The Kansas City Star’s Joe Posnaski takes us down memory lane for a brief summary of Bill Belichick’s 5 season, 36-44 tenure as the final head coach of the original Cleveland Browns. “Maybe he learned key lessons about being a head coach there,” muses Posnaski. “For a Browns fan who had to watch that team wither and die, that ain™t much consolation.”
I don™t think it would be rewriting history to say that he was absolutely despised ” more than just about any coach I can remember. That™s probably not hard to imagine: He isn™t exactly Tom Hanks now, and that™s with four Super Bowls under his hoodie.
Still, you can multiply those feelings about about 20. People really hated this guy in Cleveland, and he earned a lot of it. He was, as ever, disdainful of the press and fans. He famously cut favorite son Bernie Kosar and slammed him immediately afterward with his œdiminishing skills comment. Unlike Roger Clemens, Kosar never really was able to find a cool, age-repellent split-fingered fastball and prove Belichick wrong. His skills really were diminishing. Still, it was a pretty cold-hearted thing to say and do in the middle of a lousy 1993 season (Though it did lead to one of the great headlines I™ve ever seen in a newspaper: œThey cut me, Dad).
The incident I remember most when Belichick was coach in Cleveland happened when I went up to do a column of some kind, and they had us working in this press area that overlooked the field. Just as the players were about to go out to practice, someone announced, œSHADES! and Browns minions walked around and violently pulled down all the shades so that we would not be able to see anything that was happening during practice. Hey, lots of coaches close practice, but I can™t forget the disdain on the faces of the Browns employees pulling the shades. It was about a step below being taken hostage.
Anyway, it™s easy to deduce that Belichick was a complete waste in Cleveland ” but that wouldn™t be fair. He really took over an ancient team living on past glories which, as Herm Edwards will tell you, is about the worst kind of team to inherit. Those first three years were dreadful, but I™m not sure there was much that could have been done. Kosar really was diminishing, Belichick was just trying to fill the void with old Giants (Joe Morris anyone? Mark Bavaro?).
You can™t just give him a pass for those four out of five losing seasons. He alienated one of the greatest groups of football fans in America. He turned Cleveland Stadium ” one of the great home advantages in football ” into nothing; his home record was a blah 19-21 (the previous six seasons ” including the 1987 strike season ” the Browns won at home 63 percent of the time). He refused to take a chance on a young quarterback (being one of I believe the two remaining members of the Eric Zeier could have been a great NFL quarterback club, I cannot forgive this). He had a very shaky draft record (Touchdown Tommy Vardell?). And in 1995 things started falling apart BEFORE word leaked out about the move to Baltimore.
After all that, Belichick became an assistant coach again, grumbled, took the Jets job, resigned from the Jets job, went to New England and inherited a pretty good team ” or at least a pretty good defense with Willie McGinest, Tedy Bruschi, Ty Law and Lawyer Milloy and an offense that had good receivers, a young Kevin Faulk, the nucleus of a good offensive line and Drew Bledsoe at quarterback. That team went 5-11. It didn™t look good for Belichick. The next year, famously, they started out 5-5, and seemed headed for nowhere until Belichick made the monumental decision to make Tom Brady the quarterback. They won six in a row, won the tuck game, he outsmarted Mike Martz, the Patriots went on the most dominating NFL run since the merger, and all that. And they now save a spot in the Smithsonian for Belichick™s brain.
Not to nitpick (and I’ll presume Joe’s being slightly less than serious on this minor point), but Belichick’s “monumental decision” to give an unheralded 6th round draft choice the keys to the car was entirely based on Tom Brady being the next guy on the depth chart after Mo Lewis nearly murdered Drew Bledsoe. That said, Mr. Hoodie No Goody did opt to start Brady in Super Bowl XXXVI after the latter suffered an ankle injury early in New England’s AFC Championship win over Pittsburgh. As bizarre as it may seem 6 years after the fact, there was actually something approaching a (manufactured) QB controversy in the short build up to the title game in New Orleans.
How might history have been written had Bledsoe been given back the job he lost due to injury? We’ll never know for sure, but my guess is that Kurt Warner would have two rings instead of one, and Brenda would today be co-hosting “The View”.