In the end, firing relief for Belichick Coach's job status had been up in air for about a month

'Knew what was coming'

New post may be as Patriots assistant

February 15, 1996|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Those close to former Cleveland Browns coach Bill Belichick said he was waiting to exhale.

"He's relieved, I would say so," said running back Earnest Byner. "Bill had an inclination of what was coming. There had been speculation for quite a while."

It's been nearly a month since team owner Art Modell said he would evaluate Belichick and determine his status once the move to Baltimore was approved. The approval came Friday.

Belichick is gone less than a week later, expected to be replaced by former Baltimore Colts coach Ted Marchibroda.

The team had no comment on player personnel director Michael Lombardi, whose status is uncertain.

"Bill knew what was coming," said one Browns official. "The tip-off was when Ozzie Newsome [director of pro personnel] left town for Baltimore yesterday, but no one knew where he was. Believe me, Bill is just glad to get this thing over."

Yesterday's move left Belichick without a job, the status of several of his assistants in doubt and Modell with $2 million less because he has to pay off the final two years of Belichick's contract.

Modell will make up some of that today, according to the team official. The team plans to release linebacker Carl Banks, linebacker Ed Sutter, offensive guard Bob Dahl, safety Dana Hall, running back Lorenzo White, cornerback Tim Jacobs and wide receiver Michael Bates, which will keep Baltimore $250,000 to $350,000 under the $38.8 million salary cap.

Those decisions, though, aren't Belichick's anymore. After talking with Modell early yesterday morning, Belichick spent the day saying goodbye.

Belichick's choice now apparently is to decide between joining Miami Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson as defensive coordinator or signing on as an assistant with old friend Bill Parcells, coach of the New England Patriots.

Sources close to Belichick say he is leaning toward heading north because he is familiar with Parcells' system and friends with a few of the assistant coaches from when Parcells and Belichick were with the Giants.

"I haven't made up my mind," said Belichick. "I'm still making a few phone calls around the league, exploring my options."

Johnson said: "Bill is a good football coach. Nothing has transpired up to this point. We may have discussions in the future. We may be talking."

The jobs of Belichick's coaching staff are in limbo. Special teams coach Scott O'Brien and defensive line coach Jacob Burney are considered two of the best in the NFL, and they, like all but two of Belichick's assistants (offensive coordinator Mike Sheppard and tight ends/offensive line coach Pat Hill), have contracts for the 1996 season. However, the new coach may want to hire his own staff.

"My hope is to hire a new coach quickly," Modell said. "He then will be able to help assess our assistant coaches as he assembles his staff."

Belichick never was considered a player's coach, but no one questioned his work ethic.

"Losing your job in the NFL is part of the business. However, getting another job relatively quick is also part of the business," said quarterback Vinny Testaverde. "Bill is an extremely hard-working and intelligent person. I wish him well wherever he goes."

Byner said he hopes the end of speculation on Belichick will help the team focus on next season.

"Hopefully, this is a sign of direction," said Byner. "We want things to get clearer. Last year, we had a lot of distractions.

"Bill was stuck in a really tough situation," said wide receiver Keenan McCardell. "We had started losing already, but it was a media circus in Cleveland when everyone found out we were moving. Bill tried to keep us away from all the distractions, but it was tough."

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