Bill Belichick’s Patriots legacy: The NFL’s greatest dynasty

Bruschi on Belichick: ‘He’s the best coach that’s ever lived’ (2:19)

We’ve closed the book on the greatest dynasty in the history of the NFL. The Patriots and coach Bill Belichick are expected to part ways Thursday, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Mike Reiss, ending a tenure that lasted nearly a quarter of a century. In an era in which the league’s rules are designed to produce parity and short-term success, Belichick’s New England teams went 266-121 and made it to nine Super Bowls, winning six. They had a stretch of 17 division championships in 19 seasons. We might never see another NFL coach put together a two-decade spell like his again.

Of course, you can’t tell the story of the league over the past 25 years without a heavy dose of Belichick. He figures into so many of the most dramatic moments and compelling stories in recent NFL history, both as the beloved underdog and the hated favorite. He’s one of the few coaches in American sports to transcend many of its players; show someone who isn’t a football fan a photo of a dour-looking man wearing a hoodie with cutoff sleeves and they’ll probably be able to identify that it’s Belichick.

We’ve seen the clips of Belichick’s most notable moments in New England so many times, but actually considering them from how he impacted things as opposed to from the perspective of his players and using the benefit of a modern perspective reinforces how unique and remarkable Belichick’s tenure in New England was, both good and bad. There are a couple of questions about Belichick’s future I want to get to at the end, but there’s so much to say about the past that needs to be considered as we evaluate one of the landmark coaching tenures of our lifetime. To get a sense of what happened and how we’ll look at his time with the Patriots in the decades to come, though, you have to start at the beginning.

Belichick would never be a head coach again. After spending years as the defensive protégé of Bill Parcells with the Giants in the 1980s, it was inevitable that teams would come calling. The Browns finally did in 1991, hiring him 10 days after his game plan helped slow down the Bills in Super Bowl XXV. At 38, Belichick became the league’s youngest head coach by six years.

At best, Belichick’s tenure in Cleveland was tempestuous. The Browns had one winning season in his five years. He was at odds with the fans for most of his tenure, most notably for moving on from popular quarterback Bernie Kosar. John McClain of the Houston Chronicle characterized Belichick’s relationship with the media during his time with the Browns as “perhaps the worst in NFL history.”

He eventually alienated owner Art Modell, who fired Belichick after a 5-11 season in advance of the organization’s move to Baltimore. Modell said he had been “sold a bill of goods.”

“Every day I thought it would change, that he would be more pleasant to people,” Modell said at the time. “He never did, and it hurt all of us terribly.”