By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — You never really know what you’re going to get when you log on to the internet every day. On Friday, it was a 6,400-word Q&A with Pepper Johnson posted on Deadspin that proved to be surprisingly entertaining.
The story — which sort of sprung up out of nowhere — covered a lot of ground, specifically the dysfunction of the New York Jets under owner Woody Johnson and head coach Todd Bowles. (Johnson was the Jets’ defensive line coach from 2015-16.)
But given Johnson’s ties to New England and Bill Belichick, there were a few parts that of course related to the Patriots. Johnson knows Belichick rather well, having played with him both as a member of the Giants, Browns and Jets while Belichick was either head coach or an assistant coach. Johnson also spent 14 years as an assistant coach on Belichick’s staff in New England, from 2000-13.
So the man knows quite a bit about Bill Belichick. And as part of the interview, Johnson was asked about the still-controversial decision of Belichick to bench Malcolm Butler in the Super Bowl. Johnson said he didn’t know what happened, but he believes Belichick must have had a reason.
“That’s one of those — like, I don’t know — but [Butler] had to have done something major that’s a no-no of Bill’s. He either missed a meeting, or, like, breaking curfew or something like that, or he had a girl in his room,” Johnson speculated. “I’m here to tell you, because a lot of people are like, ‘Aw, man, to lose the Super Bowl?’ Bill Belichick is not going to lose everything he stands for for that guy. If he can tell Randy Moss, Tom Brady, Richard Seymour, Tedy Bruschi, Willie McGinest, Corey Dillon, and none of those guys break the rules, then why should [he] say, ‘This guy broke it, but it’s the Super Bowl’? You’re getting ready to open up a dam.”
Johnson continued: “[Belichick likely thought] ‘We’re just going to have to figure out a way to win this without this dude, but the last thing I’m going to do is break everything that I’ve been doing for so long.’ I don’t know how many other veteran guys he has over there now, but when I was there, those guys wouldn’t have stood for it either. They would have all been okay with it too — like once again, Bruschi, and Vince [Wilfork], and Willie McGinest, those guys would have been chastising Butler themselves. Like, ‘how are you going to pick this week to mess it up?’ There’s a lot of other stories … similar situations where people acted out during the course of the week, and the players took it upon themselves.”
From there, Johnson got into what Belichick is like behind the scenes. Not surprisingly, Johnson said that Belichick is thinking about football at all times, in every scenario. And he also shared some tidbits about Belichick’s drinking habits.
“We would have a linebacker dinner [with the Giants], like, once a year. Harry [Carson] would talk Parcells into giving him some of the fine money. Parcells would give him some of the fine money and we’d go to Fuddruckers and everybody’d make a hamburger, and this, that, and the other. Even Belichick. Belichick came out, too,” Johnson said. “Belichick — he wouldn’t have more than three beers, and then he would go back to the office and go to work [laughs]. That’s that guy. He ended up switching over, when he started coaching the defensive backs, so Mark Collins and them would try to get him to go out and drink a beer. And that dude [Belichick] was drinking O’Doul’s. So we started clowning the defensive backs, like, ‘Man, ya’ll can’t even get Belichick to drink a beer? He’s going to drink O’Doul’s with ya’ll!’”
Johnson praised the way Belichick ran his coaching staff in New England, allowing all assistants to be heard when it comes to opinions and suggestions. He also said that Belichick would take his coaching staff out to dinner on occasion.
“Belichick would take us out. He would thank us. Most likely it was like a Ruth’s Chris or something like that,” Johnson said. “Now, have I ever seen Bill with two or three drinks? Yes. But I can’t say I’ve ever seen him — like, he’s not a lush. He came to [Lawrence Taylor]’s 56th birthday in New York; this was when I was coaching with the Jets. The first thing he says to me is something football-related, something LT did or he said — it was something football-related. This guy’s head, it never gets off of football. Like, here we are at LT’s birthday party and he’s still talking about football. … He’s loose. But his loose is probably not as loose as yours and mine. I can’t ever imagine Bill Belichick drinking a shot. But Bill Belichick would toast.”