This is the first time since Super Bowl 50 that one of their colleagues, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, won’t be on the sidelines of the season’s final game. But on this day 20 years ago — Jan. 27, 2000 — Patriots team owner Robert Kraft traded multiple draft picks to the New York Jets in order to hire Belichick as his franchise’s coach.
The move was met with mixed reaction.
‘The greatest trade in NFL history’
If your memory’s a little foggy, just a couple of weeks before the trade Belichick was supposed to become the Jets’ head coach.
Bill Parcells, whom Belichick had worked with at multiple stops including both the Jets and Giants, had decided to step back from coaching and Belichick was going to succeed him with the Jets. On January 3, Belichick accepted the job. On January 4, he handed in his now-infamous resignation, which written on a napkin: “I resign as HC of the NYJ.”
In a press conference, Belichick cited the Jets’ ownership situation for his decision.
While Jets fans will never forgive Belichick for leaving them high and dry — the team would hire Al Groh as head coach when Belichick backed out, and he lasted for just one 9-7 season — Parcells brokered a deal between the franchises that let Belichick out of his Jets contract and allowed him to join the Patriots.
On Monday, New England tweeted a picture of the fax from Parcells to Kraft, captioning it, “The greatest trade in NFL history.” The fax said in part, “The New York Jets hereby grant permission to the New York Patriots to talk to Bill Belichick about any position they desire.”
20 years ago today: the greatest trade in NFL history. pic.twitter.com/izcPs4h0GV— New England Patriots (@Patriots) January 27, 2020
If Belichick accepted a position and reported to work on or before Jan. 30, 2000, then the Patriots would surrender their first-round pick (16th overall) in 2000, and fourth- and seventh-round picks in 2001 to New York, and the Jets gave New England a fifth-round pick in ‘01 and a seventh-rounder in ‘02.
In a word, reaction to the trade in New York, Boston and nationally was mixed. Belichick was a two-time Super Bowl winning defensive coordinator with the Giants, but he’d gone 36-44 in his first stint as a head coach, from 1991-95 with the first iteration of the Cleveland Browns. The Browns had gone 11-5 in 1994 and went to the playoffs, beating New England in the wild card round before losing to Pittsburgh in the Divisional round.
Ted Sarandis, who at the time was the nighttime host on Boston sports radio station WEEI, was not a fan: “This guy has a worse record than Pete Carroll. What kind of coach is he when the players want him? The inmates are running the asylum. I wouldn’t hire Belichick to run a Burger King.”
Ian O’Connor, who is now at ESPN, was at the Westchester Journal-News then and wrote a column with the headline, “Patriots will regret hiring Belichick.” O’Connor has long since corrected that opinion.
Ron Jaworski, not yet with ESPN, said, “I’m kind of a little surprised. Giving up a No. 1, I think, is a lot. Belichick is one of the game’s outstanding defensive coaches, but as a head coach he didn’t prove much. I would think there were other qualified coaches out there so you don’t have to give up a No. 1, who should be a Pro Bowl player. And they don’t have the talent to give that up.”
Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy was in favor: “Belichick’s behavior in recent weeks indicates he might be enough of a wacko to be an effective NFL head coach. … What matters is winning football games. The Patriots three years ago were a young Super Bowl team on the rise. Today they are a team in disarray, with a window starting to close on the professional lifetimes of stars Drew Bledsoe, [Terry] Glenn, Ted Johnson, and Ty Law. … Belichick sounds like a guy who can get the job done.”
Then-St. Louis Rams coach Dick Vermeil said if the Patriots got the right guy, the high price was worth it: “I believe in my profession and I believe there are people who can make a difference in a leadership role as a head coach. And I think that is a small price to pay for the right guy.
“I don’t know Bill Belichick that well, but the Patriots obviously think that much of him. If they’re right, it is a tremendous investment. To me, there have been a ton of first-round flops. If you get the right NFL coach, he will change your organization.”
192 and counting?
Of course, all of this is written with the benefit of two decades of hindsight.
Belichick, with the stellar Tom Brady at quarterback for much of his reign, has led the Patriots on an unprecedented run of success over 20 years. He’s the only head coach with six Super Bowl wins; he has a 237-83-0 (.741) mark in the regular season, including 10 or more wins in each of the last 17 years; he has won 17 AFC East titles; and he is 30-11 in the postseason.
He’s the longest-tenured coach in the league by six years (the New Orleans Saints hired Sean Payton in 2006), and the rest of the NFL has employed a combined 192 head coaches since his hiring.
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