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Bill Belichick And The Jets

A sampling of the history of the feud

NFL: New England Patriots at New York Jets Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Many of you are very familiar with the curmudgeon known as Bill Belichick, but do you know how that single person has negatively affected the future of the Jets in so many ways? I will let you in on some of the history of how that came about. Bill Belichick has not always been how he is now, he actually was a very personable NFL coach. He has done some questionable things but has also won more than anyone else.

Belichick began his career in Baltimore under Ted Marchibroda in Baltimore in 1975 after leaving Wesleyan College with a $25 a week job. He then spent time with the Lions, then the Broncos but was released. Belichick then worked for the New York Giants beginning in 1979 with coach Ray Perkins as a defensive assistant and special teams coach. He later added linebacker coach to his resume, where he really shined. Whereas Belichick was a good coach elsewhere, he was a great linebacker coach who helped those early Giant linebackers become stars. He helped Brad Van Pelt and a young Harry Carson develop during Phil Simms’ rookie season at QB.

Belichick had a larger presence in the defense when Bill Parcells took over the Giants’ head coaching duties in 1983. Belichick was named the defensive coordinator in 1985. The Giants won Super Bowl XXI and XXV in 1986 and 1990, respectively. Belichick’s defensive game plan from the Giants’ 20-19 upset of the Buffalo Bills in SB XXV has been placed in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Buffalo scored 428 points that year (1st in the NFL) and beat the Raiders 51-3 in the AFC conference championship game. Yet the Bills were outgained 386 to 371 without a turnover for either team.

In 1991 Belichick was hired by the Cleveland Browns as head coach with a self-written football bible on how to run a team. The Browns had little talent coming off a 1990 3-13 season. Belichick improved that to 6-10 in 1991, then two 7-9 seasons. In 1994 he had Cleveland in the playoffs at 11-5 but lost to Pittsburgh in the divisional round. The following season Cleveland lost a tough 1st game to the Patriots on a late Curtis Martin TD run but they then ran off 3 consecutive wins to go to 3-1.

Rumor started at that time of the Browns possible move from Cleveland. The Browns lost the next 3 games but were able to eke out an overtime win in Cincinnati to go to 4-4. After a tough loss in Houston the news hit that the Browns were moving to Baltimore. The city of Cleveland went into an uproar. Court battles and protests were rampant. No one focused on the games, just the Browns leaving. The Browns were a Cleveland institution where Municipal Stadium would sell out all 81,000 seats. Yet the stadium had no high priced luxury boxes, and the stadium was antiquated. The players were caught in the middle of a lot of negative energy. The team won a single game (again against Cincinnati) the rest of the year. In the end the Browns left (in the middle of the night) as moving trucks went to Baltimore. The consolation for Browns fans (who were always passionate supporting their team) was a court battle that kept the Browns name in Cleveland even though they didn’t have a team. They didn’t get a chance to use that name until the 1999 season when Cleveland was awarded an expansion team. Belichick was let go after the 1995 season as the Ravens hired ancient Ted Marchibroda, who had previously coached the Colts (original Baltimore Colts) back in the 1970’s.

What has been lost in the Cleveland debacle for Belichick was the people he brought into the league not as players but front office people. In a short period of time he brought in and developed a great group of people who would have a significant role in the NFL.

Just some of these people include:

1) Ozzie Newsome

Newsom was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a player in 1999. Newsome’s career ended as a player but Bill Belichick hired Newsome right away into his front office as an assignment scout. He eventually became the moved up to the Director of Pro Personnel in 1994. When the Browns moved to become the Ravens he stayed at the same position but was the defacto team GM. Newsome was officially named Ravens GM in 2002 and stayed in that position until he stepped down in 2018. Ozzie is an NFL legend who is the most successful player/person/executive to become a Hall of Fame to a Hall of Fame executive. The first two Raven selections ever in the NFL draft were pick #4 Jonathan Ogden and #26 Ray Lewis. Both wound up in the NFL Hall Of Fame which is not a bad beginning.

