MIAMI – Lawyer Milloy was all set to talk about his future. Robert Kraft wanted to talk about the future of his franchise.
It was January 2000 and Milloy was coming off a terrific season personally — the hard-hitting safety had been named a first-team All-Pro and had just returned from his second straight Pro Bowl.
The Patriots, however, were coming off a disappointing season, having finished 8-8 and missing the postseason for the first time in four years.
An impending free agent, Milloy was looking for a new contract. Kraft was looking for a new coach after dismissing Pete Carroll.
“Mr. Kraft actually asked me to come down to his Boston office — I thought it was to talk about my situation,’’ Milloy recalled Friday.
What Kraft really wanted was a scouting report on Bill Belichick, the man he had targeted to take over his football team.
“I think he was the candidate that Kraft was really, really high on out of all the candidates that were out there,’’ said Milloy. “He wanted to know about my history with him because he was my [defensive backs] coach my rookie year under [Bill] Parcells.’’
Milloy’s recommendation was glowing.
“The conversation was all about Bill and I just told him, ‘Whether or not I’m a Patriot [going forward], I think Bill is the guy for the job,’ ’’ said Milloy. “I told him that as a player, I never felt as prepared for a matchup on Sunday than I did under his tutelage because of his attention to detail in our DB room and the things that he had us doing as far as studying, doing tests on the opponent and things like that. I thought Bill deserved another shot.’’
After some protracted negotiations with the Jets, Belichick was traded to Patriots.
Though it’s marked by a simple line in the team’s media guide — “2000 Jan. 27: Patriots name Bill Belichick the 14th head coach in franchise history” — the ramifications of that transaction 20 years ago have been anything but simple.
At the time, it seemed the Patriots paid a high price to their archrivals to pry Belichick out of Gotham, but history has proven it to be one of the shrewdest deals of Kraft’s life — and perhaps the most lopsided trade in the annals of professional sports.
New England sent the 16th overall pick in the 2000 draft plus fourth- and seventh-rounders in 2001 in exchange for Belichick, a 2001 fifth-round pick, and a 2002 seventh-round selection.
Both teams shuffled those picks around, and the Jets ended up with Shaun Ellis, Jamie Henderson, and James Reed.
In addition to Belichick, the Patriots landed tight end Arther Love and kicker Owen Pochman, neither of whom ever played a game for the franchise — and that matters not one bit.
In getting Belichick, the Patriots landed not only the greatest coach in the history of the game, but also an architect who built a franchise model that is the gold standard of the NFL and the envy of every owner of every professional sports team in the world.
In 20 seasons, Belichick’s teams have run roughshod over the AFC East — and every other division, for that matter — earning nine trips to the Super Bowl, bringing home a half-dozen Vince Lombardi Trophies, tied for the most in league history.
Milloy, whom Belichick signed to a new deal shortly after taking over, remembers the culture change Belichick brought.
“All business — everybody sit in and do your job. It’s just the same message he’s had consistently for the last 25 years,’’ he said. “Guys were familiar with him, so they knew his demeanor, knew his personality, coaching style,’’ he said. “So, there wasn’t too much talk — it was just we were ready to get to work. We understood that there were going to be some changes as far as the atmosphere, whatever. Just more business-like atmosphere and when you’re losing and when there is change, I think we were mature enough as a nucleus to be ready for that kind of a change.’’
Though the Patriots struggled in Belichick’s first season, the seeds for future success were planted. Milloy said the veteran leaders recognized early on they’d soon be back to their winning ways.
“At the time, I think that we had a bunch of young guys that were in the system for a good four years — a good nucleus,’’ he said. “I think our 1996 draft class, obviously with me, [Adam] Vinatieri, Terry Glenn, adding on the Willie McGinest, Drew Bledsoe, Ty Law, Ted Johnson — I think we were just ready to win. We had experienced the Super Bowl our rookie year, went to the playoffs twice under Pete Carroll, and then all of a sudden we were out the year he got let go. So, Pete’s last year we did not make the playoffs, and we weren’t OK with that. So, it was an eager group that was ready to listen. There wasn’t too much debate and why they hired Bill. I think everybody already had respect for him.’’