Bill Belichick’s Situation Explains Why the Best Head Coaches Don’t Get Hired

Now we know why NFL owners are cyclically hiring coaches every two to three years and continuously failing to make sound business decisions. 
Belichick was fired by Kraft after the 2023 NFL season, and will not be coaching in the league for the first time in 49 years.
Belichick was fired by Kraft after the 2023 NFL season, and will not be coaching in the league for the first time in 49 years. / Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

A New England Patriots spokesperson denied that team owner Robert Kraft ever sunk Bill Belichick’s candidacy for the Atlanta Falcons job, but my question after reading a detailed piece on the matter, and the question we all should have is why Atlanta owner Arthur Blank would ever listen to another owner in the first place when hiring the greatest coach in modern NFL history is on the table. To me, it doesn’t really matter who is right or how completely true any of this is. We have, right here in the wild, the perfect opportunity to observe why owners are cyclically hiring coaches every two to three years and continuously failing to make sound business decisions.  

It remains so unbelievably dumb, in my opinion, that Belichick is not coaching during the 2024 NFL season and that’s not just on the Falcons. For teams that are hoping to discover what competitiveness feels like, or teams hoping to thrust themselves from the outer rungs of competitiveness into January relevance, bringing in a motivated Belichick, who is just 15 wins from setting the all-time coaching victories record, is an absolute tap-in of a decision. And, yet, by the end of December, most of the industry was predicting that television was in his near future. 

This is especially true if Belichick was willing to accept outside ideas, specifically in terms of personnel and bringing in an offensive coordinator who may not have been attached to his coaching tree. This is not just based on some Patriot mythos that I’m still swilling after all these years. Rather, this is based on talking to smart coaches who still regard Belichick as a defensive mastermind, who, despite a decaying set of personnel decisions, can cause heart palpitations for any opposing play-caller due to his sinister gameplans and deep reservoir of tools in his belt. Get this guy a roster like Atlanta has now and we’re talking very seriously about a team capable of making a deep playoff run this season. 

The ESPN story notes that “sources said Kraft made clear to Blank that ‘you'll never have a warm conversation with’ Belichick” and that “Blank likes coaches who feel part of a family,” a Falcons source said, “and it wasn’t going to be that way with Bill.” This is the passage we should be highlighting, underlining and circling with a red sharpie. 

Why do owners need to feel “warmth?” Why do owners listen to other owners when they should be in direct competition with them? We can trace so much of the league’s lack of a consistent product to an owner’s inability to simply admit what they do and do not know about football and surrender the process to those who do. Consider, for just one second, how many roadblocks existed between Blank and the truth about Belichick:

  • How many members of the Falcons front office would be uncomfortable with having Belichick in the building assessing their modus operandi? 
  • How do we know that if Kraft talked to Blank about Belichick and if Kraft openly disparaged the head coach (which, again, the Patriots deny), he was not simply protecting himself? As a source close to Belichick noted to ESPN: If Belichick tears it up in Atlanta, all fingers point back to ownership when talking about the decline of the Patriots dynasty. 

We all completely lose sight of how New England’s dynasty began in the first place: a series of incredibly painful and unpopular decisions that rankled the NFL and made the Patriots temporarily look like a pariah. Prying Belichick from the Jets and eventually surrendering draft compensation. Giving Belichick full control of the roster. Benching Drew Bledsoe and starting a nobody from Michigan. Cutting Ty Law. And so on. For years, Belichick perfectly cut against the grain and built amoebic rosters capable of contending with anyone. We never stood up and applauded the Wes Welker signing, or the Danny Amendola signing, or the Julian Edelman draft selection. None of those decisions at the time elicited “warmth” or comfort. The only “family” feeling came after the fact when ring sizes were being collected. Certainly none of the other owners at the moment any of those calls were made phoned Kraft and said, “This is what you should be doing, pal.” 

Don’t take this as an anti-Raheem Morris screed. I’ve written about Morris’s deserved candidacy for years. He will be fine. The Falcons should have given him the job instead of Arthur Smith if they liked him this much. I view these as two completely different occurrences. Once the Falcons eliminated Belichick from their consideration, they made a decision to hire the best candidate for the job. But I am arguing that Belichick should not have been so readily dismissed, and that this is indicative of a larger issue when it comes to the hiring process. 

We’re talking about a potential situation in which an owner was potentially talked out of hiring the greatest head coach in modern NFL history by another owner. By some degree of hubris. By personal discomfort. By a lack of warmth. 

If that’s true, despite all the resources, business savvy and interpersonal experience at Blank’s fingertips, it perfectly explains why there is a cottage industry built around the rapid hirings and firings of head coaches. It’s not really about hiring the best head coach, is it?

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John Pluym


John Pluym is the managing editor for NFL and golf content at Sports Illustrated. A sports history buff, he previously spent 10 years at ESPN overseeing NFL coverage. John has won several awards throughout his career, including from the Society of News Design and Associated Press Sports Editors. As a native Minnesotan, he enjoys spending time on his boat and playing golf.