Lay that thought over the Patriots’ 2023 season and wonder whether Belichick will apply that level of self-awareness.
If Belichick’s nearly quarter-of-a-century run in New England is over — and after Sunday’s dreadful 10-7 loss to the New York Giants, that feels more likely — it’s worth remembering what his brilliance was built on and wondering whether it would work elsewhere, in 2024 and beyond.
Carolina already has an opening for a coach. Las Vegas does as well. There is near certainty Washington will be looking for a coach and a personnel czar. Chicago? Seems likely. And with six weeks left in the season, who knows what other opportunities might pop open?
Belichick said Monday that he enjoys his job in the midst of a lost 2-9 season as much as he did during the championship days.
“Absolutely,” he told reporters. “Every week’s a challenge, and I’m excited about the challenge, the opportunity, and what we have to do to win each week. I’ll keep working as hard as I can to help our team.”
He is 71. After Sunday’s unwatchable offensive mess — in which he coached to kick a game-tying field goal rather than push for a game-winning touchdown, only to have the rookie kicker he chose for his roster miss wide left — he is entering uncharted territory with the Patriots. His first New England team, coached before some of his current players were born, went 5-11. The next 19 averaged more than 12 wins per year.
Think about that. Over the same span, Washington has won 10 games twice and has never reached 12. Belichick averaged a dozen wins and won fewer than 10 once.
Put aside the notion that Tom Brady propped up Belichick because even the best quarterback of all time can’t cover up a weak 53-man roster. Plus, in the year Brady went down with a knee injury, Belichick won 11 games with Matt Cassel. He’s brilliant, and there’s no denying it.
If you’re new Washington owner Josh Harris, it could be hard not to consider that record and wonder. Belichick grew up in Annapolis, where his dad coached football at Navy. The Commanders have salary cap space and five draft picks in the first three rounds of 2024. There’s a tradition in Washington that could be alluring to rebuild. Why not put this miserable season aside and kick the tires?
Even at 71? Belichick famously said in another NFL Films release that he wouldn’t be coaching in his 70s, a mistake he walked back to Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy last year: “I wish I hadn’t said that. I was probably thinking of what I would feel like. Now, there’s what I actually feel like, and those are two different things.”
The traits that the “Do Your Job” documentary reveals to be at Belichick’s core — building up fundamentals, paying inordinate attention to detail, valuing preparation and work ethic, delegating authority while not abdicating responsibility — are unwavering. They should be transferrable to another organization, right?
But if Belichick should get credit for the 300 regular season wins he has amassed to this point — trailing only Don Shula’s 328 and George Halas’s 318 — his recent record should be examined, too. In the four regular seasons since Brady left, the Patriots are 27-34. They made one playoff appearance and got drubbed by Buffalo. They tried Cam Newton at quarterback one year, drafted Mac Jones the next and don’t have a solution at the position that provided stability for the previous two decades.
Indeed, the Patriots have slipped so far that they’re not only no longer a pillar of stability and a guaranteed drawing card, but they feel and look like a franchise much closer to the bottom of the league than to their previous standard of excellence.
That’s the architect you want to resurrect your program?
The modern NFL coach feels as if he needs to read the room — and the moment — a little better. Given his natural countenance, with every public utterance strained in an “On-to-Cincinnati” dismissiveness, it’s unreasonable to expect Belichick to seethe over these losses in front of a microphone. His monotone minimalism after gut punches such as Sunday’s frankly aren’t much different from his exchanges after career-defining playoff wins.
By now, in the middle of his 24th season with the Patriots, all of New England is used to it. The lack of answers to even basic questions was just fine when the Patriots were winning. The behavior’s so ingrained, why would it change in the midst of his worst season there?
But you have to wonder how that act — or if it’s not an act, that behavior, that default to disdain — would play elsewhere. Here’s an exchange following the latest loss regarding quarterbacks Jones and Bailey Zappe, who split reps during the week, then split halves Sunday.
“I think they both deserve to play,” Belichick said.
He was pushed: Why do you feel that way?
“Because I think they both deserve to play,” he responded.
Elaboration isn’t a requirement of a coach, and full explanations shouldn’t be expectations for fans. But the coach is an NFL team’s most forward-facing position. Any franchise making a hire this offseason deserves a new energy around the entire operation. Think Mike McDaniel in Miami. Think Sean McVay with the Rams. Think Kyle Shanahan with San Francisco, Nick Sirianni in Philadelphia, on and on.
The other reluctance with Belichick: In New England, he is the de facto general manager. For years, as he built a roster around Brady, that worked. But for all the angst about the Patriots not having the quarterback of the future in their building, it’s also clear that the current quarterbacks haven’t been provided with a roster that could come close to propping them up. That’s on Belichick, too.
In Washington, at least, the time to separate the roster builder from the coach has come. Maybe Ron Rivera could have excelled at one or the other. He was given both jobs. It hasn’t worked. Harris’s first order of business has to be building strong operations in on-field coaching as well as personnel and development. Those must be two different people. Belichick is one.
Do your job. For so long, it fit as a Belichick mantra, a symbol of such success that Rivera tried to co-opt it in Washington this season. For now, at least, Belichick still has a job in New England.
“Our job is to get everybody to play as well as we can,” Belichick said Sunday, “so that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
His record as one of the sport’s greatest coaches is unassailable. But if it’s the end for Belichick in New England, it’s worth wondering whether there’s a new beginning for him elsewhere. And if there is, would it be accompanied by the dynamic, energetic vibe that a struggling franchise will need?