By: Chris Harrison
Bill Belichick knows how to win in the NFL. The question is, will he get the chance to prove it again?
Earlier this month, the New England Patriots parted ways with Belichick, the most accomplished coach in the history of the sport, after 24 years, 266 wins and a league-record six Super Bowl wins. With seven head coaching jobs open entering the 2024 offseason, most expected an aspiring contender to take a shot at hiring the legendary coach.
However, as January comes to a close and just two vacancies remain, Belichick has only interviewed with one team – the Atlanta Falcons – who passed on hiring him. Could this be the end of his storied coaching career?
Of the seven teams who were looking for a new coach, few made sense as destinations for Belichick. It was widely reported that Belichick was looking for a team replete with talent that had underachieved under its previous regime. After all, a coach eyeing Don Shula’s all-time wins record would have little interest in joining a rebuilding club like the Tennessee Titans, while they would likewise have little interest in putting a septuagenarian in charge of a multi-year project.
The most logical destinations for him, then, would have been the Falcons and the Los Angeles Chargers. The Falcons boast solid talent on both sides of the ball but have a glaring weakness at quarterback and are generally understood to have underutilized some of their best offensive players. The Chargers have a franchise quarterback in Justin Herbert but seem to be constantly inventing new ways to collapse late in games. A coach well-versed in situational football, and who can still coach an elite defence, would seem to be a wise solution. So what stood in the way?
Despite two interviews with the Falcons, Atlanta wound up hiring former Rams defensive coordinator – and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach – Raheem Morris. Why? It might have to do with just how much control Belichick is used to.
Belichick famously was something of a one-man operation in New England, consolidating power both in terms of the day-to-day coaching operation and in terms of player personnel – even allegedly overruling scouts in making draft decisions.
That concentration of decision-making power was tolerable when the Patriots were winning, but their recent draft record has been brutal at times. In 2020, Belichick tried to recreate the devastating one-two punch at tight end of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, selecting two tight ends – Dalton Keene and Devin Asiasi – in that draft. Neither became an impact player and they are both long gone.
In 2019, he chose wide receiver N’Keal Harry (714 receiving yards for his career) over stars like A.J. Brown and Deebo Samuel. In 2022, he shocked the league by taking a middling offensive guard – Cole Strange – over young stalwarts like pass rusher George Karlaftis and wide receiver George Pickens, who went on to post more than twice as much yardage (1,140) as any Patriots receiver – the team-high was a woeful 561 – this season.
Completely striking out on identifying and acquiring offensive talent over the last few years has made Belichick a far less appealing prospect for a team looking for a new coach. Why give him complete control after seeing how the team mishandled quarterback Mac Jones? Why trust him with personnel when he hasn’t been able to find any offensive weapons through the draft or free agency (the less said about the 2021 spending spree, the better)?
The last two vacancies are the Washington Commanders, a rebuilding team, and the Seattle Seahawks, who themselves just fired a team legend over the age of 70. Neither team ultimately makes sense for Belichick. So what now?
If he does return to coaching, it likely won’t be until 2025. While head coaches get canned in the middle of the season every year, teams won’t likely hire someone to overhaul their entire operation when they have a Week 8 opponent to gameplan for. It’s similarly unlikely that any young teams will be looking for a coach his age to reset their team culture and build for a future he might not be around for.
Unless one of the league’s contenders collapses next season and they convince themselves they can win one immediately if they hire Belichick – and he decides that he can work under a true general manager for the first time since his Cleveland days – it’s possible we may have seen the last of the greatest coach of all time patrolling the sidelines.