Pepper Johnson indicated Tuesday that coaching in New England was sapping his passion for the game.
In a 20-minute interview with John Murphy on Bills.com, the former Patriots assistant was asked about his relationship with Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.
“I appreciate everything,” Johnson said after Murphy mentioned the laudatory statement Belichick issued last week after Johnson left the team. “That was Bill Belichick as a friend. That was my friend who patted me on the back and shook my hand. Twenty-seven years of knowing the guy and 26 years – 13 as a player and 13 coaching – you kind of grow a connection, there’s definitely a love and I don’t even have to mention the respect that I have for him.
“It was tough for him (and tough for) me to walk away but at the same token he knows the passion that I have for the game and I could not do that there with the Patriots,” Johnson professed. “I needed to come out here and bring a Super Bowl championship to Buffalo.”
Johnson, most recently the Patriots linebackers coach, will coach the Bills’ defensive line. He’ll be coaching alongside former Lions head coach Jim Schwartz, the Bills new defensive coordinator.
Johnson was asked if he hoped to run his own defense.
“I would love to,” he said. “In a sense, those 13 years I played in the NFL I graduated to calling a lot of defenses and running our defense. It’s a dream of mine, it’s a goal of mine but right now I have to deal with this defensive line.”
The 49-year-old Johnson was passed over for the defensive coordinator spot in New England after Dean Pees left following the 2009 season. Matt Patricia was the de facto defensive coordinator in 2010 and 2011 and given the title to go with the job in 2012.
Johnson said he proposed taking over as linebackers coach after the 2011 season.
“I thought we just needed another push from the linebackers,” Johnson said. “That communication-wise and experience (wasn’t there.) Coach Belichick thought it was a great move for us.”
Belichick released a statement last week after Johnson stepped down, saying, “I am proud and honored to have spent more years of my career with Pepper Johnson than any other player or coach. Of all the people I coached or worked with, nobody has more passion and love for the game than Pepper. His energy and wisdom for football knows no limits. Pepper made me a better coach and person and helped create some of the greatest moments of my career. He is a great player, coach and lifelong friend and I am sure he will enjoy continued success as he moves forward."
While Johnson makes it very clear he valued his time with Belichick, the lack of advancement appears to have prompted his move. Johnson said he was “excited” that he would be “getting the opportunity to spread my wings, and to get up from under the shadow of Coach Belichick. So it’s a good thing, a good opportunity.”