New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft will cringe when he turns on the TV — or perhaps even looks at the other Gillette Stadium sideline — and sees Bill Belichick wearing a ratty sweatshirt with another team’s colors.
But he has bigger things to worry about now.
The Patriots need a coach for the first time in almost a quarter century, and they need so much more, too: Belichick’s failure to develop a quarterback to replace Tom Brady — and surround him with talent — is the biggest reason for the struggles that led to a 4-13 record this season and the end of the Belichick era in New England.
“This is a move that we mutually agreed that is needed at this time,” Kraft said in a media availability on Thursday. “I thank coach Bill for his hard work and dedication. It’ll be difficult to see him in a cutoff hoodie on the (opposing) sideline, but I will always continue to wish him continued success — except when he’s playing our beloved Patriots.”
Belichick is the most successful coach in the Super Bowl era, with six NFL championships, nine conference titles and 17 AFC East wins in a 19-year span. His 332 victories is second all-time only to Don Shula.
But the team has also been handicapped by the hubris that convinced Belichick he was the one who turned Brady, the No. 199 pick in the draft, into a future Hall of Famer. Unable to repeat the feat when Brady left, the Patriots posted three losing records in the last four years, and zero playoff wins.
Cam Newton, the 2015 NFL MVP, wasn’t the answer. Neither were Jarrett Stidham, Mac Jones or Bailey Zappe — three young quarterbacks that Belichick thought he could mold into a champion as easily as he did with Brady.
Jones, a 2021 first-round draft pick, flamed out spectacularly this season, and Zappe was little better. As for talent at the skill positions, New England was the first team since 1977 to go a full season without either a runner or receiver totaling 100 yards in a game. (There were 186 100-yard receivers and 82 100-yard rushers in the NFL this season.)
That’s someone else’s problem now.
Among the possible coaching replacements are fired Titans coach Mike Vrabel, who won three Super Bowls as a New England linebacker and led Tennessee to three playoff appearances in six seasons, including a trip to the AFC championship game in 2019-20. A member of the Patriots Hall of Fame, Vrabel is familiar to and familiar with Kraft.
Also to be considered is current linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, who was being groomed to replace Belichick — but, according to the plan, somewhere farther down the line. Mayo is also a former Patriots player, but he has never been a coordinator.
Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores is another Patriots product who can boast of head coaching experience. Flores spent more than a dozen years in New England before coaching the Miami Dolphins from 2019-21.
Josh McDaniels had once been the heir apparent to Belichick before flopping as a head coach in Denver and Las Vegas. McDaniels spent 13 years as the Patriots offensive coordinator and was a member of the coaching staff for all six Super Bowl wins.
With his total control of the roster, Belichick was also the team’s de facto general manager. It’s unlikely Kraft will give so much power one person again, so it’s possible that hire will come first.
No decision has been announced for the rest of the coaching staff, which includes two of Belichick’s sons: Steve, who has been working the linebackers coach for the last four seasons, and Brian, who has worked with the safeties for the past four years.
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