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The effect of changing coordinators

Posted by Adam Kilgore, Globe Staff  January 19, 2010 04:50 PM

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Next year, assuming Bill Belichick bestows the official title upon one of his staff members, the Patriots will have a new defensive coordinator for the fourth time since Belichick took over the team in 2000 and acted as the defensive coordinator himself.

From Romeo Crennel to Eric Mangini to Dean Pees to whoever is next, the constant has, of course, been Belichick. The Patriots have stuck to the same scheme and same principles for the entire decade, always choosing their defensive coordinator from under the Belichick umbrella. (Crennel came from the Browns, but he had coached previously under Belichick.)

With the Patriots searching for (maybe "deciding on" is a more apt description) their next defensive coordinator, it's worth wondering how much will it ultimately matter. Using the past as a guide and looking at the previous transitions, the answer seems to be, not a whole lot. Here's a look:

TRANSITION I
2000, Bill Belichick’s last year
Points per game: 21.1 (17th)
Yards per game: 334.6 (20th)
Team result: 5-11, missed playoffs

2001, Romeo Crennel’s first year
Points per game: 17.0 (6th)
Yards per game: 334.5 (24th)
Team result: 11-5, won Super Bowl

TRANSITION II
2004, Romeo Crennel’s last year
Points per game: 16.3 (t2d)
Yards per game: 310.8 (9th)
Team result: 14-2, won Super Bowl

2005, Eric Mangini’s last year
Points per game: 21.1 (17th)
Yards per game: 330.2 (26th)
Team result: 10-6, lost in first round

TRANSITION III
2005, Eric Mangini’s last year
Points per game: 21.1 (17th)
Yards per game: 330.2 (26th)
Team result: 10-6, lost in first round

2006, Dean Pees’s first year
Points per game: 14.8 (2d)
Yards per game: 294.4 (6th)
Team result: 12-4, lost in AFC title game

TRANSITION IV
2009, Dean Pees’s last year
Points per game: 17.8 (5th)
Yards per game: 320.2 (11th)
Team result: 10-6, lost in first round

2010, Coordinator X’s first year
We’ll see.

There's not really any correlation to be found. The only time the defense worsened after a transition was when Mangini replaced Crennel. In the end, it's probably the system and not necessarily the guy calling plays that makes the most difference.

Now, that doesn't mean the Patriots defensive coordinator decision doesn't matter. It would be interesting -- and make the above chart relatively moot -- if Belichick chose to go outside and inject new blood into the staff. Also, if the Patriots promote linebackers coach Matt Patricia, Belichick may risk upsetting defensive line coach Pepper Johnson, a loyal and talented assistant who has been on the staff 10 years without a shot to run things.

But once the decision is made and the fallout is over, the defense on the field is going to be the product of one man more than any other, and we already know who that is.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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