Jerome Solomon of the Boston Globe writes that Patriots chairman and CEO would not discuss specifics concerning Bill Belichick's contract situation, but for the first time he indicated that a contract extension or a new contract is in place. Belichick, who signed a five-year deal when he joined the team in 2000, got a two-year extension (announced in July 2003) through the 2006 season. Kraft said yesterday, however, that any representation of next season as the final year of Belichick's contract would be untrue. ''It's our intention that Bill will be the coach for some time," Kraft said. ''Bill Belichick and his staff have done a great job. In many ways, the coaching job this year was his most outstanding.
Mike Reiss of the Boston Globe *and Tom Curran of the Providence Journal * report that the Patriots stayed in-house and promoted Pees from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator. The 56-year-old Pees replaces Eric Mangini, who was hired as head coach of the New York Jets. Pees will be the Patriots' third defensive coordinator in three years, following Mangini and Romeo Crennel. The decision to stay within the organization and hire a coach with knowledge of the team's defensive system and personnel is a good one, according to one Patriots player. ''Dean Pees will fit the mold, the Team Belichick style," said linebacker Don Davis. ''Guys have been around Dean, and I think that's good. Guys will respond well to him."
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes that yhe first few minutes of Eric Mangini's first news conference as the head coach of the New York Jets might turn out to be the most nerve-racking moments of his tenure, but the former defensive coordinator of the Patriots looked very much in control yesterday, vowing to build the New York Jets into an organization that will contend for the Super Bowl championship. Mangini, who turns 35 tomorrow, signed a five-year deal with the Jets at a rate of more than $2 million per season, which was south of the $3 million he was seeking. The length of the deal is a sign that the Jets are willing to grow with Mangini, now the youngest head coach in the NFL.
John Tomase of the Boston Herald writes that when word dropped last week that Patriots defensive coordinator Eric Mangini would likely become head coach of the New York Jets, safety Artrell Hawkins searched the locker room for a replacement. His eyes stopped on Dean Pees. Yesterday the Patriots came to the same conclusion, promoting Pees to defensive coordinator after just two seasons as linebackers coach. "I thought it would be him, just because of his knowledge," Hawkins said of the 33-year coaching veteran. "He has a really good defensive mind. He was the logical choice from the staff." The 56-year-old Pees replaces Mangini, who spent just one season as defensive coordinator before joining the Jets yesterday. Pees has a history in Bill Belichick's defensive system that extends to the mid-90s, thanks to three years as Nick Saban's defensive coordinator at Michigan State.
Michael Felger of the Boston Herald writes that it took all of 62 minutes for the Pats to do it yesterday, moving with unprecedented speed and public acknowledgement in naming linebackers coach Dean Pees as their new defensive coordinator just after Mangini took the podium to accept the Jets' head coaching job. Don't be surprised if it turns out to be an upgrade. If the Pats add the right personnel in the secondary this spring, they'll probably be better no matter who is calling the signals.
Ian Clark of the Union Leader writes that there was a lot to build on from this season for the New England Patriots. But ultimately, the final goal was not realized and that means that next season begins now. Head coach Bill Belichick and his staff will now undertake the long process of preparing for the 2006 campaign. On the to-do list will be self-scouting of current players on the roster, assessing free agents around the NFL and doing the prep work for April's college draft. "Some things will have to happen in different time frames," Belichick said Sunday. "It's really hard to predict how the first few days at the end of the season will go. So we'll just kind of take it as it comes, but it'll take a little while here just to kind of clean up things and get reorganized and make sure we have all of the information we need to try to get everything in place so we can analyze it. It's been a long year."
Michael Felger of the Boston Herald offers his Patriots report card. The Patriots' 27-13 defeat to the Broncos in the divisional playoffs did not signal the end of a championship era. If Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli can regain their personnel touch and add the right pieces this offseason, it will merely represent a blip. Even if Belichick and Pioli have a mediocre offseason, the Pats will remain the favorite in the AFC East.
Tony Massarotti of the Boston Herald writes that Bill Belichick runs the Patriots, through and through, no matter who stays and no matter who goes. And as long as that is true, as long as Belichick oversees the on-field operations here in New England, the Patriots will remain a feeding ground for the other franchises in the NFL. Before and during the 2005 season, the Patriots faced nearly every challenge a team could face. They had to replace both coordinators. Belichick's father died. Corey Dillon ran like Marion Butts and Ted Johnson retired. Rodney Harrison blew out his knee. Richard Seymour, Tedy Bruschi and Matt Light all missed significant time to injuries. At times, the Pats played worse defense than the Bruins. In the end, the Pats came within one uncharacteristically sloppy game of hosting the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium this weekend, an astonishing fact given the obstacles along the way. Is the loss of a defensive coordinator really going to matter that much?
John Tomase of the Boston Herald writes that Eric Mangini dispelled rumors of a rift yesterday saying that head coach Bill Belichick encouraged him to become head coach of the New York Jets. Mangini accepted the job Monday and held his introductory press conference yesterday at the Jets' training facility in Hempstead, N.Y. He said that Belichick never tried to talk him out of accepting. "It never got to that point," Mangini said. "Bill and I are the best of friends. We had a late conversation last night. He really wants what's best for me and my family. Bill always encourages me to take advantage of good situations."
Tom Curran of the Providence Journal offers his daily sports blog with Patriots notes and commentary.