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SUPER BOWL XXXIX Staff rebuild will be Pats' top task



Published: Tue, February 8, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Deion Branch needed just five little words to explain why the New England Patriots have won three of the last four Super Bowls.

Asked Monday if he had any thoughts of leaving the team when he becomes a restricted free agent, the Super Bowl MVP replied: "My home is in Foxboro."

Then, referring to team owner Robert Kraft, Branch added: "I'm proud of the family that Mr. Kraft has built."

An emphasis on winning over money is what drives the Patriots to success in an era when free agency and the salary cap force major turnover with most teams each season.

Next season's Patriots certainly will be different. The biggest losses are not players but coaches: offensive coordinator Charlie Weis is the new head coach at Notre Dame, and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel is going to Cleveland.

A great run

As the Patriots' 24-21 win over Philadelphia was ending, coach Bill Belichick put his arms around his two top aides in a gesture of affection and appreciation.

They will be hard to replace.

"Romeo and Charlie have done a great job. A lot of the success we've had should go to them," Belichick said Monday. "I've been with them both a long time. I go back to 1981 with Romeo, and I'll miss both of them a lot."

The Patriots might, too.

Next season, they will seek to become the first team to win three straight Super Bowls and the first to win four in five seasons.

The San Francisco 49ers came closest, winning the 1989 and 1990 Super Bowls, then losing the next NFC championship game on a last-second field goal to the New York Giants.

That New York team, which went on to beat Buffalo in the 1991 Super Bowl, had a coaching staff headed by Bill Parcells and included Belichick, Crennel and Weis, along with future NFL head coaches Tom Coughlin, Al Groh and Ray Handley.

Reload, not rebuild

Belichick's first order of business, therefore, is rebuilding his coaching staff, although he will take at least a week off, traveling to California for the AT & amp;T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

Most of the core players, however, should be back, although some are getting up there in age, notably linebacker Willie McGinest and safety Rodney Harrison, both of whom have played major roles in the team's success. Harrison, who had two interceptions in Sunday's game, will turn 33 next December, when McGinest will turn 34.

One member of the Patriots unlikely to return is cornerback Ty Law, who missed the second half of the season with a broken foot after quarreling with the team over his contract in training camp.

And while Belichick indicated that the team will spend the next few weeks renegotiating contracts for salary-cap purposes, Law's deal is unlikely to be among them. With rookie Randall Gay and second-year player Asante Samuel at cornerback, the Patriots obviously did well without him; after Eugene Wilson left the Super Bowl just before halftime with an arm injury, they played the second half with Harrison as the only regular starter in the secondary.

That's how the Patriots work -- they always find someone to fill in without losing a step.




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