How Bill Belichick Spurning Jets For Patriots Changed NFL History

New England and New York went in opposite directions soon after Belichick's 2000 resignation

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December 1, 2022

Remember when Bill Belichick was head coach of the New York Jets?

Well, it happened. Kinda. And his tenure — or lack thereof — completely changed NFL history, with the Jets heading down a path of mediocrity as the New England Patriots built one of the greatest sports dynasties of all time.

In hindsight, it was Belichick’s most important play-call: One day after assuming the role vacated by Bill Parcells in New York, he abruptly resigned on Jan. 4, 2000, turning his introductory news conference into an impromptu farewell party.

There’s something old school about drawing up plays in the dirt, yet Belichick took the approach to a whole new level, literally scribbling his intentions on a napkin before stepping to the podium looking disheveled.

“I resign as HC of the NYJ,” the note read.

Belichick’s lengthy interaction with reporters that fateful day was unlike anything media members would grow accustomed to experiencing in New England in the years that followed. He rambled. A lot. And it wasn’t about left-footed punters or the history of the tight-end position. Rather, it was self-induced word vomit that left behind a giant mess for the Jets to clean up.

“There are a number of obvious uncertainties that would affect the head coach of the team,” Belichick said at the time. “I just don’t feel at this time that I can lead the Jets with the 100 percent conviction that I need.”

Jarring for a man who subsequently built a reputation centered on being in control. Belichick was not especially calm, cool and collected. And then-Jets president Steve Gutman highlighted such in his immediate attempt to play damage control in a room full of stunned onlookers.

“We should have some feelings of sorrow and regret for him and his family,” Gutman told reporters. “He obviously has some inner turmoil.”

Inner turmoil, or just a strong desire to escape the Meadowlands in favor of Foxboro?

The Jets, as the story goes, had rebuffed the Patriots’ request to speak with Belichick about their own head-coaching vacancy in wake of firing Pete Carroll. Yet, as we sit here umpteen years later and Monday morning quarterback the timeline of events, that refusal only delayed the inevitable.

“That wasn’t a good situation for me and I didn’t want to be part of it, so I wasn’t.”

Bill Belichick, in 2020, on resigning from the Jets in 2000

“Essentially, the problem I had with the whole arrangement eventually was, when all this transpired, there was no (Jets) owner,” Belichick said in a 2018 ESPN “30 for 30” documentary about his relationship with Parcells. “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.”

Clearly, those “issues” were enough for Belichick to run for the hills, contract be damned. And Patriots owner Robert Kraft, in an effort to jumpstart a middling franchise, swooped in to land his guy several weeks (and countless headlines) after Belichick’s dramatic departure.

“Well, not only one of the most defining, but one of the great moments of my career,” Belichick said in a 2020 radio interview with WEEI of his Jets resignation. “That combined with Robert (Kraft) giving me the opportunity to come here (to New England), I couldn’t have asked for anything more. That wasn’t a good situation for me and I didn’t want to be part of it, so I wasn’t. The other half of that was Robert giving me the opportunity to come here and trading — he gave up quite a bit to get me to come here, and that was a big trade.”

Oh, right, the trade.

So, the Jets didn’t just let Belichick leave for New England after being left at the altar. That would’ve been a tough look, obviously, especially with Parcells basically doing the opposite — ditching the Patriots for New York — several years prior in a complicated move (also involving Belichick) that ultimately saw then-NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue broker a deal that resulted in New England receiving draft-pick compensation.

Instead, the sides worked out a trade, with the Patriots sending a first-round pick in the 2000 NFL Draft to the Jets for the right to hire Belichick. (New York wound up with defensive end Shaun Ellis — an eventual two-time Pro Bowl selection who coincidentally finished his career with New England in 2011 — at No. 12 overall after another draft swap with the San Francisco 49ers.)

To say the trade — a real Hail Mary at the time, considering Belichick’s previous lackluster head-coaching tenure with the Cleveland Browns (1991-95) — worked out for New England would be the understatement of the century. Belichick drafted a quarterback named Tom Brady in the sixth round in 2000 and quickly won a Super Bowl in his second season as the Patriots’ head coach, kickstarting an unprecedented run of dominance for the organization.

The Jets, meanwhile, settled on Al Groh as their head coach for the 2000 campaign. He lasted one season before resigning to join his alma mater, the University of Virginia, and the ensuing years involved frequent turnover for the Jets, with Herm Edwards, Eric Mangini, Rex Ryan, Todd Bowles and Adam Gase filtering through New York — with varying levels of success, but without any Super Bowl rings to show for it.

Belichick famously installed a “Do Your Job” mantra upon arriving in New England, which created a culture of accountability and elevated the Patriots to new heights. What he ironically omitted from the catchy slogan, however, was that one oftentimes has the right to choose his or her job before moving on to the task at hand.

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