What is lost in this is that the pick the Ravens used on Ray Lewis was there because of Bill Belichick. In 1995 he traded his #10 pick to the 49ers in exchange for picks #30, 94, 113 and the 49ers 1996 1st round pick, the latter of which was the pick that Newsome used on Ray Lewis.

2) Eric Mangini

Eric Mangini was a division III nose tackle in college who had little hope of an NFL career even though he had 36.5 career sacks. He coached a semi-pro team in Australia to two regional championships during his college summers. When Belichick arrived in Cleveland Mangini was just a ball boy who showed a great work ethic. He first worked in public relations then as an offensive assistant which consisted of making copies and getting coaches coffee. Yet he was allowed to sit in on meetings so he learned. He would work 90 hour work weeks for about $300 a week but he built a career which led to becoming the Patriots defensive coordinator. That promotion eventually led to Mangini becoming the Jets head coach.

3) Phil Savage

Savage received a masters degree in physical education from the University of Alabama in 1989 and he stayed on there as a quasi-coach after graduation. Savage was hired by Bill Belichick as an intern in 1991, coming from coaching for the world league in San Antonio. He worked in scouting and personnel during his time in Cleveland. In Baltimore he worked with Ozzie Newsome in Baltimore and helped the Ravens select two Hall of Fame players (Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis as mentioned earlier) as the first two picks of the Ravens franchise. He later worked with Howie Roseman in Philly

Savage was an unknown who Bill Belichick brought in as an intern his first season as a head coach in Cleveland. Savage was a roommate of Mangini while working the same wild schedule, but Savage transitioned from copy boy to scouting and personnel by 1994. Savage has been the New York Jets Jets’ senior football advisor since 2019.

4) Kirk Ferentz

Kirk Ferentz has been the head football coach at the University of Iowa since 1999. Ferentz had worked at Iowa for 9 seasons under Hayden Fry after stints with Worcester Academy and the University of Pittsburgh. He became the head coach at the University of Maine but had only a 12-21 record after 3 seasons. Belichick offered Ferentz a job as an offensive line coach in 1993.

Ferentz stayed with the franchise in their move to Baltimore and was instrumental in convincing the Ravens to select OT Jonathan Ogden as the 4th overall pick instead of the RB Lawrence Phillips out of Nebraska. Ogden became a team leader and building block for a championship while Phillips lasted only 3 seasons (with 3 NFL teams) because of numerous legal problems and issues. He was later incarcerated in California where he took his own life in 2016.

Ferentz has been a leader of young men as a head coach in Iowa city for nearly 25 years while supplying the NFL with well coached, smart young players.

5) Thomas Dimitroff

Dimitroff became a scout in the CFL for the Saskatchewan Roughriders after leaving college. He became the scouting coordinator but also worked in other areas of team management. Dimitroff soon moved to the world league but that league quickly folded. After some other minor jobs he then took a job as a groundskeeper in Cleveland as his father was a scout for the Browns. In 1993 he worked for a time as a scout with Scott Pioli but moved on to the KC Chiefs later that year as a part time scout. He then worked with the Detroit Lions from 1994-1997 as an area scout. Dimitroff then moved back to the Browns in 1998 and stayed until 2001 as a college scout. He was eventually rehired by Bill Belichick in 2002 in New England as a national scout then as the director of scouting in 2003 through 2007. After that he was offered the job as the GM of the Atlanta Falcons in 2008 where he stayed until 2020.

6) Scott Pioli

Pioli was a Division II Hall of Fame player as a defensive tackle at Central Connecticut State before joining Syracuse as a graduate assistant in 1988. He became a line coach at Murray State for two years starting in 1990. Pioli joined the Browns as a pro personnel assistant in 1992. Pioli had a relationship with Bill Belichick from the 1980’s as a player at Central Connecticut as he would drive down to Giants training camp to work with Belichick as defensive coordinator. Belichick was impressed by his dedication and hired him when he had the chance.

