Perhaps at some point when AI takes over for humanity and gives us free access to any point in time and space to run sophisticated simulations of any event, they might grace us with a, “What if Bill Belichick didn’t resign after one day as New York Jets head coach in 2000?”
On January 4 of that year, Belichick was thrust into that role after his longtime mentor, Bill Parcells, retired to take an executive position in the Jets’ front office. Nobody can get the full, straight story on why Belichick resigned so abruptly, but the most succinct way to put it is as follows. In Parcells’ contract, it was written that if he retired from coaching, Belichick was his automatic successor.
The lengthy relationship between Parcells and Belichick was complicated. Parcells also had animosity toward New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, because he’d coached there before landing with the Jets. It should be stated: Parcells and Belichick won two Super Bowls together with the Giants until Belichick left to be the Cleveland Browns’ head coach.
Once Belichick was fired and Art Modell stole the Browns to start the Ravens franchise in Baltimore, Belichick reunited as Parcells’ defensive coordinator on the Patriots for one year, when they lost the Super Bowl to Brett Favre’s Packers. Then, Belichick followed Parcells to the Jets after just one season in New England.
That ESPN 30 for 30 series did a whole documentary on the complexities of the Parcells-Belichick dynamic:
Some folks assert that Belichick had already been talking to Kraft and the Pats about taking their head coaching job before he was automatically elevated to the same post in New York due to Parcells’ retirement. It’s speculated that suddenly retiring might’ve been a power play by Parcells to, in essence, stick it to Kraft. He was also holding Belichick hostage.
ESPN’s Rich Cimini did an excellent deep dive on the 20-year anniversary of Belichick resigning, featuring all sorts of quotes from major figures who were in the situation. Belichick’s confidants who were contacted for the story refused to touch the issue. Cimini presents contradicting statements from Parcells over the years among many other juicy quotes.
Perhaps the craziest part is how Parcells told his staff the morning after the 1999 regular season had ended what the future held. The story was relayed by their o-line coach, Bill Muir.
“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…
Obviously, there’s stoned, stunned silence in the room. I remember distinctly, Bill Belichick said, ‘You guys probably figure I knew that, and that this was the logical conclusion, but I’m hearing it for the first time just like you.'”
Belichick wrote his resignation letter on a napkin. The note simply read, “I resign as HC of the NYJ.” WHAT. In Cimini’s report, he also cites a quote from the 30 for 30 documentary, wherein Belichick describes his issues with Jets ownership as a big reason for his abrupt exit:
“When all this transpired, there was no owner. Mr. [Leon] Hess passed away before the ’99 season. There were two potential owners, and that was [Woody] Johnson and [Charles] Dolan. I hadn’t spoken with either one, but I had issues with both.
It wasn’t Mr. Hess anymore, which was the original agreement… that whole ownership configuration at that time was a major factor in my decision.”
But that can’t be it, can it? The full, true story is impossible to pin down and more complicated than we could probably imagine.
What is true beyond a doubt is that Belichick’s resignation created one of the biggest butterfly effects ever seen in professional sports. The Jets still feel the pain of it all to this day. The Patriots had a two-decade dynasty because of Belichick’s decision.
And the rest of the NFL looked up at New England, not the Jets, as the Pats rolled to six Super Bowl victories and were almost annual participants in the AFC Championship Game.
Want some more bananas anecdotes from all this? How about Belichick marching into Foxborough, and in his very first draft, selecting none other than Tom Brady in the sixth round?
The Jets owned four first-round picks in the 2000 NFL Draft. Four. They used one of them on a quarterback who they hoped would deliver multiple championships in Chad Pennington. Dude could play, just kept getting injuries to his throwing shoulder that cut his career short.
New York wound up going to the playoffs in two of the next three years. Al Groh was a one-and-done coach when he posted a 9-7 record during the 2000 campaign, deciding instead to chase the lead job at his alma mater, Virginia. Belichick went 5-11 in his first season with the Pats. He missed the playoffs again in Year 3. Those other two seasons in the same time span as the Jets, however? Super Bowl champs. And the season after that, too, for good measure! Lifted the Lombardi Trophy three times in four years.
Just think about if Belichick stuck with the Jets. Would Brady have played there? How much further might he have slid in the 2000 draft? Where would he end up? How drastically would that impact the course of his career and achievements as a player? What if Pennington never got hurt, and Belichick was his coach? What if Pennington did still get hurt, and Belichick flopped as the Jets’ coach because he didn’t ever have a viable QB? If the Patriots’ dynasty wasn’t a thing, who could’ve risen up and won all those Super Bowls?
That’s the mere tip of the iceberg. The alternate realities of endless possibilities are mind-blowing to contemplate.
Nobody seems to be talking about this today, and I totally stumbled upon it by luck. I noticed that Belichick is preparing to face the Jets in this Sunday’s Week 18 matchup. He hates the Jets. It totally behooves New England to lose and lock up the highest draft pick possible. It behooves Belichick so that he optimizes his chances of getting a new quarterback of the future, That is, if he even stays with the Patriots. If not, then all bets are off.
This came after New England had just lost 20-13 to the Titans at home on Wild Card Weekend, in what turned out to be Tom Brady’s final game with the team. Not only did TB12’s epic reign with the Pats come to a screeching halt with a loss; his last pass attempt resulted in a pick-six.
I guess if Belichick loses to the Jets on Sunday, he might not be the only GOAT to exit New England with a thud. Look at how well Brady did in Tampa Bay — he won another Super Bowl!
I don’t think it even matters if Belichick stays or goes. He’ll do just about everything in his power not to lose to to the Jets, despite the potentially cool poetic justice of it all. It’d be a little tip of the hat to Jets fans for all the suffering he’s caused them.
My guess is, the ruthless Belichick will not show any mercy or have any regard for human feelings this time around either.