The New England Patriots will see a whole slew of familiar faces this week in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., and not just because they played the Houston Texans twice last season.
The Texans, hosting the Patriots for two joint practices at The Greenbrier resort, currently employ five coaches who either played for or coached under New England coach Bill Belichick in the past.
That connection starts right at the top with Texans head coach Bill O’Brien, who spent five seasons on Belichick’s staff, rising from offensive assistant in 2007 to offensive coordinator in 2011.
“We have a lot of respect for Bill and his coaching staff, this football team, the program he runs,” Belichick told reporters in West Virginia before Tuesday’s practice. “A tremendous amount of respect.”
Belichick used the same phrase to describe his relationship with another former colleague, Romeo Crennel, who currently serves as O’Brien’s assistant head coach/defense.
Belichick and Crennel first worked together in 1981, when the latter joined the New York Giants’ staff as a special teams coach. Twenty years later, Belichick hired Crennel as his defensive coordinator in New England, and the pair won three Super Bowls together.
“I go all the way back 35 years with Romeo and several different organizations,” Belichick told reporters. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Romeo as a person, coach, leader. He’s really a great friend and a great coach. He did a lot for my coaching career. I’m glad I had an opportunity to coach with him as much as I did. He helped me a lot.”
Houston’s staff also features three former Patriots players: defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel, special teams coordinator Larry Izzo and offensive/special teams assistant Wes Welker, who is entering his first season as a full-time coach.
Vrabel, a former linebacker who often was used at tight end, as well, played seven seasons in New England, winning three Super Bowls and earning first-team All-Pro honors during the Patriots’ undefeated 2007 regular season. One year after his retirement in 2010, he began coaching at his alma mater, Ohio State, which didn’t surprise Belichick one bit.
“He loved football,” Belichick told reporters. “He practiced and played hard. He was a pleasure to coach. A great football mind. He’s got a lot going for him.”
Izzo, a special teams ace during his playing days, was a two-time All-Pro in New England and another key member of the Patriots’ first three championship teams. He joined O’Brien’s staff last season after five years as a Giants assistant.
Welker, though he never hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, was tremendously productive during his six seasons under Belichick’s tutelage. Five years after leaving New England, he still holds franchise records for receptions (672) and receiving yards per game (80.2).
“I think all those guys — Wes, Larry, Mike — are all players that I’ve had that were as hard-working players as I’ve coached, that love the game, that were grinders, that have that coach’s mentality, which is be early, stay late, put in a lot of extra time, do your dirty work,” Belichick told reporters. “They’ve all started at the bottom and worked their way up.
“I think Bill has an outstanding staff. I know those guys personally, and I have a ton of respect for them.”
Thumbnail photo via Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports Images