APTOPIX Patriots Belichick Football

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, left, embraces Bill Belichick during a press conference Thursday after the team announced that Belichick will no longer be the team’s head coach. Steven Senne/Associated Press

For so many years, it felt like the dominance of the New England Patriots would never end.

What began on a January day in 2000 ended on a January day 24 years later. Bill Belichick is no longer the head coach of the Patriots. If you’re a Patriots fan, or even just a casual NFL fan, this is not a happy occasion. This is the end of a one-of-a-kind run of excellence. Even when one factors in the frustrating last few seasons of the Belichick Era, there is nothing in NFL history that compares.

It was going to end sometime. We knew that. We hoped it would be in triumph, rather than looking forward to a top-three draft pick.

The Patriots’ recent struggles make it easy for some to forget about the team’s success. New England was so good for so long that there’s a large segment of the fan base with no recollection of the Patriots as the laughingstock of the NFL. They see this past season’s 4-13 record as abject failure, not remembering or not recognizing that there were times when the franchise was in even worse shape. Stories about the Patriots being a punching bag for the rest of the league so many years ago seemed less real the farther we got from them.

Do you remember games played in a half-empty Foxborough Stadium, when half the fans who did bother to show up treated it like an open-air dive bar, drunk off either the overpriced beers on tap or their own concoction smuggled into the stadium in (hopefully) washed out sunscreen bottles?

Gillette Stadium was already in the works when Belichick was hired. In conjunction with quarterback Tom Brady and a host of talented players, Belichick made Gillette Stadium the place to be. There were brief bright spots when Raymond Berry and Bill Parcells each coached New England to a Super Bowl, but everything changed when Belichick arrived as head coach. Parcells allowed Patriots fans to discover hope, and his successor Pete Carroll, taught fans what underachievement feels like. Belichick introduced Patriots fans to confidence and pride and swagger.


You know why the Super Bowl losses to the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles hurt so much? Because you didn’t see them coming.

Under Belichick in the early 2000s, the Patriots filled a Boston sports void. When he was hired, the Bruins and Celtics were lousy, and the Red Sox were the same old disappointing team they had been for decades. The ascension of the Patriots coincided with the ascension of sports talk radio, and that symbiotic relationship pushed the team to the top of the Boston sports mountain.

There’s been chatter that the game has passed Belichick by. That sentiment is ludicrous. Belichick is a human football Smithsonian, a scholar of the game. The recent down seasons – three losing seasons in the last four – are a testament to a lack of talent on the field, not a lack of football knowledge.

There’s plenty to criticize when looking at Belichick’s roster building. For every Tom Brady or Devin McCourty or Rob Gronkowski he drafted, there was a Laurence Maroney or Ras-I Dowling or N’Keal Harry. For every free-agent signing that worked perfectly, like Mike Vrabel, there’s a Chad Johnson.

Perhaps Belichick had too much faith in his assistants, which led to Matt Patricia, a strong defensive coach, being set up for failure when he was put in charge of the offense. Maybe it was hubris that led Belichick to that decision and others in recent years.

The 4-13 record of 2023 could be rock bottom, or a beginning. In praising Belichick during a press conference Thursday, team owner Robert Kraft said what the former coach did will never be replicated. The NFL is set up to prevent a two-decade run of excellence. Kraft and fans alike need to reset their expectations. Rebuild an offense in shambles, and perhaps the Patriots without Belichick can be something like the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team that always finds a way to be in the playoff mix, or maybe than can have shorter runs among the league’s elite without drastic backslides to the bottom.

Since Belichick was hired in 2000, the Patriots’ division rivals in Buffalo, Miami and New York have gone through a combined 28 head coaches. Is that the Patriots fate? No matter who Kraft hires as his next head coach, the team is not in a better place than it was a few days ago. Kraft might hire a good coach, but how do you replace the best ever? You don’t. What Belichick accomplished in his 24 years as New England’s head coach won’t happen again.

In the statement he delivered shortly after noon Thursday, Belichick said his time as head coach of the Patriots exceeded his wildest dreams and expectations. That’s true for the fans, too, who until the Belichick Era began had been teased by short bursts of success, but mostly futility. Until the last few years of his time in New England, Belichick erased the futility.

In reality, short bursts of success are the norm, followed by down years. Belichick’s success reset the expectations. Now, any failure is too much failure, and that’s why we’re here today, saying goodbye to the best coach in NFL history, wondering what’s next.

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