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Bill Belichick came a long way from rocky start with Patriots

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With Drew Bledsoe as his quarterback, Bill Belichick (left) started 0-4 in 2000, on the way to a 5-11 season.Jim Davis

There was a nice little exchange when Bill Belichick was interviewed on "Dale and Holley" Wednesday and was reminded that Jan. 27 was the date he was hired by the Patriots back in 2000. It's been kind of a rough week for the Hoodie, but he got a little nostalgic at this reminder, calling it "one of the best days of my life.''

Most Patriots fans no doubt would make the same statement. Belichick coming to the Patriots as head coach goes down as one of the most important transactions in the history of New England sports.

It reminded me of what it was like around here in 2000 and what Belichick was like in those early days.


Bill Belichick as Cleveland Browns head coach in 1991.AP/Associated Press

The Patriots were trending downward. They'd gone to the Super Bowl under Bill Parcells in the 1996 season (with Belichick as assistant head coach), but the Tuna took his talents to the Jersey Turnpike and Bob Kraft hired Pete Carroll to coach the Patriots. Under Carroll, the Patriots won 10, then nine, then eight games. They did not make the playoffs in Carroll's last year. So he was fired and Belichick was hired.

It was not a smooth transition. Remember? The Jets thought Belichick was their property, and there were lawsuits, and the commissioner (Paul Tagliabue) was called in, and the Patriots conducted phony interviews with the likes of Marvin Lewis and Dom Capers while they wrestled with the Jets for the right to bring the Hoodie to Foxborough.

The coveted Belichick had gone 36-44 in five seasons as head coach of the Cleveland Browns. His only playoff win was against Parcells's Patriots on Jan. 1, 1995.

Belichick's first year in New England was hardly a turnaround season. It was quite the opposite. The Patriots started 0-4 and finished 5-11. This means that Belichick's career record was 41-55 in his first six seasons as an NFL head coach.


Here are some interview snippets and takeaways from my personal clip file from Belichick's not-so-great first year as head coach in Foxborough:

Belichick, June 2000: "You get into the season and you're sitting there at some point in time which could be a window for you. You could maybe take 45 minutes and go down and work out. Maybe you could shave. You haven't watched the news in three weeks. But then you're saying, 'You know, if I just look at this reel on Jerome Pathon, maybe this will help Otis Smith and maybe this will help us win.' So you take that extra 45 minutes and plug it into something you think might actually make a difference. Then you get beat, 31-6, and you look back and say, 'What the hell was I thinking?' ''

Here's Belichick in the 2000 preseason, speaking to his players before setting them free for a two-day weekend: "Take a knee and listen. Be careful what you do with this time off. If you want to be an [expletive], go ahead. If you want to hang out with [expletives], go ahead and do that. But I don't want to be reading about anything in the papers Sunday morning. I don't want any stories that some tough guy tossed a drink in your girlfriend's face and wanted to fight, or that the bouncer was a jerk. Now go have a nice weekend.''


Belichick's first win as Patriot head coach was Oct. 1, 2000, in Denver. He got a game ball and said, "If my kids don't get hold of it, it'll probably go on my mantel.''

It was the Patriots' first win in Denver since 1968. It was Belichick's first win as a head coach since December of 1995, but he told the New England media, "Actually, I coached a win in the Pro Bowl last year.''

While the Patriots were in Denver for Belichick's breakthrough win in 2000, former Boston Patriot quarterback Babe Parilli — who had worked for the Broncos when young Billy Belichick was on the staff in 1978 — recalled, "What he did for us was film practice and he hated it. He was bad at it, too. We could never see anything on the films he took. But you could tell he wanted to be a head coach. When he got his first break with the Browns, he sent me a pair of shoes.''

Six weeks after Belichick's win in Denver, he returned to Cleveland and watched his awful Patriots lose a fourth straight game to drop to 2-8. It was a low point in that first year.

Here's how one Boston columnist (OK, it was me) reviewed the Cleveland debacle: "It's been 10 painful weeks and there is nothing left to say other than the once-unthinkable refrain: 'Bring back Pete Carroll.' . . . The wreck of the SS Robert Kraft washed up on the shores of Lake Erie yesterday and it was an ugly sight. This must be the bottom. Your Super Bowl team of 1996 officially plunged to the nadir, losing to a second-year team that had dropped seven straight games and hadn't scored a touchdown since Oct. 15 . . . We are back to the days of Clive Rush and Rod Rust. The Patriots have lost 14 of their last 18 football games. Bill Belichick was in charge of bringing respectability back to New England football, but right now fans would settle for a little dignity, which was in short supply on Bloody Sunday in Ohio.''


Three weeks later, after the Patriots beat a bad Chiefs team on "Monday Night Football," I wrote, "It was depressing to see how far the Patriots have fallen and to know that all of America was in on the joke. Those Monday Night Tuna Bowls with the Jets seem so far away . . . Patriot fans have proven to be a patient lot this year. The anger and outrage fostered by the Pete Carroll era have given way to benign acceptance of a losing team under Belichick . . . Last night the whole country saw how things have deteriorated, and it may be a long time before the people from 'Monday Night Football' return.''

The Patriots won their first Super Bowl 14 months later and haven't had trouble attracting prime-time games over the last 15 seasons.

Bill Belichick recovered from his Cleveland experience and recovered from his first season in New England, and something tells me he will recover nicely from a hurtful and controversial loss in the AFC Championship game at Denver last Sunday.


Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy @globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Shaughnessy