At least in theory, the plan was a good one. After three seasons with the New York Jets, head coach Bill Parcells would retire and hand the reigns over to his defensive coordinator Bill Belichick. While Parcells would remain in the organization as general manager, Belichick would become the coach.
Unfortunately for the Jets, the head coaching change did not go as planned.
On January 3, 2000, Parcells made his resignation official with the intention to make Belichick his successor. On the same day Parcells resigned, the team he coached prior to his tenure with the Jets – the New England Patriots – relieved their own head coach, Pete Carroll, of his duties. Shortly after, the Patriots faxed the Jets, asking for permission to interview Belichick.
There was already some familiarity between New York's soon-to-be head coach and New England. Belichick has spent one season as the Patriots' secondary coach in 1996 and the possibility to work together with team owner Robert Kraft was certainly an intriguing one. Another aspect that made the Patriots' interest attractive for Belichick was that a head coaching job in New England would ensure that he – for the first time since getting fired as coach of the Cleveland Browns in 1995 – would leave Parcells' gigantic shadow.
However, the problem for both the Patriots and Belichick was that he was still to be the next head coach of the Jets – and still under contract. Parcells used this fact to tell Belichick that he would not be allowed to talk to other teams whilst in New York. If Belichick wanted to leave the team which held his rights, he would have to find a way to get out of his contract.
The first step to do just that was taken on January 4 – the day after Parcells stepped down; the day the Jets scheduled an introductory press conference for their new head coach. With the New York sports media waiting to hear from the Jets' new leader for the first time, Belichick dropped a bombshell. One, that was written on a loose piece of paper: his resignation.
Belichick started his press conference with those now-famous first lines of his resignation letter:
Due to the various uncertainties surrounding my position as it relates to the team's new ownership, I have decided to resign as the HC of the NYJ.
The team's ownership was – officially – the main reason for Belichick's resignation. Jets owner Leon Hess died in May 1999 and no new owner was found eight months later, despite the fact that the franchise expected a move by mid-December 1999. With the state of ownership in flux, Belichick viewed that the validity of his agreement with Hess, Parcells and team president Steve Gutman has also changed.
The press conference, during which Belichick talked about his own position and intentions – lasted almost 30 minutes. When it was over, the Jets were left without a head coach and Belichick without a job. What followed was a legal battle between Belichick and the Jets (starring Jeffrey Kessler as Belichick's attorney), which ended with a court ruling validating the contract between coach and club. As a result, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue ruled that the Jets would be granted compensation should Belichick leave for another team.
When the Jets announced that Woody Johnson has bought the team for $635 million, the new owner's brain trust – led by Parcells – immediately began working with the Patriots' Robert Kraft to strike a deal for Belichick's services.
On January 27, four days after New York made Al Groh its new head coach, the two sides agreed to a deal, making Belichick the new head coach and de-facto general manager of the New England Patriots. Kraft's team gave up multiple draft picks to get its new coach: a 2000 first-rounder (turning into defensive end Shaun Ellis), and fourth- and seventh-rounders in 2001. New England received its new coach, a 2001 fifth-rounder and a 2002 seventh-rounder.
Given the last 15 years, the Patriots have gotten the better of the deal – a deal which was only made possible by Bill Belichick holding a press conference announcing his intentions to "resign as HC of the NYJ".