On this job, little to work with

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / January 15, 2010

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Not too, too long ago, a coaching job with the great Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots was a Rolls-Royce position for an assistant. The only reason anyone would leave voluntarily would be for a head job. Witness Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel, and Josh McDaniels.

So should we be reading anything into the news that defensive coordinator Dean Pees has chosen to leave their employ with no specific landing place in mind?

I mean, you must ask.

“I enjoyed my time in New England but feel this is the right time to pursue other opportunities,’’ said Pees, whose contract is expiring shortly.

The decision could be 100 percent health-related. The 60-year-old Pees has had recent surgery for prostate cancer. A blood clot was discovered in his leg. And he had to leave the final game of the season against the Texans with bronchial spasms, which mimicked symptoms of a heart attack. But he cited none of that, simply saying, “I need some time to think of what I want to do.’’

Perhaps Pees is looking for a place where he might have a bit more defensive talent to work with. He wasn’t exactly dealt a great hand, you know. The Patriots have been shedding talent on the defensive side of the ball for the past two years, maybe longer. Perhaps what he was saying to Bill Belichick was, “Hey, Bill. My name’s Pees, not Houdi ni.’’

There is no doubt where the buck stops with any Patriots personnel issues. The HC of the NEP calls all the shots around here. He is picking the groceries, and he’s had more bad days at the supermarket than good ones in the past few years.

Let’s see, where did it all start to unravel? Oh, that’s right, Asante Samuel. He was allowed to walk out the door, and that secondary has never been the same. No one is going to argue that point.

The Patriots once had defensive backs of real stature. But it essentially has been mix and match and pray for rain for the past several years, depending on veteran retreads and hoping one or two of the 117,000 DBs they’ve drafted would work out. There is now a sliver of hope with the likes of Darius Butler and Patrick Chung, but we’ll see.

Brandon Meriweather? Oh, that’s right. He’s now going to the Pro Bowl? What? I’m going to go all John McEnroe on you and say they cannot be serious. No one who watched the Patriots closely is going to do anything but laugh about that one.

Coach Bill finally drafted for need in 2008 when he utilized the 10th overall pick on Jerod Mayo to address a serious linebacker problem. Mayo was a brilliant rookie but was hampered this season by an injury that restricted him until very late. Next year, he’ll be fine.

Tully Banta-Cain had a pretty nice year, but Gary Guyton was exposed badly in the playoff game, and Pierre Woods is still a glorified special teamer. All you need to know about how desperate the linebacking situation was is the idea that Coach Bill turned to a 40-year-old reality TV star and asked him to log some quality minutes.

Look how long I’ve gone without mentioning Richard Seymour.

The Patriots have one 100 percent reliable defensive player, and that is Vince Wilfork. (Well, maybe not.) If and when Mayo gets healthy, they might have two.

The defense has been deteriorating for a long time. Among the many memorable Rex Ryan pronouncements was the one in which he said, and I’m paraphrasing, that, “Nobody is afraid of the New England defense.’’ That was before the team lost all those leads on the road because the defense couldn’t get off the field when it had to.

And may we finally stop all the nonsense and admit to Belichick that fourth and 2 was absolutely the right call, that the only question was how many plays it would take Peyton Manning to get his team back into the end zone that night, whether the required distance was going to be 28 yards or 128?

Dean Pees had nothing to do with it. Bill Belichick, and Bill Belichick alone, did.

It’s not as if we should expect Belichick to be infallible. The fact is he was on a very long hot streak that went on long enough to win three Super Bowls and get the team within 30 seconds or so of a fourth. He was right far more often than he was wrong.

It’s very tough to keep something like that going, and now it’s clear the entire Patriots thing is unraveling. We have been told by both Tom Brady and Bill Belichick that the team was lacking in such areas as leadership, discipline, and commitment. If the locker room isn’t quite the same because guys named Vrabel, Bruschi, Harrison, and Seymour are no longer there, so be it. It’s unrealistic to think anyone will ever assemble a bunch like that again.

If Belichick is whiffing on judgment calls, that doesn’t mean it’s a permanent circumstance. It’s simply a needed reminder that there is no such thing as genius in sports, only proven good judgment abetted by large doses of luck (for example, arcane things such as tuck rules).

If you’re a Spygate aficionado, and you want to throw in divine retribution, I can’t stop you.

All I’m saying is that we’re in a new phase of New England Patriots history. They are starting to look and feel like a generic NFL team. Sad to say, but Dean Pees may simply think he can do better.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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