Holiday greetings from Bill Belichick
While rummaging through storage space on a recent trip to my parents’ house, I found this little gem tucked away in a box full of photo albums, letters, and diplomas that failed to amount to much: dated 12/19/1994, the above is the net result of a year’s worth of editorials and letters sent to Cleveland Browns Head Coach Bill Belichick. In 2010, he’s not lacking for fan support and football-world adulation, but back then, Belichick was constantly in hot water with Browns fans and detested by the Cleveland sports media, who viewed Bill as a cantankerous robot capable only of spitting out a rotating selection of sleep-inducing, post-game quotes that revealed nothing. People in Cleveland, for the most part, had a hard time adjusting to Belichick’s methods, secrecy, and generally distant demeanor. For the vast majority, he was a dead man walking after he cut Bernie Kosar in Week 8 of the 1993 season, following a 29–14 loss to the Denver Broncos (fittingly, a team that haunted Kosar his entire career).
Belichick didn’t win much in Cleveland, but in ’94 he led the Browns to an 11-5 record and a playoff win over his mentor Bill Parcells, Drew Bledsoe, and a young, upstart Patriots squad. Led by Vinny Testaverde, the Browns featured a workmanlike offense and a bruising, veteran-led defense fronted by safety Eric Turner, who became Belichick’s first-ever draft pick with the Browns in 1991. Despite the abuse Belichick took in Cleveland, there was a pocket of the fanbase who supported his long-term plan–with little but faith to show for it until that ’94 season.
Despite the record, most fans still wanted Belichick shot out of a cannon into Lake Erie, but he was never fired by the Browns. Art Modell utterly topped that general request by moving the team to Baltimore following the 1995 season. Belichick was dumped in the transition, in favor of Ted Marchibroda. One little gem: during the 1995 Draft for the Browns–a year before the move–an increasingly savvy Belichick showed us the future: he traded players, traded down, and stockpiled draft picks for the following year–which the Baltimore Ravens happily used in ’96 to produce a draft class that netted two players who could have been Cleveland Browns: Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis.
It took Belichick a few seasons–and a number of wrong turns (including a highly bizarre, one-day stint as head coach of the New York Jets)–to get his mojo back. Three Super Bowl wins later, people forget he ever set foot in Cleveland, Ohio. So, the question stands: which heavily abused, yet-to-succeed head coach is the next Bill Belichick?
I found this quote interesting from a 1993 Sports Illustrated article describing the reaction of some Browns players to Belichick’s coaching style (these tended to be long-time Browns, who had starred with the team during its successful run in the mid-1980s, and weren’t about to change for some assistant-turned-head-coach with a personality deficit): “Several recently departed Browns–Brian Brennan, Paul Farren, Webster Slaughter–have blasted their former boss for being an automaton who offers no positive motivation and sees players only as faceless cogs. Last summer defensive tackle Michael Dean Perry finally had enough and briefly boycotted Belichick’s practices. Then, last month, receiver Michael Jackson upped the ante by fairly eviscerating Belichick during a meeting of the Ashland County Browns Backers, who are to the Cleveland brass what the UAW is to the Democratic Party. ‘If you question Bill, you’re out of line.’ Jackson reportedly said. ‘He can’t relate to the players.’ Tight end Scott Galbraith, cut earlier this season by Belichick and picked up last week by the Cowboys, calls Belichick’s coaching ‘bully-ball’ and draws comparisons to Napoleon.”
How funny. Last February, shortly after Mangini was hired to rebuild the Browns, a team insider was quoted as saying that “the atmosphere at headquarters is, to put it mildly, miserable. New Head Coach Eric Mangini is running the place like Napoleon.”
Well, well, well.
Maybe it’s time for some patience in the city of Cleveland. Otherwise, 15 years from now, some poor sucker’s left holding a Christmas card from then-Browns coach Eric Mangini–run out of town in 2010, only to end up with the Houston Texans, winning three Super Bowls and defining the next decade of pro football.