Bill Belichick is famous for two things: (1) Winning a whole bunch of Super Bowls and (2) not saying much to the press. ‘
It’s tough to remember now, but there was a time Belichick was not a football legend, but was instead a sad job-hopper mainly living off the reputation he earned as a defensive coordinator for the New York Giants in the late 1980s.
And so when the time came in 1999 for Belichick to step down as associate head coach and defensive coordinator of the Jets, he not only called a press conference to explain the situation in detail to the New York media, but he seemed downright nervous doing so. You can hear his voice shaking.
Parcells had hired Belichick to his Jets staff in 1997, and things had gone fairly well, all things considered. The Jets went 9-7 the first year, then went 12-4 and made it to the AFC championship game in ’98. In 1999, the Jets managed to go 8-8, but they lost starting quarterback Vinny Testaverde in the season opener (against the New England Patriots), turning to punter and former quarterback Tom Tupa, Rick Mirer, and finally, Ray Lucas.
After the season, Parcells announced he would be retiring and Belichick would replace him.
But Belichick wasn’t into it, and called the press conference above to explain that, more or less, he was afraid this was Cleveland Browns Part 2.
“I’ve been in a situation — and more importantly my family has been in a situation — where I was the head coach of a team in transition, of a team that went through a lot of changes, and frankly it wasn’t a real good experience for me.”
Twenty years later, this stands as one of the most significant resignations in NFL history. Belichick wound up with the New England Patriots, who already had a star quarterback in Drew Bledsoe, and with almost full control over the roster, drafted Tom Brady with the 199th pick.
The Jets took a quarterback too — Chad Pennington, 18th overall.
One of the most amusing things about this press conference is Belichick’s diplomatic attempts to explain just how screwed he thinks the Jets are to a press corps that, by the looks on their faces, is getting the message loud and clear.
Belichick is more or less telling them that it would be career suicide to coach the Jets in the year 2000 and beyond.
“I’m not saying [Browns Part 2] would happen here, I don’t know what would happen,” Belichick said. “I, you know, I have not crystal ball, I just know that what I would need to do, again, I don’t feel that I can do it right now.”
This was a pre-Brady world, and Belichick seems genuinely concerned about offering the media and the public a satisfying explanation for all this. He speaks at length without even being asked a question, revealing his fears about what being head coach of the Jets would be like. He even put on a dress shirt, which it looks like he bought at a gas station on the way to the stadium.
He then offers the press carte blanche access to him the next day.
“I know that there’s probably a lot of you that have special requests,” he says, “and I’m just here to say that I’d like to cooperate with everybody. Tomorrow, I’ll have all the time on my hands that I need. I’ll do one-on-ones, magazine, TV, radio, internet, conference call, whatever you want to do.”
I have worked in the sports media business since 2003 and have attended hundreds and hundreds of press conferences concerning all sorts of matters, many of them a lot more important than the resignation of a football coach, and I have never seen such an offer in my life.
That it’s this guy saying it makes it all the more profound.
It was still the 90s. It was a different NFL then, a different media environment, and it was a different Bill Belichick.
He was already a champion by then, having won two Super Bowls as Giants defensive coordinator. In that role, he was one of the most respected coaches in the league. But as a head coach there was nothing but failure on his resume, and in this old press conference you can see a guy who knows that if he bombs out for a second time, that’s probably it.
Belichick was just 47, then. Grizzled, but less so. He wants to be liked and understood.
You could almost call it sweet.