ESPNBoston.com’s Mike Reiss has recently posted profile pieces on the two internal candidates for the defensive coordinator position: Matt Patricia and Pepper Johnson. They are excellent reads and if you’re interested in who these candidates are, I suggest clicking on the names in the previous sentence to read the full articles. Here’s what I took from the two pieces:
Matt Patricia: Patricia is a brilliant, brilliant guy. He’s rocket-scientist smart. No really, he is. He went to school for aeronautical engineering before deciding to settle on coaching as a career choice. He appears to be a real X’s and O’s kind of coach, and is as smart and hardworking as his boss, Bill Belichick. Patricia is the current linebackers coach. Former Syracuse wide receivers coach Dennis Goldman, “…recalled Patricia as a tireless worker in his three seasons at Syracuse (2001-03), breaking down opponents’ film, drawing scout-team cards, printing scripts and being on the computer with the team’s playbook — ‘tedious work that took hours and hours to do.’” Patricia also drew praise for his knowledge from former Patriot linebacker Tedy Bruschi. “As a player for Bill Belichick, you’re judged by the improvement you make over the course of your career,” said Bruschi. “It’s the same for young coaches. ‘Matty P’ improved so quickly that it didn’t take long for me to lean on him on a daily basis with my questions on various defenses and opponents.” If you’re big on your coordinator being the best X’s and O’s guy you can find, Patricia may be your man.
Pepper Johnson: While Patricia has gained his knowledge of the game through mostly film study, Pepper Johnson gained his knowledge by playing the game at a high level for 13 years, a fact not lost on those that now play for him. Pepper is the current defensive line coach, and Vince Wilfork had glowing praise for his position coach. “He is a player’s coach and a big part of that is that he actually played the game,” Wilfork said. “A lot of things happen on the field, and because he’s been in the same predicament as us, he understands exactly what we see and how blocking schemes develop. It’s real easy to play for a coach like that. It also makes it a lot easier for a group of guys in a room, when somebody is talking to them about playing a certain technique, or a fit here, when it’s coming from a guy who has done it. So those are different people — the Xs’ and O’s and then somebody talking X’s and O’s who has played the game and understands it, like Pepper.” Like Patricia, Pepper has worked his way up the coaching ranks. He also has some pseudo-defensive coordinator experience running the scout team defense during the team’s weekly game preparation.
What stuck out the most to me when reading the two profiles next to each other was that Pepper Johnson seems to have the passion of a player coupled with the knowledge of a coach, something you can’t learn studying film and breaking down game tape. It’s something that Rex Ryan also has, even though he never player. You can see his passion and excitement for the game (as obnoxious as he is). I think that this gives Pepper Johnson the edge if it comes down to these two men. One quote that stuck out to me in particular came from Pepper Johnson’s former teammate Carl Banks:
“He has great knowledge and great instincts. I think the key right now as a coordinator in this league is not necessarily X’s and O’s, but the instincts of when to call those X’s and O’s. It’s having the finger on the pulse of what your team may need and then knowing when to call that in the game. I think that is where Pepper is head and shoulders above a lot of people.”
Can Pepper Johnson follow in the footsteps of Mike Singletary and become the next great player-turned-coach? Only time will tell, but Pepper Johnson has my vote to be the next defensive coordinator of the New England Patriots. Cast your vote in the poll to the left of the page!