Patriots bring on Belichick as coach

Jets will get New England's first-round pick this year

January 28, 2000|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- The New England Patriots and New York Jets yesterday ended their long-running soap opera, "Days of Our Bills."

Bill Parcells, known as Big Bill in this saga, agreed to let Bill Belichick, known as Little Bill when they worked together with the Giants, Patriots and Jets, rejoin the Patriots as their coach after New England owner Bob Kraft agreed to give the Jets their first-round draft choice this year.

Kraft had refused to give up the first-round pick in any compensation deal, but Parcells talked him into it after the two spoke for the first time this week since Parcells left the Patriots after the 1996 season.

"We spent a lot of time talking about the past," Parcells said. "We mended a lot of fences. This kind of border war between the Jets and the Patriots needed to come to an end."

The key to the talks was Kraft giving up the first-round pick, although both sides threw in a few other picks. The Jets will receive the Patriots' fourth-round pick and seventh-rounder in 2001. The Jets gave the Patriots a fifth in 2001 and a seventh in 2002.

Belichick was the Jets' coach for 24 hours after the season when Parcells resigned, triggering a clause in Belichick's contract that made him the head coach.

Belichick then stunned the football world by resigning the next day in a strange, rambling 55-minute news conference.

He said there was too much uncertainty surrounding the club because the sale to Robert Wood Johnson IV wasn't complete.

The more-popular theory was that Belichick wanted to be free to get the Patriots job for more money and the freedom of not having to work in Parcells' large shadow.

Belichick, though, had three years left on his contract and commissioner Paul Tagliabue upheld it, meaning Belichick would have had to sit out the season if a team wasn't willing to give him compensation.

Belichick's attorney even filed an antitrust suit against the NFL this week that Belichick withdrew when talks between Parcells and Kraft heated up. Meanwhile, another Parcells' assistant, Al Groh, was named the Jets' coach at the start of the week.

When Kraft introduced Belichick at a news conference last night at the Patriots' training complex, he called him a "man respected throughout the NFL."

He then added, "Most importantly, I like him a lot."

Belichick and Kraft bonded during his one year as a Patriots assistant in 1996.

Belichick, not noted for his speaking skills, made an attempt at humor when he took the podium, saying, "Hopefully, this press conference will go a little better than the last one I had."

Belichick said he was prepared to sit out the season if the Patriots hadn't made a deal for him and added, "I'm extremely grateful to have the opportunity to coach."

He also saluted Kraft for his "commitment to winning."

But Kraft is gambling that Belichick doesn't make the same mistakes he did during a five-year tenure in Cleveland, where he alienated the fans and media with his brusque manner, poor personnel decisions, and the way he dumped local icon Bernie Kosar.

Belichick supporters blamed the announcement of the Browns' move to Baltimore for the collapse from a playoff team in 1994 to a 5-11 team in '95. But the Browns lost at home to an expansion Jacksonville team even before the move was announced.

This whole tale goes back to the end of the 1995 season when Parcells, depressed by New England's 6-10 record, asked Kraft to chop off the final year of his contract in 1997.

Parcells had signed a five-year deal with the previous owner James Orthwein in 1993 that included a penalty clause if he quit before the five years were up. Kraft agreed to take out the clause as long as he agreed not to coach anywhere else in 1997 if he quit.

He went to the Super Bowl after the 1996 season, then resigned to take the Jets' job, but the Patriots demanded compensation, and they got four draft picks to let Parcells coach the Jets.

Although Parcells said the border war is now over and he'll no longer be on the sidelines, the Patriots still play the Jets twice a year, and Belichick's arrival is likely to keep the rivalry at a fever pitch.

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