Pioli came to the Jets in 1996 after a season with the Baltimore Ravens to reunite with Bill Belichick (and Bill Parcells) as the director of pro personnel. Pioli was instrumental in bringing Kevin Mawae, Vinny Testaverde and Brian Cox to the Jets. He helped the Jets to a 12-4 record in 1998 which was the first division title since their Super Bowl Season in 1968.

The loss of Pioli when he left to join the Patriots was a huge blow to the Jets as Dick Haley took over as GM in 2001 and pretty much lived off the Bill Parcells roster. Pioli was a shrewd front office guy with good scouting instincts. When Pioli left the Patriots to become the GM of the Kansas City Chiefs Bill Belichick wrote this about Pioli:

To sum up in words everything Scott Pioli has meant to this organization and to me personally would be difficult, if not impossible. From the day I met him, he has demonstrated a passion for football and respect for the game that is second to none. It has been extremely gratifying for me to follow Scott’s career ascension from the bottom of the totem pole in Cleveland to his place as a pillar of championship teams in New England. Now with the opportunity to steer his own ship and a vision of building a winner, there is no more capable, hardworking, loyal, team-oriented person than Scott Pioli. On a personal level, the Belichick-Pioli bond runs far deeper than our workplace, as we and our families have shared countless memories away from football. Working side by side with one of my best friends for almost two decades is special enough in itself. But to help each other achieve success beyond our dreams is a blessing and something I will always remember and appreciate.

The story of Bill Parcells

Bill Parcells was a man who was larger than life in a way. He was loud and demanding. He could be very nice, but most of the time he was angry. He always seemed to have a chip on his shoulder. He was also very intelligent and methodical in his preparations. He was that way in college at Wichita State, where he was nicknamed the tuner. That nickname stuck but the midwestern drawl of some players made it sound like “tuna.” So the nickname the “big Tuna” stayed with him for his entire career. He was a 7th round pick by the Lions but never made it out of training camp. Parcells had over a half dozen coaching jobs after leaving the Lions before he became the linebackers coach & assistant basketball coach at Army. There he became a life long friend of coach Bobby Knight.

Parcells was offered the defensive coordinator job with the New York Giants but quit that job before the season started in 1979 to move to Colorado and was out of football. A year later he felt he had made a mistake and came back to the NFL in 1980 as a linebacker coach with the Patriots. Parcells eventually made his way to the Giants, where he won two Super Bowls, then retired after the 1990 season to work with NBC sports.

He returned to the NFL in 1993 as the New England Patriots head coach and defacto GM. Robert Kraft bought the Patriots in 1994 and Kraft wanted some say in who was drafted, which didn’t go over well with Parcells. It came to a head during the NFL draft of 1996, when Parcells wanted to draft DE Tony Brackens but Kraft wanted WR Terry Glenn. Kraft of course won out which infuriated Parcells. Parcells left after that season.

This is where the Jets-Patriots Feud begins

The Jet were coming off two Rich Kotite years where they went a combined 4-28 and wanted new leadership. The Jets wanted Parcells to come back to New York but his contract with the Patriots would not allow that. So the Jets hired Bill Belichick as head coach and Parcells in an advisory role, which infuriated the Patriots. In quick fashion (about 6 days) the NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue worked out a deal where the Jets would make Bill Parcells the coach and the Patriots would receive third and fourth round picks that year, a second round pick the next year and a first round pick the following year. It was a lot to pay for a coach, but the Jets were desperate after two years of futility.

Bill Parcells ran the team for three years. He brought the team back to respectability, but a torn Achilles tendon by QB Vinny Testaverde in the first game of the 1999 season doomed the Jets (who had valid Super Bowl hopes) to an 8-8 record. At that point the Jets (and Parcells) were ready to move on.

On Sunday, Jan. 2, the Jets finished the 1999 season with an 8-8 record after defeating the Seahawks. With rumors being whispered about his future, Parcells called an impromptu staff meeting at 9 a.m. Monday Jan. 3rd.

