FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Bill Belichick had a vision of building the kind of sustained championship football team that had rarely been seen before in the NFL when he was hired by the New England Patriots.
He walks away feeling like it was a job well done.
The six-time NFL champion agreed to depart as the coach of the Patriots, ending his 24-year tenure as the architect of the most decorated dynasty of the league’s Super Bowl era.
“It’s with so many fond memories and thoughts that I think about the Patriots,” Belichick said on Thursday in a media availability with owner Robert Kraft. “I’ll always be a Patriot. I look forward to coming back here. But at this time, we’re going to move on. And I look forward, excited for the future.”
Neither Belichick nor Kraft took questions, though Kraft said during an availability later in the day that the team missing the playoffs in three of the past four seasons factored into wanting to sever their relationship.
“What’s gone on here the last three to four years isn’t what we want. So we have a responsibility to do what we can to fix it to the best of our ability,” Kraft said.
Speaking to reporters from the podium where he had given so many terse, non-responsive postgame recaps, Belichick appeared in a jacket and tie and spoke first, followed by Kraft. The coach even smiled a couple of times — including when he conceded respect for the media “even though we don’t always see eye to eye.”
He also thanked the fans for “the sendoffs, the parades, the Sundays.” But most of his time was spent thanking the people throughout the organization, especially the more than 1,000 Patriots players he coached in his time here.
“Players win games in the NFL,” Belichick said. “I’ve been very, very fortunate to coach some of the greatest players to ever play the game.”
Kraft called the relationship a marriage that had required work and had come to an end.
“I’m very proud that our partnership lasted for 24 years,” Kraft said. “Bill has taught me a lot over those years, and we had high expectations for what we could achieve together. I think we were the only ones who had those expectations, and I think it’s safe to say we exceeded them.”
“We did,” Belichick agreed.
“Thanks to you,” Kraft said.
Belichick, 71, became just the third coach in NFL history to reach 300 career regular-season victories earlier this season, joining Hall of Famers Don Shula and George Halas. With 333 wins including the playoffs, Belichick trails only Shula (347) for the record for victories by a coach.
But the Patriots ended this season 4-13, Belichick’s worst record in 29 seasons as an NFL head coach. It supplanted the 5-11 mark he managed in his last year in Cleveland in 1995 and again in his first year in New England in 2000. Including the playoffs, he ends his Patriots tenure with a 333-178 record.
Belichick is expected to resume his pursuit of Shula’s record elsewhere. Kraft alluded to that, saying complete closure for their relationship couldn’t come “while he’s still coaching.”
“But I hope when that’s all over, we can do something that properly honors him and respects him for what he’s done with us,” Kraft said.
With his cutoff hoodies and ever-present scowl, Belichick teamed with quarterback Tom Brady to lead the Patriots to six Super Bowl victories, nine AFC titles and 17 division championships in 19 years. During a less successful — but also tumultuous — stint with the original Cleveland Browns, Belichick earned 37 of his career victories.
Reaction to Thursday’s announcement poured in across social media. It included one from Brady, who responded with three heart emojis to a post on ESPN’s Instagram page that had photos of Belichick and Kraft embracing.
It’s not immediately clear who Kraft will tap to replace the future Hall of Famer, and he declined to get into particulars out of respect for Thursday’s announcement.
“We’ll have a chance to talk about that in the very near future,” Kraft said.
But asked later what kind of coach he’ll seek, he added: “We’re looking for someone who can help us get back to the playoffs and win.”
Patriots linebackers coach Jerod Mayo won a Super Bowl ring playing under Belichick and has interviewed for multiple head coaching vacancies since becoming a New England assistant in 2019. Mayo turned down a few interviews last offseason before signing a contract extension to remain with the Patriots.
Mike Vrabel, who was fired earlier this week by the Tennessee Titans and won three Super Bowls with the Patriots, is also expected to be a candidate.
Belichick had been grooming offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to replace him before McDaniels left following the 2021 season to become the coach of the Raiders. He has since been fired by Las Vegas.
Belichick’s exit from the Patriots comes just a day after another coaching great and longtime friend Nick Saban announced he’d retire after winning seven college national championships. Saban worked for Belichick’s father, Steve, in the 1980s as a coach at Navy, and Bill Belichick hired Saban as his defensive coordinator when he became Cleveland’s head coach in 1991.
The six Super Bowl wins tie Belichick with pre-merger mentors Halas and Curly Lambeau for the most NFL championships. Belichick also won two rings as Bill Parcells’ defensive coordinator with the New York Giants.
But the Patriots have stumbled to a 29-39 record since Brady departed following the 2019 season. Beginning in 2001 when Brady became the starting quarterback, the Patriots missed the playoffs only once — when Brady was injured in 2008. This marked New England’s fifth consecutive season without a playoff victory.
Belichick’s subsequent solutions at quarterback haven’t panned out.
Brady’s initial replacement, Cam Newton, didn’t resemble the player who won the 2015 MVP award and was cut after a 7-9 finish in 2020. Meanwhile, Brady won his seventh Super Bowl ring with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that same season.
Mac Jones, a 2021 first-round draft choice, was a Pro Bowl selection as a rookie and led New England to the playoffs. But he regressed in Year 2 when Belichick put longtime defensive assistant Matt Patricia in charge of the offense. Jones didn’t fare much better this season when Bill O’Brien returned as offensive coordinator. He was benched four times before being replaced as starter by backup Bailey Zappe for the final six games.
That left the Patriots looking at a lengthy rebuild, with no candidate on the roster to bring stability to the sport’s most important position.
Belichick, who also served as the de facto general manager with final say on personnel decisions, was celebrated for his ingenuity managing the salary cap during the run of Super Bowl success. It included getting stars like Brady and others to accept cap-friendly contracts or adjust their deals to accommodate the signing of other players.
But that acclaim has waned in the years since Brady left, as a run of draft picks and high-priced free agents didn’t live up to expectations. In addition, Belichick has seen several members of his personnel and scouting departments leave for other jobs.
Now it won’t be Belichick making the decisions for the Patriots on or off the field.
Belichick, the only child of a World War II veteran who spent three decades as a Navy assistant coach, is a football historian with an encyclopedic knowledge of strategy from the sport’s early days to current NFL trends. His players said his attention to detail never left them unprepared.
Belichick has been a master of the NFL rule book, unearthing loopholes in clock operations and offensive line formations that — though entirely legal — cemented his reputation as a mad genius.
But his legacy in New England also includes two major cheating investigations — and other minor ones — that cost him and the team draft picks and more than $1 million in fines. Opponents accused the Patriots of everything from hacking their headsets to cutting corners on injury reports.
His friendship with former President Donald Trump, which Belichick insisted was not political, landed the coach on the list to receive a Presidential Medal of Freedom in the waning days of the administration. After the outcry against the U.S. Capitol siege, Belichick announced “the decision has been made not to move forward.”
Golen reported from Boston.
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