Flag thrown on Belichick

Groh to fly Jets?

Tagliabue asks Jets, Pats to work out compensation

N.Y. seen promoting aide

January 22, 2000|By NEWSDAY

NEW YORK -- The murky situation that is the New York Jets' future cleared up slightly yesterday when NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue denied Bill Belichick's grievance against the team. It will brighten substantially Monday, when the club is prepared to reveal its head coach for next season.

It probably won't be Bill Parcells.

It is expected that a new face -- likely veteran assistant Al Groh -- will be tabbed to clean up the mess left behind when Belichick stunned the franchise by bailing out of the head coaching position Jan. 4, a day after Parcells retired from the sideline. Parcells, who met again yesterday with new Jets owner Robert Wood Johnson IV, would remain as director of football operations barring an unlikely change of heart.

Johnson, who has worked to convince Parcells to return for at least one more season, had guaranteed a decision on that process by the end of the week. Instead, with the Jets and New England Patriots continuing to haggle over a potential compensation package for Belichick and the league's conference championship games on tap tomorrow, the notification was delayed -- though Parcells has told Johnson his plans.

Groh, 51, did not return phone calls last night. He has known for more than two weeks that Parcells favors his promotion from linebackers coach to head coach. Former Kansas City Chiefs coach Marty Schottenheimer, considered a potential candidate if Parcells declines to coach, also was unavailable for comment.

"It's a very complex situation," a person close to the owner said last night. "It's gotten even more complex."

That is due, in large part, to Tagliabue's ruling on Belichick, an ambiguous decision that upholds the Jets' rights to the assistant for the coming season but leaves things disturbingly cloudy after that. Indeed, in a directive to both sides for further written submissions by Feb. 1, the commissioner asked whether the Jets' contractual hold "should remain in place in the event Bill Parcells reassumes the team's head coaching position," suggesting that Tagliabue might allow Belichick to leave without compensation if that occurs.

"The commissioner's ruling and order are clear and self-explanatory," Parcells said in a statement yesterday. "The Jets have no further comment at this time."

The Patriots seek to hire Belichick, 47, as their head coach and general manager. With encouragement from Tagliabue, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Johnson and Jets president Steve Gutman talked Thursday and yesterday in hopes of striking a deal.

At midday yesterday, an apparently frustrated Tagliabue released his ruling.

Belichick, who owns substantial support from Patriots players, has three years remaining on a contract that was to pay him more than $4.2 million. However, the commissioner rebuffed the Jets' legal claim that the coach be prohibited "from seeking employment in any role with any other NFL club for the full three-year term remaining," later adding that "a final decision on this issue could turn on circumstances unique to the Jets' current situation, including any future position that Bill Parcells may have with the team."

Tagliabue dismissed Belichick's defense that he never actually took the Jets' head coaching job. The commissioner cited "more than 10" discussions between Belichick and Parcells about the prospect of the defensive coordinator becoming head coach after the 1999 season.

Belichick's legal team angrily denounced Tagliabue's judgment. "I think it was a legal travesty," antitrust attorney Jeffrey Kessler said last night. "It's very disappointing, and the commissioner doesn't have the power to do it."

Belichick's agent, Neil Cornrich, said, "We think the commissioner's decision is unlawful and we are actively assessing all of our legal options."

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