Pepper Johnson leaving Patriots coaching staff

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The first domino of the Patriots offseason fell Tuesday when longtime assistant coach Pepper Johnson announced he would not return to Bill Belichick’s staff.

The move marks the end of a longtime partnership between Johnson and Belichick, who also coach Johnson during his playing days with the Giants.

In a statement to ESPN, Johnson praised Belichick and called him his friend, but added his “dreams and goals … all involve football.’’

Johnson was part of Belichick’s staff in some form since the coach came to New England in 2000. He joined the staff full-time the next season.

Johnson coached the linebackers the past two seasons, but also had served as the defensive line coach.


“Today is the first day in 13 years that I am not a part of the New England Patriots, although I will always be a Patriot in my heart,’’ Johnson said. “Today also marks the first day in 26 years that I am not working in some capacity with one of greatest head coaches of all time, as well as my friend, Bill Belichick.’’

Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork praised Johnson in a message posted to Twitter.

“He has always been a constant and a hell of a coach,’’ Wilfork said.

“But change is also a constant in life. All good things must come to an end.’’

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