NFL preview season is fraught with ridiculous projections, but the most absurd is that Bill Belichick could be coaching for his job this season.
The Hoodie on the hot seat? Please. The only folks entitled to more job security than Belichick sit on the Supreme Court. While the notion that Belichick could be fired if the Patriots miss the playoffs is more of a sports-radio talking point, that it’s even entertained reflects how spoiled we’ve become by the success of the Patriots since 2001.
The idea of the Krafts firing Belichick if this season goes south, like the team before its season opener in Miami, is preposterous. It would be a monumental mistake. He’s the Patriots brand at this point. You might as well put his saturnine face on the side of the helmets. He’s the source of belief and hope for so many Patriots fans. It would be bad business on the field and off to let a living legend synonymous with your success go.
The Patriots are still relevant nationally and revered regionally, and Belichick is the biggest reason. Despite going three years without a playoff win, they are slated to play five prime-time games this season, including four straight from Thanksgiving to Dec. 18. They will be just the third NFL team since 2000 to do that.
Certainly, this space has been critical of Belichick, entering his 23rd season as Patriots coach, in the past. The backdrop of the 2022 season is the 70-year-old Belichick inviting renewed scrutiny of his methods.
The plan — or lack of one — to replace Josh McDaniels as offensive play-caller is disconcerting. It has been a dominant story line as the Patriots offense has sputtered while adjusting to new coaches and new terminology. It has the potential to undermine the growth of second-year quarterback Mac Jones, which the rebuilding Patriots can’t afford.
The decision to employ a pair of failed head coaches with zero offensive play-calling experience in Matt Patricia and Joe Judge as the lead offensive coaches is unusual and unorthodox. It fosters skepticism, especially because it has come with little explanation or justification. The whole exercise carries a giant “In Belichick We Trust” label.
However, look at where the Patriots are post-Tom Brady. Other teams have wandered through the wilderness for years following the departure of a franchise quarterback. The Patriots missed the playoffs for one season and then were right back last year at 10-7 with a promising rookie quarterback. Most organizations would sign up for that.
The Hubris of the Hoodie can be problematic, especially as he ages. He has surrounded himself with buddies beholden to him on his coaching staff. He played a large role in alienating Brady, leading to his regrettable departure. He overestimated his genius thinking he could win with Cam Newton in 2020.
Yet, at the crux of any hiring or firing decision is the idea that there is someone better for the job. Who are the Patriots going to find that is better than Belichick, clearly the greatest coach of his generation and arguably the greatest ever?
Belichick is the MacGyver of NFL coaches. He can take whatever ordinary items are lying around and fashion them into winning football. He maximizes his team’s win total and talent. His mere presence is worth two wins per year.
Good luck replacing that.
The provenance of Belichick possibly courting a pink slip seems to stem from comments that Patriots owner Robert Kraft made at the NFL owners meetings in March. Kraft expressed dismay that the team hasn’t won a playoff game since Super Bowl LIII.
“I’m not happy that we haven’t won a playoff game in three years,” Kraft said. “I think about that a lot.”
A little public pressure and needling of Belichick is Kraft’s right, especially because Belichick is not always the most, uh, deferential employee. As a wise man once said, there’s a difference between owning and renting. Kraft owns the Patriots. Belichick’s plenipotentiary football power, which has produced six Super Bowl titles, is rented.
Yet it appears that some are ignoring another statement that Kraft made in that same address.
“Without a good coach and a good quarterback, no matter how good the other players are, I don’t think you can win consistently. Hopefully, I believe we have both — an outstanding coach and a good young prospect at quarterback.”
The hopeful part had more to do with the development of Jones than a lack of faith in Belichick, who has taken 19 teams to playoffs in his 28 seasons as an NFL head coach, equaling the record held by the late Don Shula.
Speaking of Shula, that’s another part of the equation with Belichick in his sunset phase.
When Belichick takes the field Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium against the franchise that Shula put on the football map, the Miami Dolphins, he will stand just 27 wins from surpassing Shula for the most by a coach in NFL history. Shula collected 347, including playoffs. Belichick has 321.
Belichick needs just four wins to pass George Halas (324) for second place, and with a 10-win season he can become just the third coach to accumulate 300 regular-season victories. If he were to do that, he would claim another record from Shula — most 10-win seasons. Both men have 20.
Belichick’s chase to catch Shula is both a point of pride for the Patriots and compelling theater. Passing on it when another Super Bowl title might not be immediately on the horizon makes little sense, as does cutting it short like the sleeves on one of Belichick’s hoodies by canning the canonized coach.
It wasn’t much fun watching Brady claim career passing records in a Tampa Bay Buccaneers uniform.
This is not to say that Belichick is infallible. Unlike some, I’ve never subscribed to that theory. But we seem to be lurching from one extreme to another.
If the Patriots have a 6-11 or 7-10 season, are there consequences? Yes. Do the Krafts tell Belichick he has to get more established help on his coaching staff? Yes. That’s reasonable change.
Firing Belichick after one bad season wouldn’t be reasonable. It would not be advisable. It would be ludicrous.
If anyone in the NFL has earned the right to decide when he’s done, it’s Belichick.