This week the coaching carousel hit Los Angeles, with Chargers coach Brendon Staley getting the axe after getting demolished by the Las Vegas Raiders 63-21. It was 42-0 at the half, and if he could, I’m sure the owner would have fired him at halftime. What makes it even more ironic is that the Raiders were held scoreless the week before, against the Vikings. This has been long overdue.
Staley wasn’t the first firing of the season, that accomplishment actually went to Raiders HC Josh McDaniels. He won’t be the last. There are a ton of head coaches on the chopping block. The Bears have two of the top five picks in the year’s draft, and HC Matt Eberflus will likely be gone. Commanders HC Ron Rivera won’t be back. All three of New York’s head coaches may be gone.
And then there are the interim coaches, who’ll most likely be replaced in Carolina and Las Vegas. Needless to say, this offseason will have it’s annual round of coaching musical chairs.
There’s another team that will create a ton of news when they relieve their head coach of his duties, the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick. There’s an expression that says “A man with a reputation as an early riser, can stay in late every day.” This basically means that when someone gets a reputation for something it sticks with them no matter what.
Bill Belichick has built an image as being a great coach that many say makes him the G.O.A.T of coaches. His longevity, win total, overall record, and championships have built that reputation…but is it accurate?
The reality is that Bill belichcick was a losing coach in Cleveland, a losing coach in New England pre-Tom Brady, and a losing coach in New England, post-Tom Brady. And the sample size is fairly large. It is quite evident that Tom Brady made Belichick, and if Mo Lewis didn’t knock former QB Drew Bledsoe out on a fateful Sunday in the Fall of 2001, Bill Belichick’s head coaching career would have most likely ended in New England, and for good.
It was his second shot as a head coach, and most don’t get a third shot if they failed in their first two. His first year in New England was 5-11, and he started the 2001 season 0-2. He was 5-13 before Brady took the field, and the team was headed for what looked to be another losing campaign which surely would have led being fired at the of owner Robert Kraft.
Speaking of Robert Kraft, I think of his reputation now, too. He built his reputation as one of the smartest and best owners in the NFL…but is he? He bought the team for far too much money. He inherited former HC Bill Parcells. His meddling forced Parcells out the door, ending in a famous press conference where Parcells said, If they want you to cook the meal, they should at least let you buy the groceries”.
This past week in New England, America’s Game, the Army/Navy Game, was played at Gillette Stadium. During a pregame show, Kraft was interviewed. He was asked what made him so successful with the Patriots and his other businesses. He cited a few things, one being loyalty, mentioning that his HC was the longest tenured coach, in his 24 season.
While this is true, it is a tad disingenuous and inaccurate. If we look at Kraft’s track record, the facts just don’t match the rhetoric. I have a feeling that current Seahawks and former Pats HC Pete Carroll would have something to say about that.
After Kraft couldn’t coexist with Parcells, he hired Pete Carroll. Carroll only lasted three seasons with the Patriots, never having a losing season. His three seasons were 10-6, 9-7, and 8-8…granted they were progressing in a downward trend, but they were more than respectable. Yet, Kraft fired him anyway…not the stuff of loyalty.
Then, towards the end of Tom Brady’s accomplishments with the team, bringing Kraft six championships, he couldn’t keep his All-World QB happy, forcing him to seek greener pastures. This alone belies the claims that he’s a great businessman and negotiator. He effectively chose Bill Belichick over Tom Brady, not that Brady gave any ultimatums. This also puts Kraft’s judgment into question.
Kraft cannot have it both ways. He wants to come off as the nice guy who values loyalty, then when the team has its first really awful season in over two decades he’s assuredly going to cut bait with his head coach. Anyone can be loyal during good times…loyalty only shows itself during bad times.
The other notion that neither Belichick nor Kraft truly believe is doing what is best for the team. The list of Belichick not doing what was best for the team is too long to write. A short list of greatest hits: driving Brady out of town, benching Malcom Butler during a Super Bowl, going for first down on fourth and two against the Colts, drafting N’Keal Harry with WRs like Deebo Samuel and DK Metcalf available, not re-signing Jakobi Meyers, but then using that money to sign JuJu Smith-Schuster, and most recently making Matt Patricia and Joe Judge offensive coordinators.
Kraft has been one of the lowest spending owners in the league, yet he spent $250 million to renovate the stadium. He has Belichick under contract through next season in the $25M range (another example of poor judgment). The best thing for the team may be to cut ties with him, but my bet is that Kraft won’t just fire him because of that contract. Kraft will never just eat $25 million.
This gives Belichick all the leverage. As a coach, he can be traded, but it has to be to a place he wants to go. If he vetoes the location there is no trade. He can force Kraft to either stay, or be paid his entire remaining money. Kraft has used the term, elegant solution. But make no mistake about this, he botched the situation with Tom Brady, and he’s about to botch the situation with Belichick.
For Kraft’s sake, he’d better hope that Belichick wants to go elsewhere and will agree to go. There has been speculation for awhile as to where Belichick will end up…it’s almost become a drinking game.
Even before the firing of Brandon Staley, there has been chatter that Belichick will end up in Los Angeles. He’ll be 72 years old next year and clearly wants to hang on to break Don Schula’s wins record. He cannot afford to enter a situation requiring a rebuild. Therefore, it must be a ready made team capable of making a playoff run, with Super Bowl aspirations.
The Chargers fit the bill perfectly. They have a great yet underachieving QB, in Justin Herbert. And they have a ton of weapons on each side of the ball. And unless the Cowboys or Bills part ways with the head coaches, the Chargers are the perfect landing spot. So the question remains, will it be Hollywood or bust for Belichick? Is he a Los Angeles guy? Will La La Land embrace the curmudgeon of a coach?
One thing is clear, Belichick is the last of his breed, for better or worse. He is the last link of the old NFL. Although Pete Carroll is older, and Andy Reid isn’t that far away, they both have seemed to meld into this new brand of football, and its players. Belichick has never really changed, and it is that rigidness which may have led to his demise and reputation. You know what they say about old dogs and new tricks…hopefully for Belichick he can find a solid closing act to his long career.