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New York Jets GM Search: The Struggles of Bill Belichick Proteges

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Belichick is the dominant force in the New England Patriots franchise.

Few football people have the all-encompassing power that Bill Belichick carries in New England, and the results have been hard to argue with. In explaining how Belichick manages things, one ex-Patriots personnel man said, "I don't know, maybe he has 10 clones of himself." But it isn't all roses. Belichick is involved to the point where it has frustrated his college scouts, who have been overruled in the past on draft picks.

There is now skepticism whenever a Belichick lieutenant is considered for either a head coaching or general manager job. Since Belichick does so much, how much are any of the understudies responsible for New England's success? How will any of them fare with the responsibilities of being the number one guy being so vastly different? These are questions some might be concerned with now that the Jets are interviewing Jon Robinson for their general manager job. Robinson is with Tampa Bay now, but spent the bulk of his career in the New England organization.

Indeed, a look at the key people who have left the Patriots organization through the years to take either head coaching or general manager jobs shows a general lack of success for those departing for greener pastures. Meanwhile, New England has consistently stayed at the top of the league after losing these people.

Name Job Team(s) Record
Charlie Weis Head Coach Notre Dame/Kansas 41-49
Romeo Crennel Head Coach Browns/Chiefs 28-55
Eric Mangini Head Coach Jets/Browns 33-48
Josh McDaniels Head Coach Broncos 11-17
Scott Pioli General Manager Chiefs 23-42
Thomas Dimitroff General Manager Falcons 67-49

In a number of these cases, people tried to replicate the Patriots culture they knew. Mangini and McDaniels tried to implement my way or the highway cultures that alienated people. Pioli brought in people at key spots (Crennel as head coach; Matt Cassel at quarterback) based on his familiarity with them rather than their aptitude. He also tried to superficially replicate his Patriots years by using a top ten pick on interior defensive lineman Tyson Jackson the way New England had on Richard Seymour early in the Belichick Era.

This lack of success gives many pause. There is one notable success story, though.

Thomas Dimitroff is not a perfect general manager, but his time in Atlanta has been a success by almost any measure. The Falcons were a disaster when he took them over. That is no exaggeration. It was right after Michael Vick was sent to prison on dog fighting charges. The brand name head coach they had landed, Bobby Petrino, had left the franchise before the end of his first season to go to the University of Arkansas.

Dimitroff built them into a contender.  He did it the right way, too. With his very first Draft pick, he took Matt Ryan, addressing the most important position in the league. He made a great free agent signing in Michael Turner. A few years later, he swung for the fences in the Draft offering a major package to move into the top ten. His pick, Julio Jones, was a homerun. He landed key supporting parts. While there were misses in the Draft, and in particular bad contracts later on, Atlanta had five straight winning seasons and twice had the best record in the NFC in his first five years.

Ironically, Robinson took Dimitroff's job of Director of College Scouting after he left for Atlanta.

People need to be judged on their own merits. There was a time where every Jeff Tedford coached college quarterback flopped as a pro. People said to stay away from Tedford quarterbacks. Then one worked out.

After Blair Thomas, Ki-Jana Carter, and Curtis Enis busted, people said to stay away from Penn State running backs. Larry Johnson had a 2,000 yard season.

These are individuals. The failures of so many Belichick proteges shouldn't be held against Robinson.  After all, Nick Saban is one of the best head coaches in college football history, and he worked under Belichick when the latter was Cleveland's head coach.

One last thing to note about Robinson from the article linked at the top written before the candidate departed Foxborough:

Outside those four, the one other person to watch -- someone who could be an NFL GM candidate in the future -- is Jon Robinson, who has earned some say in the draft room.

For somebody who controls everything like Belichick, even delegating a little means something.