Bill Belichick is a lot of things. The first five-time Super Bowl champion head coach. The son of an NFL player. The source of a lot of great quotes. The first dude game-planning for Super Bowl 52. The defensive coordinator for two Giants Super Bowl wins. The head coach for the New England Patriots for two other Giants Super Bowl wins. A Cleveland Browns head coaching alumnus.
That last one isn’t new information, tossed around every year at times like this. Belichick was the Browns head coach from 1991 to 1995. His defensive coordinator was Nick Saban. Cleveland went 11-5 and was actually really good in 1994, four years after they were the worst team in the NFL. But then in the middle of the 1995 season, Modell announced that the team was moving to Baltimore the following year, and then on February 15, 1996, he fired Belichick and replaced him with Brian Billick. To his credit, the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2000, but despite all the Bs, Is, Ls, Cs, and Ks in their names, Brian Billick is no Bill Belichick.
February 15th is certainly a notable day in Browns history for the firing of Belichick, but February 6th marks the anniversary of hiring Belichick, which I find just as interesting. Per a New York Times article on the day of the event, Cleveland had interviewed Belichick two years earlier but went with Bud Carson instead and that proved to be a catastrophic mistake:
He was interviewed for the Browns' top spot after 1988, but the job went instead to the Jets' defensive coordinator, Bud Carson. He led the Browns to the American Football Conference title game in the 1989 campaign, but was dismissed after last season's 2-7 start.
Belichick has been a Giants assistant since 1979. That is the third-longest tenure of any assistant in the club's history, which dates to 1925. The only other assistant coaches who lasted longer were Ken Kavanaugh (1955-70) and Ed Kolman (1950-56, 1960-65). Belichick, with a sense of Giants history, checked into a Cleveland hotel under the name of the old defensive end, Andy Robustelli. Five-Year Contract
It appears that Belichick's responsibilities are well delineated with the Browns, whose owner, Art Modell, is involved in meetings regarding football and business matters. Many of the front-office decisions are made by Ernie Accorsi, the executive vice president of football operations.
Accorsi said Belichick would have both an offensive coordinator and a defensive coordinator. And the Browns did not choose Belichick only for his defensive expertise, Accorsi contended.
"We never looked for a coach by position," Accorsi said. "He had to convince us he could be the leader of both sides. We hired him for his overall expertise."
Although Belichick has an unusually secure five-year contract, it appears that he may not have a completely free hand in hiring assistants. "I can have the final say," he said, suggesting that the Browns may want him to interview coaches already on the team.
Carson is historic in his own right, having been the defensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers for their first two of four championships in the seventies, but he was well past his expiration date when Cleveland hired him; he had never been a head coach and his defenses with the Jets were just plain bad. If the Browns had hired Belichick instead in 1989, who knows what happens, because they were a perennial playoff team at that point and nearly made the Super Bowl several times under Marty Schottenheimer. They also didn’t give Belichick the types of personnel, draft, and playcalling power that the Patriots went on to give him that allowed him to do everything his own way.
Here’s what tight end Mark Bavaro had to say about his time playing for Belichick in Cleveland after having also won two Super Bowls with the Giants:
“The NFL wasn’t ready for him, the players at the time weren’t ready for him. Most importantly, the owner wasn’t ready for him. They just weren’t ready for a guy of his, I don’t want to say intellect – but his football knowledge, the way he sees the game. He got rid of Bernie Kosar. He walked into a situation, assessed it, figured out what need to be done, and he did.
Well, they hated him for it. The fans hated him for it. I don’t think the management liked him for it and I think they fought him on it for the most part, and the players hated him for it.”
There are a lot of good quotes and tidbits in that article, much of it centering around the idea that Belichick getting rid of Kosar signaled the beginning of the end for him and many people from Modell, the players, the fans, and the media. Funny how quickly things turned around in New England when he turned the team over to Tom Brady, even if that was a forced transition because of Drew Bledsoe’s injury. Belichick never wavered on Brady being the guy once it was obvious that he could handle the job, even though Bledsoe had signed the richest contract in NFL history less than a year earlier.
And well, Cleveland’s loss ended up as the Patriots’ gain. It’s unfortunate that the city had to endure the most losses of all, while Modell was rewarded with a Super Bowl for everything, but history isn’t supposed to be kind, it’s supposed to be factual.
This is a sad, weird, ironic fact: The Browns said no to Bill Belichick. Twice.