Pepper Johnson has been linked to Bill Belichick for most of his career in professional football.
As a player, Johnson played for three teams that featured Belichick on their staff. After retirement, Johnson did a coaching fellowship with the Patriots in 2000 and remained with the team until last month as a defensive assistant working with linebackers and defensive linemen. Johnson was hired by the Bills as a defensive line coach as they rebuilt their defensive staff after Mike Pettine left for Cleveland and took several assistants with him.
During an interview with John Murphy on the Bills website, Johnson explained that one of the reasons for breaking the long-standing relationship was because he felt he needed to get out from under Belichick’s tutelage.
“My legs are still shaking a little bit,” Johnson said. “But I’m excited, I’m so excited. I have always been a fan of Doug [Marrone] and the Buffalo Bills, and just 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.”
Johnson called an eventual move to defensive coordinator “a dream of mine,” but was passed over in favor of Matt Patricia in New England and appears to feel that a lateral move now is the best way to set up a move up the ladder down the road.