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Pepper Johnson wanted to leave Bill Belichick’s ‘shadow’

Pepper Johnson

Stephan Savoia/AP

Pepper Johnson

Longtime Patriots assistant coach Pepper Johnson, who left the team last month, has been hired by the Bills as their defensive line coach under new coordinator Jim Schwartz.

Johnson appeared on the Bills-affiliated Bill Murphy Show on Tuesday night, and among other things said the time was right to move on to a new opportunity, away from Belichick, whom he’d played for on three different teams and coached under since 2000.

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“My legs are still shaking a little bit. But I’m excited; I’m so excited,” Johnson said. “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 said in the interview he began thinking about coaching when he was playing at Ohio State, though initially he wanted to coach at his Detroit high school alma mater. But after his NFL career ended, he took part in the league’s Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Fellowship under Belichick, and remained with the Patriots’ coach for well over a decade.

But moving on was necessary, Johnson said. In New England, he was passed over a couple of times for the coordinator job, most recently in 2012 when Matt Patricia was given the title. Johnson admitted that part of his departure from the Patriots was because of his desire to run a defense someday - something which wasn’t likely to happen had he stayed in New England.

“I’m a very ambitious person,” Johnson said. “I moved around a little bit when I was there with New England, starting off with the linebackers ... then I graduated to coaching inside linebackers and took the linebackers over, and then eventually the defensive line. I went back to linebackers last year.”

As for becoming a coordinator, “I would love to. In a sense, those 13 years that I played in the NFL, I graduated to calling a lot of the defenses [on the field] and having the responsibility of running our defense, and being an extension of the head coach on the sideline.

“It’s a dream of mine and a goal of mine, but right now, I have to deal with this defensive line.”

Belichick released a statement upon Johnson’s departure that read, “Of all the people I coached or worked with, nobody has more passion and love for the game than Pepper . . . Pepper made me a better coach and person and helped create some of the greatest moments of my career.”

When Belichick’s statement was read to him, Johnson said with a laugh, “That’s a guy we’re going to beat next year — twice.”

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