FOXBORO, Mass. — Even the television networks told Patriots owner Robert Kraft to avoid hiring Bill Belichick.
Though it all sounds ridiculous now, Kraft took some heat for hiring Belichick as head coach in 2000. Belichick was wildly unpopular in Cleveland for benching and later releasing legendary quarterback Bernie Kosar. And Belichick made some enemies in New York after bailing on the Jets job, just days before taking the helm in New England.
But for Kraft to take heat from the heads of networks? That's just wild.
"I think he had a history at Cleveland," Kraft said Friday. "His first year with us, he went 5-11, and then he went 1-3 [to start 2001], so he was 6-14, and I had people sending me tapes of him doing press conferences, and heads of networks telling me I shouldn't hire him. But what I had learned is that this guy really knew the game. I think Bill's brilliance is understanding what fits for our team."
Kraft was comfortable taking a gamble on Belichick, even though it was an unpopular move. But Kraft cited some other risky moves that tremendously worked in his favor, too.
In 1985, Kraft took out a 10-year lease on the parking lots around Foxboro Stadium for $1 million per year, and his bankers hated the idea. In 1988, Kraft bought the stadium while Victor Kiam maintained ownership of the team, and Kraft's bankers advised against that move, also.
It all worked out, obviously, as Kraft finally purchased the organization in 1994, and he related that process, to an extent, to hiring Belichick with the long-term goal in mind.
"The key to life, whether it's the partner you pick in marriage or the business you run, is you try to see things that other people can't see," Kraft said. "Because this league is set up to have everyone go 8-8, in terms of the scheduling if you do well, how you draft, the schedule they give you, everything. They want parity. The best thing is for every team to go 8-8, and every city feels they're still in it. How do you differentiate? Everyone in the organization, you hope can see things that other people can't see and are willing to take risks. You have to be bold in any business and do things that you take a lot of criticism for but you believe are the right things."
Since hiring Belichick, the organization has reached new levels of success.
"I think he'll go down as the greatest coach in the history of the NFL because he's really competing in an era of the salary cap," Kraft said. "A lot of great coaches had difficulty understanding how to balance the economics of the game and the budgets. His product knowledge is so great."