As Jets offensive line coach Bill Muir recalled:

I can remember after our last game, we were all sitting in the office and the secretary came down and said Bill [Parcells] wanted to see everybody in the staff room. We all went in, we were sitting around the table. Bill comes in and he sits down and he says, ‘Last night, after the game, I submitted my resignation to Steve Gutman. Due to a previous contractual commitment, Bill Belichick is now the head football coach.’ He basically got up and left the room. It was pretty abrupt.

It was pretty concise but things with the Jets are never that easy.

The problems with this were many. First and foremost was the death of owner Leon Hess of a blood disease on May 7th 1999. This meant that the Jets didn’t have an owner during the transition. Bill Belichick was slated to take over as head coach for Parcells following the 1999 season. Since the team was in transition Parcells convinced the management team to stay on for a year as GM to retain team continuity.

For Bill Belichick there were problems. The two principals at the head of the new ownership groups vying for the Jets were Woody Johnson and James Dolan, the CEO of Cablevision. Both men were rich but they were the antithesis of former owner (now deceased) Leon Hess.

Whereas Hess was a hard working self made man who was a major during WWII, both Dolan and Johnson were rich because of their families. At the time of his announcement as coach Belichick had no idea who would be owner. He also (it was rumored) wasn’t fond of either possible buyer of the Jets. Belichick resigned from the Jets on January 4th 2000, just 8 days before Woody Johnson was awarded the Jets franchise with the winning bid of $635 million. Belichick did know Robert Kraft from his time in New England so he had a least a working relationship with Kraft.

No one knows why Bill Belichick renounced his head coaching duties scribbled on a napkin, but it might have something to do with Parcells still being his boss, combined with an unknown future with either rich kid as an owner. Belichick probably had visions of running the entire show without having to consult with Parcells, who had been his boss for a long time. No one knows exactly what their relationship was like at that given period of their lives. Now as it worked out Parcells stayed for only a year and Woody Johnson (at the beginning of his tenure) was oblivious to the workings of the NFL. Bill Belichick could have drafted Rudolph the red nosed reindeer and Woody would have just applauded with glee.

Robert Kraft was immediately interested in Belichick and hired him right away with the caveat that Belichick would have complete control over the New England organization; something he didn’t feel he had with the Jets. The Jets objected saying that since Belichick quit he was still contractually obligated (in terms of the NFL) to the New York Jets. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue again stepped in and worked out a settlement that the Jets would receive the Patriots 2000 1st round pick in exchange for hiring their ex coach.

Since then the feud between the teams has deepened with the Spy Gate situation and deflate gate and the hatred Tom Brady had for the Jets. The list goes on but you get the picture, the teams are not fond of each other.

It has been written that Bill Belichick so hates the Jets that he allowed Pittsburgh to trade up from #17 to #14 in the 2023 NFL draft for a mere 4th round pick, which is far undervalued for such a move. Belichick did so knowing that Pittsburgh wanted an offensive tackle and would steal the last top rated offensive tackle from the Jets. It’s anyone’s guess what the Jets intentions were, they said they were intent on selecting Will McDonald with the 13th or 15th pick. Now I don’t know if that is true but it was written by more than one NFL writer.

Of course this is an abbreviated history with lots of subplots and wild stories; it’s what makes the rivalry so scandalous. The rumored backroom deals and the innuendos that you wonder if they are fact or fiction. The consequences of a hit on a veteran quarterback that forces a young quarterback into the game, then changes the course of NFL history.

All I know is that Bill Belichick is (in my opinion) the greatest NFL coach in history but he is horrible at scouting the NFL draft. He for years made hilarious selection after hilarious selection in the draft, often just wasting premium picks. He usually had a treasure trove of picks so as they say “even a blind pig can find some corn” which allowed him to occasionally stumble upon a good player. He still is able to take marginal players, combine them with some standout talents and win; you can’t take that away from him. As the late coach Paul “Bear” Bryant used to say “I could take his’n and beat your’n, then take your’n and beat his’n.”

The Jets lost more than a coach in Bill Belichick with his departure. They lost their future. Not just from the coach but also the people around him who helped him out tremendously. It started a rivalry that has been one-sided for quite some time. With luck (and some standout players) the Jets hope to reverse that trend.