Lack of relationships curbed NFL enthusiasm for Bill Belichick


Bill Belichick’s offseason job search ended in pitiful fashion last week. For unknown reasons, a bevy of general managers vying to keep their jobs in a highly competitive industry opted to hitch their wagons to young, unproven coaches they’ve had prior relationships with rather than a eight-time Super Bowl champion.

The Panthers’ president of football operations, Dan Morgan, opted to hire Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Dave Canales, who he is familiar with from their intersecting time together on the Seahawks. Until 2017, Morgan worked his way up through the Seahawks ranks while Canales followed Pete Carroll from USC to Seattle, where he operated in a variety of positions on the offensive side until accepting a promotion from the Buccaneers.

Jim Harbaugh didn’t so much interview as he did inform the Chargers of his interest and spoke glowingly of Dean and John Spanos, and about his playing days as a Charger for two seasons.

Meanwhile, Atlanta opted to go with former Falcons defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, whom CEO Rich McKay promoted to interim head coach in 2020 after Dan Quinn was ousted midseason.

Relationships matter. On the surface, the Falcons hiring Morris over Belichick is asinine. The Falcons have great bones, they need a quarterback to connect their roster’s musculoskeletal system and the personnel brains of the operation. At the very least, Belichick guarantees you a top-5 defense even if his judgment in evaluating offensive talent has been detrimental in recent years. He did it in Cleveland despite the underwhelming overall record, but was canned because of tensions between himself and owner Art Modell. Then, for 25 years, he commanded vicious defenses with New England. All they would have needed was a solution to their quarterback problem.

Alas, relationship-building is something Belichick has never excelled at. Sunday night I plopped down to watch the final season premiere of Curb Your Enthusiasm, and every time I looked at the fictionalized Larry, I thought of The Hoodie. Belichick is to curmudgeonly coaches what Curb’s Larry is to curmudgeonly comic writers. Within the confines of The Hoodie’s profession and the character Larry David portrays, no old farts encapsulate love-hate quite like those two. When Curb was premiering 25 years ago, Belichick was in the midst of his debut season as the Pats head coach.

Both were the minds propping up 1980s and 1990s New York tri-state legends, Bill Parcells and Seinfeld. With both septuagenarians, it’s hard to tell where the socially stunted Hoodie/Larry character ends and the “Larry David ‘’ persona begins. Those close to Belichick relay stories of how affable he can be in private, but he also possesses some of the worst people skills we’ve ever seen in a pantheon coach.

That’s part of what made his unintentional comedy work. Belichick stomping past high-five seeking kids without batting an eye has been memorialized in the digital firmament. But most importantly, Belichick’s awkward, misanthropic genius personality has always made it difficult for him to maintain relationships. Lest we all forget, Belichick resigned from the Jets coaching job at his introductory press conference and then exited the auditorium leaving Jets brass to pick up the pieces.

For example, his stint in Cleveland came to a premature end as a result of his deteriorating relationship with Modell. Belichick and Modell’s contempt for one another was so strong that Belichick allegedly selected Peter Boulware for the 1998 Pro Bowl just so Modell would owe him a $1 million bonus. His other obstacle to success in Cleveland, and during his post-Brady twilight in New England, was the revolving door at quarterback after he waived a diminished but beloved Bernie Kosar. Plenty of coaches have made enemies of veterans they’ve cut or decided against re-signing for football reasons, but Belichick turned it into a cottage industry for nearly three decades in New England.

He even has a Leon and Jeff scaring off potential suitors. If Belichick is Larry David, Pete Carroll is Ted Danson and it reflects in their disparate coaching trees. The scuttlebutt on Belichick’s prospects this cycle revolved around his likely assistants, namely Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia. McDaniels has lost his luster after two failed coaching stints, while Patricia’s coaching luck ran out once he separated from Belichick. McDaniels learned how to burn bridges from Belichick. Belichick’s heir apparent backed out of the Indianapolis Colts’ head coaching position and the Vegas Raiders were visibly relieved after midseason when Antonio Pierce was inserted as the interim. Patricia endured the most disastrous stint as a defense coordinator since Juan Castillo implemented his much-maligned wide-nine scheme in Philadelphia a decade earlier.

While Belichick was allegedly granted access to Falcons owner Arthur Blank during the interview process, his history with Atlanta’s McKay overshadowed the entire interview process like a Curb storyline. Belichick begrudgingly interviewing with Blank for the Falcons coaching job while the exec commonly known in league circles as Blank’s Wormtongue privately badmouthed him was the most cerebral situational comedy of the offseason.

As chairman of the rules committee, McKay was often responsible for reigning in Belichick’s manipulation of the league’s bylaws, such as The Ty Law Rule, the response to DeflateGate, and altering the rules after Belichick’s trickery with ineligible receivers during their 2015 run. That’s all in the weeds and maybe ancient history, but any existing acrimony would only be exacerbated by McKay vetoing Belichick’s personnel opinions.

There were also reports claiming that Belichick would only accept the job if McKay were frozen out of football decisions. On Monday, Boomer Esiason claimed sources informed him that Belichick was offered the Falcons job and turned it down. While unusual, that would be Belichick’s modus operandi. Given his history, Belichick opting out of a slapstick organization more committed to McKay and Blank’s personal relationship than winning, would be right down his alley. However, Esiason has always been a shill for Belichick and as mercurial as Belichick is, interviewing twice and turning down the job when he’s 71, in pursuit of Don Shula’s career wins record, and has no backup options this offseason, doesn’t sound very prudent.

Reportedly, Morris and general manager Terry Fontenot will report directly to Blank, so it’s hard to believe they didn’t have the same arrangement in place for Belichick unless he wanted to go full Parcells and continue shopping for his own groceries without Fontenot. Ultimately, we may never learn the truth unless Blank decides to spill the beans. Wherever Belichick winds up next season, it will have to be with an organization that has the structure in place to handle the non-football related baggage that he brings with him.

Follow DJ Dunson on X: @cerebralsportex





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