Bill Belichick was asked again at a news conference Wednesday morning about his future with the New England Patriots – as if he’d suddenly spill the beans and blurt out that he planned to stop coaching them, or, perhaps planned to hoof it to another NFL team in 2024.
Asked if he’d talked this week about his job to the team’s owner, Robert Kraft, Belichick replied, “Yeah, I’m looking forward to working, getting ready for the Jets here.”
Don’t read too much into the word yeah, because Belichick often starts answers like that, as a way of simply acknowledging the question. Plus, reporters assigned to cover the Patriots must ask these questions, even though Belichick is virtually sure to sidestep them.
So it is likely that Belichick’s coaching future will still be a mystery when the woeful Patriots (4-12) play Sunday’s season finale at home against the almost-as-woeful New York Jets (6-10) – one of only two NFL games this weekend between two teams out of playoff contention.
Snow is in the forecast. Because people don’t go to football games to bid farewell to coaches, a ticket to the Patriots-Jets game on a resale site can be had for as low as $26. Belichick, 71, has never been much for pomp, but this would be a sad way for him to bow out.
Or, considering Belichick’s story arc, it might be the perfect ending.
Gary Myers, an author who was the longtime NFL columnist for the New York Daily News, thinks Belichick plans to keep coaching – somewhere else if not New England – because he wants to top Don Shula’s NFL record of 328 regular-season victories as head coach. And, Myers added, Belichick definitely wants to win a Super Bowl without Tom Brady at quarterback.
“Will it be in New England?” Myers told me. “It doesn’t look that way, but nothing would surprise me. Perhaps Kraft will give him an opportunity to present his plan to fix things before a decision is made.”
Belichick would be working with some difficult math. Belichick has 302 victories, and the Patriots would be rebuilding, so matching Shula would take him at least three or four years if Belichick stayed. Coaches of winning teams don’t tend to get fired, and energetic young head coaches in their 30s or 40s are in style.
Besides, the Patriots have posted losing records in four of their last five seasons, so the Hoodie has kind of lost his touch. It is hard for NFL fans outside New England to feel too bad for a taciturn (and, OK, rule-twisting) coach whose teams have won six Super Bowls.
On Tuesday, Belichick told Greg Hill on WEEI Radio in Boston, “Each week, [you] get ready to go for that week, do the best you can to help your team win, and after that game move on to the next one. And at the end of the season, that’s the end of the season.”
He added, “I’m committed to the team that I’m coaching right now, the players that are here. They deserve my best every day, and that’s what I’m going to give them.”
He has not changed much. Twenty-nine years ago this week, I was sent to Cleveland to do a story on Belichick and the Browns, who’d won 11 of 16 regular-season games in 1994 before dispatching the Patriots, coached by his mentor, Bill Parcells, in a muddy playoff game.
“My job is to win,” he told me. “I’m not worried about popularity contests, or whatever.”
That turned out to be the only playoff game the Browns won in his five seasons as their head coach. The 1994 season would also be their only season with a winning record. So Belichick was cast aside, moving on to New England as an assistant under Parcells.
Parcells took him to the Jets when Parcells became their head coach in 1997, hand-picking Belichick as his replacement after he stepped down in 1999. But Belichick lasted one day on the job, scrawling a letter with the infamous line, “I resign as HC of the NYJ.”
The columnist Filip Bondy told his readers in the New York Daily News not to get worked up over Belichick’s abrupt and bizarre departure, writing, “He is, after all, a mere defensive coordinator who suffered four losing seasons out of five in Cleveland. He is not Lombardi.”
Quite uncharacteristically, Belichick rambled for nearly an hour at a surreal news conference that followed his completely unexpected resignation.
On one hand, he was concerned about his family life. On the other hand, uncertainty over the Jets’ new ownership had caused him to take the open head coaching job at New England. Browns owner Art Modell fired Belichick after announcing that he was moving the Browns to Baltimore to become the Ravens. Belichick, it was said, detested Modell.
Here is the interesting part, some 24 years later: the Jets were to be purchased by either James Dolan, the cable-TV titan who owns the Knicks and Rangers, or by the pharmaceutical baron, Robert Wood Johnson. Belichick was encountering more front-office uncertainty.
Woody Johnson ended up winning that battle, shelling out $635m for a franchise now estimated to be worth more than $6bn. The Patriots won all of those Super Bowls under Belichick – although it needs to be pointed out that Brady had a great deal to do with that.
“I covered Belichick in 1995 for the Akron Beacon Journal,” Bart Hubbuch, an old colleague of mine, texted me this week. “He was pleasant to me at first because I was replacing one of his mortal enemies, but after Modell announced the move in November, he and the entire organization went to war with the Cleveland media.
“I had no dealings with him again until I started covering the NFL for the New York Post in 2010, and by then, he was in full ‘impossible’ mode – especially with the New York media. I hated dealing with the modern Belichick. He’s just a miserable, vindictive person who went out of his way to make our jobs as difficult as possible. Having Brady really went to his head, because Belichick’s record without Brady really shows he is a mediocre coach, at best, who lucked into a generational talent.”
Woody Johnson’s ownership has been a dud. The Jets have not made the playoffs in 13 years, the longest current streak in the four major North American pro sports leagues. Somehow making it worse, they have lost their last 15 games to the Patriots.
So Belichick has his own streak to extend Sunday, even if most of the NFL’s attention will be elsewhere. Remember, even if it is the bitter end, the coach who is considered by Myers to be the best ever in the NFL wants to give his best effort to his team.
“People want to give all the credit to Brady now, but that’s based more on what’s happened since they split in 2020,” Myers said. “Belichick drafted him in the sixth round when nobody else wanted him and then developed Brady into a Super Bowl champion.”