FOXBORO, Mass. — When you get down to it, the Patriots fired Bill Belichick this week.

That might not have been clear Thursday morning, when Robert Kraft dragged a clearly uncomfortable Belichick to a podium to announce a “mutual” parting of ways. But by the end of a surreal afternoon at Gillette Stadium — and with the help of two telling answers from Kraft — it was clear that Belichick no longer is in New England because Kraft wanted it so.

Nearly two hours after Belichick bid farewell, Kraft returned to the podium to answer a series of questions from reporters. The first was simple: Why did Kraft feel moving on from Belichick was the right decision?

“Well, the last three years have been pretty tough,” Kraft said. “And I know for our dedicated fans, and myself, in life I’ve just learned that things happen. Our family is the custodian of this asset — the New England Patriots — and we know how important it is to the psyche of the community. What’s gone on here the last three, four years isn’t what we want. So we have a responsibility to do what we can to fix it to the best of our ability.”

Story continues below advertisement

That doesn’t paint a picture of two NFL legends sitting in a room together and going, “Ah, you know what makes sense? Splitting up. It kinda feels like the right time, so let’s do it.”

No, those comments make it clear Kraft isn’t happy with the direction of the Patriots — nor should he be — and believes Belichick was responsible for the franchise slipping into irrelevancy.

    What do you think?  Leave a comment.

No Matchup Found

Click here to enter a different Sportradar ID.

The other telling remark came when Kraft was asked whether he considered retaining Belichick but reducing or outright stripping his personnel responsibilities.

Story continues below advertisement

“We thought about that,” Kraft said. “But I’ve had experience running different businesses and trying to develop a team. Think about it: when you have someone like Bill, who’s had control over every decision, every coach we hire, the organization reports to him on the draft and how much money we spend.

“Every decision has been his, and we’ve always supported him. To then take some of that power away and give it to someone else — accountability is important to me in every one of our companies — and where he had the responsibility and then someone else takes it, it’s going to set up confusion. ‘Well, it was his pick and it was a bad pick,’ or ‘He didn’t play him right,’ it just wouldn’t work in my opinion.”

Everyone knew that the only path toward Belichick staying with the Patriots was for him to relinquish general manager duties. Belichick knew it, which is why he said he’d be open to such a change during his end-of-season news conference on Monday.

But Kraft rightly believed that removing Belichick’s personnel responsibilities wasn’t sustainable. It would create more problems than it would solve. It just wasn’t going to happen.

Story continues below advertisement

When you take those two answers, and lump them in with Belichick recently reminding reporters of his contract status, you get all the proof you need that he was fired. Perhaps there wasn’t a shouting match, and maybe Belichick deep down knew this day was coming, but this outcome wasn’t “amicable.”

And that’s OK, life happens — even to the authors of the greatest dynasty in sports history.

Featured image via Eric Canha/USA TODAY Sports Images