Bill Belichick: Will six-time Super Bowl winner leave New England Patriots?

Bill Belichick has spent 24 years as head coach of the New England Patriots
Image caption,Bill Belichick has spent 24 years as head coach of the New England Patriots

By Paul Higham

BBC Sport

If Bill Belichick’s time at the New England Patriots is coming to an end, it could not have been a more abject ending for arguably the greatest NFL coach’s 24-year stay with the most dominant franchise of modern times.

Belichick trudged off the field at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, only his eyes visible when wrapped up against the blizzard conditions, after a dreadful 17-3 home loss against the New York Jets – the latest lacklustre defeat in a season full of them.

With 13 defeats, it is Belichick’s worst campaign of his 29-year career as a head coach, and why owner Robert Kraft could part ways with the six-time Super Bowl winner who engineered the longest winning dynasty the sport has seen.

It has been widely reported in the US media, external that Belichick is set to leave the Patriots, although he said on Monday it is “way too early” to make a decision about his future.

“Collectively, we decide as an organisation what is the best thing to help our football team,” Belichick said. “Things need to be fixed.”

Whatever is next, Belichick will always be regarded as one of the best to stand on the sidelines. In a sport built for parity, he managed to dominate like nobody we have seen before or will likely see again.

No Hollywood ending for NFL’s lord of the rings

It was certainly not how he will want – or deserves – to go out, but it summed up the abject misery of what could be Belichick’s final campaign in New England.

In dreadful weather the Patriots lost to the Jets, a team they had beaten 15 times on the spin, with the fact Belichick has won twice as many Super Bowls as his team could manage points summing up how far they have fallen.

The Jets are the team Belichick was head coach of for only one day, as he controversially used what was meant to be his introductory news conference as a resignation news conference shortly before joining the Patriots in 2000.

Jets fans have since had to watch on in horror as Belichick broke new ground and plenty of records alongside quarterback Tom Brady, the pair combining to win three Super Bowls in their first four seasons together and going on to win six of their nine appearances in the big game across 18 years.

Throw in two victories as defensive coordinator of the New York Giants and Belichick has eight Super Bowl rings – another NFL record to go along with most wins as head coach (six) and most appearances (12).

Belichick is the head coach with the most play-off appearances (19), games (44) and wins (31) and, with 333 victories overall, is second on the all-time list behind only legendary Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula with 347.

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick appeared in nine Super Bowls together, winning six
Image caption,Tom Brady (left) and Bill Belichick (right)

Brady exit the beginning of the end

There was always the argument of whether Brady or Belichick was the real driving force behind the Patriots’ incredible winning run. In truth, is was a case of a perfect match.

Fierce competitors, both valued wins over ego-based statistics and both believed in the no-nonsense hard-working ‘Patriot Way’ that Belichick fostered in New England – with “do your job” his favourite quote.

At least three of their six Super Bowls owed more to a Belichick defensive masterclass than Brady’s arm, especially their sixth, a 12-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams, while Brady led the greatest comeback in the game’s history against the Atlanta Falcons in another. caption,

Watch: Tom Brady’s top 10 moments

Then, in 2020, Brady left to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and promptly won a seventh Super Bowl, while the Pats have slumped in his absence, with only one winning season in four and an overall 29-39 record, including one play-off loss.

Form on the field has collapsed and Belichick, in his other role as a de facto general manager, has not had much success drafting players good enough to keep his team at the top – especially at quarterback.

So with Belichick in charge of player recruitment and coaching, the buck really does stop with him. In a business as brutal as this, it looks like even a six-time Super Bowl winner has a shelf life.

What next for Belichick?

Belichick will turn 72 in April and has been coaching in the league since 1975, but there is no sense that he will retire, with Shula’s record well within his sights.

The Patriots may look to trade him in return for a draft pick from a potential suitor, and there should be plenty of takers for a coaching legend who, for as bad as New England were this season, still had a more than decent defence.

There are a couple of big question marks, though, such as whether his old-school, my-way-or-the-high-way coaching style can still work in the modern game, especially at a new team.

Belichick would also likely want full control as general manager again after so long operating that way in New England – suddenly giving him a boss to answer to would not go down well – and whether a team would risk that after his recent draft displays could be a sticking point.

The Los Angeles Chargers and Arizona Cardinals have been mentioned but, as a family man, whether he would be willing to move across the country is up for debate. The Washington Commanders under new ownership could be a distinct possibility.

One thing is for certain, though: wherever Belichick ends up coaching next season and beyond, he has already cemented his legacy as one of the greats – and one who deserved to ride off into the sunset rather than slope off in a snowstorm.

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