Happy Belichick Day!
OK, I must admit — Belichick Day snuck up on me this year. I was working on some other stuff when I came across the Fox Sports alert that 26 years ago today was the day that, quote, “BROWNS FIRE BELICHICK.”
For 26 years now, I’ve come across this sort of alert pretty much every year on Feb. 15 … and so even though I was planning on taking today off, I think it’s probably important to come back and correct the record.
The Cleveland Browns did not fire Bill Belichick.
Oh, sure, it’s easy to put Belichick into the giant bonfire of bad luck and bad judgment that the Cleveland Browns have been responsible for in my lifetime. Red Right 88. The Drive. The Fumble. Johnny Football. The helmet toss. Hue Jackson. Whatever that other guy’s name was, the coach they hired after Jackson. The release of OBJ.
So, you can’t blame people for just throwing Bill Belichick on top of the wood pile. The Browns hired him when it wasn’t cool to do so. And then, after five year of mostly disappointment and numerous clashes with the city, he was canned. And then he became the greatest coach in NFL history. We all know the story.
Except, as I said at the top, the Cleveland Browns did not fire Bill Belichick.
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No, the Cleveland Browns played their last game — with Belichick as coach — on the day before Christmas 1995. That final game was in Jacksonville, a fitting place for a proud franchise to die. And the game ended exactly as it should — with:
The Browns committing a pass interference penalty with 10 seconds left, setting up kicker Mike Hollis for a 39-yard field goal to win it.
Hollis hooking the kick so that it hit the left upright and bounced no-good.
The Browns being called offside.
Hollis making the 34-yard field goal as time expired to give the expansion Jaguars their first win in two months.
“Disappointing,” was all Belichick would say after the loss, leaving the bard of Cleveland sports, Terry Pluto, to write this:
“You wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake him a couple of times. You wanted to scream, ‘Bill, say what you feel. Are you glad it’s over? Do you hate everyone in Cleveland? Do you think the owner pulled the rug out from under your season? Do you think you messed up?’ … Whatever it is, you wanted the guy to say something.”
It was a pitiful scene, all of it. Cleveland was heartbroken. Baltimore seemed unsure of what to make of their new team and didn’t even know what their nickname would be (they made a bid to get back the name “Colts,” but the Irsays refused to give it up). Art Modell was rampaging because he didn’t like being considered the villain — villains never do. For six weeks, Modell kept Belichick hanging. Rumors repeatedly popped up that Modell was going to fire Belichick, but days kept going by and he didn’t.
“I’m confident about being the coach next season,” Belichick said. “But that’s not my decision to make.”
No, it was Modell’s — and though he kept SAYING that Belichick was going to be his coach, he also said that he wouldn’t make any official decisions until after the NFL gave its final approval to move the team to Baltimore.
In late January — a full month after the Cleveland Browns’ final game — a hot rumor popped up that Jimmy Johnson would hire Belichick to run the Miami defense. But Modell still had not fired Belichick.
Two days later, an even hotter rumor popped that Belichick’s old boss, Bill Parcells, planned to bring Belichick to New England to run the Patriots’ defense.
In early February, there were whispers that Modell was talking to Don Shula about coming back to Baltimore and becoming head coach. When he turned it down, Modell tried again. When Shula made it clear that he was out, the rumors surrounded Ted Marchibroda as the next coach.
“One day it’s Shula who is going to coach my team,” Modell whined. “The next day it’s Ted Marchibroda. Next it will be Knute Rockne. I’ll make an announcement when or if there is announcement to be made.”
This was quite the complaint, considering that Modell then admitted he was making yet another run at Shula, and that, yes, he had talked with Marchibroda.
All the while, Modell still had not fired Belichick.
On Feb. 9, it became official — the Cleveland Browns were dead. By this point, even Modell was tired of the whole charade.
“Bill’s the coach of the Browns for now,” he said, “but I don’t know what the future has in store.”
Sure he didn’t. For the next few days, Modell continued to let Belichick dangle and say stupid things like, “I’m still the coach of this team.” When reporters asked him when he planned on, you know, making a decision, Modell said testily: “I will talk with Bill very shortly, maybe tomorrow.”
And then, finally, Art Modell fired Bill Belichick. He was most definitely not the owner of the Cleveland Browns at that point. And, oh yeah, he immediately hired Marchibroda to be the new coach of Baltimore.
It was about as poorly done as possible … but don’t throw this one on the Browns. There’s no telling what might have happened with Belichick in Cleveland had Modell not moved the team.
I just wanna state for the record that Belichick most certainly DID resign from the Jets. No debate there.
The fact that (i) he did it via writing "I resign as coach of NYJ" on a frickin' cocktail napkin, (ii) over some amount of control Parcells, their last coach, wanted to retain, (iii) in the same year they had FOUR first round picks, and (iv) Tom Brady was available . . . just . . .
. . . I can't.
Especially apropos after watching the latest super bowl where Al Michaels pronounced that the current Browns showed Odell Beckham the door. 4.25 million buys a lot of doors.