Weis and Crennel leave Patriots on top

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It will be the lasting image of Super Bowl XXXIX, a reminder that nothing lasts forever, that all things must end.

As time ticked away on the New England Patriots' third title in four years, head coach Bill Belichick and his lieutenants, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, shared a special moment, the kind you'd like to see frozen in time. Their time together is over now, as Crennel is about to officially be named head coach of the Cleveland Browns, and Weis having already accepted the head coaching job at Notre Dame.

Belichick and Crennel coached together for 10 years with the Giants, three with the Jets, and five with the Patriots (1996 and the last four). Belichick and Weis were colleagues with the Giants for a season, the Jets for three, and New England for six (1996 and the last five). The three wise men worked all together on the same staffs for nine years.

Once Crennel's defense secured a 24-21 win over the Philadelphia Eagles, Belichick, Weis, and "RAC," as he is known, embraced on the Alltel Stadium sideline, with Belichick in the middle. The Patriots for weeks now have been bracing for the inevitable loss of Weis and Crennel.

Belichick thanked his top assistants for their years of service at his side.

"It was really, really nice … something we'll always treasure," Weis said.

"It was the last time we'll be coaching together. Potentially the last time we'll be coaching together. It felt kind of different and strange. But if you have to go out, to go out a winner in the Super Bowl, that's a real special feeling."

The group hug, for sure, was bittersweet. It has been a Smartie's candy type of postseason for the staff, which could potentially lose linebackers coach Dean Pees, defensive line coach Pepper Johnson, and/or defensive backs coach Eric Mangini this offseason. All have been mentioned as candidates to be coordinators elsewhere.

"That's the first of many [moments] here in the next 24 hours," Weis said. "It was bittersweet with Bill and Romeo, bittersweet with Tommy. It was even bittersweet with my wife and son there. I mean, this is the end of my NFL career. There are a lot of people who take jobs to set themselves up for the next job. That's not what I'm doing. I've already set myself up for the next job."

"We've been together for a long time," Crennel said, "not only as coaches but as friends. Finality. It kind of hits you. But this game is a game of change. Players change, coaches change, you have to move on and move forward."

Weis broke into the NFL in 1990 with the Giants. Almost a decade earlier (1981) Crennel broke in with New York. It took him nearly a quarter century of working as a pro assistant to finally break through the glass ceiling and get a promotion.

Cleveland president John Collins contacted Crennel's agent, Joe Linta, almost immediately after the game to inform him that the Browns wanted to hire his client. Minutes later, Collins reached Crennel during the postgame celebration and offered the job.

Crennel, of course, accepted. Linta will travel to Cleveland on Monday to begin negotiating the contract. Crennel is to depart for Cleveland on Tuesday. Actually, he's going back. The irony in all this is that it was Crennel's departure from the Browns upon Butch Davis's arrival (he was Chris Palmer's d-coordinator for the 2000 season) that cleared the way for him to join the Patriots again in the first place.

The league made Crennel wait a while for his opportunity, and a good coach and good man, by all accounts, is coming to Cleveland.

"He's got a lot of passion and a lot of integrity, and he's a hell of a human being," said Patriots outside linebacker Mike Vrabel, who, as a native of Akron, Ohio, grew up a Browns fan. "Coaching aside, he's a man that can be trusted and can be talked to. We're going to miss him. Cleveland is going to get an unbelievable human being.

"He brings instant credibility. He's got five Super Bowl rings. Those guys will play for him. I promise you."

If you're only as good as your last performance, the Patriots' coordinators deserve to take a bow. Weis' play calling kept the Eagles off balance for most of the night, mainly because his offense was so balanced: Brady handed off 28 times and went back to throw 35 times.

Brady got the ball to seven receivers, with 11 completions to MVP Deion Branch. Corey Dillon ran for 75 yards and Kevin Faulk 38. New England hurt Philly with screens to both backs and intermediate throws to Branch. Once the Patriots went to a spread formation, Brady was better able to identify from where the Eagles' pressure was coming -- and exploit it.

Crennel's plan counted on the corners to handle Philly's receivers, allowing the front seven to keep containment on Donovan McNabb and key on Brain Westbrook. Instead of playing their base 3-4, the Patriots played mostly 4-3, but featuring five linebackers and two true d-linemen on the interior. Linebackers Willie McGinest and Rosevelt Colvin played end.

In the end, the schemes set by Crennel and Weis worked the way they usually have: well. Over the years they've worked so well, in fact, to where next year, the two of them will be working elsewhere.

It's just that now, finally, they'll have people working for them.

Michael Smith is a senior writer for ESPN.com.