Pepper Johnson leaving Patriots

Longtime Patriots assistant coach Pepper Johnson, who has been with Bill Belichick for his entire tenure in New England, is leaving the organization.

"Today marks a new day for me," Johnson wrote in a statement. "Today is a new day full of promise and hope. It is also a day to reflect, as I embark upon a new journey. Today is the first day in 13 years that I am not a part of the New England Patriots, although I will always be a Patriot in my heart. Today also marks the first day in 26 years that I am not working in some capacity with one of greatest head coaches of all time, as well as my friend, Bill Belichick.

"Football is my life. From putting my body on the line, my hand in the dirt, to teaching others to do the same, this will continue for me ... I have big dreams and goals and they all involve football. So as I soak in this new day and embark on wherever my new path takes me, I shall embrace this new chapter in my life."

A five-time Super Bowl champion as a player and coach, Johnson garnered respect from players as one of the lone voices on the staff who had played in the NFL.

Johnson was the team's assistant linebackers coach in 2000, inside linebackers coach from 2001 to 2003, defensive line coach from 2004 to 2011, and linebackers coach the past two seasons.

Over that time, the Patriots had four defensive coordinators -- Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Dean Pees and Matt Patricia. In 2010, when the Patriots elevated Patricia to defensive coordinator, Johnson was also viewed as a strong in-house candidate.

"Pepper Johnson will always be a part of my family," Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfolk said. "[O]ne thing about football is the bonds you make that go beyond what team you work for. In my 10 years of being a [Patriot], he has always been a constant and a hell of a coach.

"But change is also a constant in life. All good things must come to an end. I wish him nothing but the best and I know he will continue to have an impact on football. It's been an honor to be with him my entire career."