It all started when Bill Belichick stepped on a podium in Florham Park, New Jersey to be introduced as the next head coach of the New York Jets. What followed was one of the most bizarre press conferences in NFL history: Belichick took the stage equipped with the now-legendary napkin stating “I resign as HC of the NYJ” to announce that he would step down on his first day at the job he inherited from previous Jets head coach Bill Parcells.
The day was January 4, 2000 and the culmination of what had unfolded over the previous 24 hours not just in Florham Park but also 190 miles northeast. After all, the New England Patriots also played a role in Belichick’s resignation: once they fired their own head coach, Pete Carroll, on January 3, the team faxed the Jets asking for permission to interview Belichick. This, in turn, led to Parcells announcing his resignation from the head coaching position.
The Jets’ plan was a simple one, after all: with Parcells transitioning to a senior executive role within the organization, Belichick would automatically take over as head coach. The Patriots, meanwhile, would be unable to lure him away (at least without proper compensation). Belichick, however, threw a wrench into the well-crafted scheme by using his introductory presser to talk about his intentions and current position within the Jets organization for 30 minutes before walking off for good.
When the spectacle 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, however, which ended with a court ruling validating the contract between coach and club. As a result, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue ruled that Parcells and company would be granted compensation should Belichick leave for another team. And leave for another team he did indeed.
Fast forward to January 27, 2000: four days after New York introduced Al Groh as its new head coach, the Patriots and Jets agreed to a deal that would send Belichick to New England. Parcells’ team would get multiple draft picks — a 2000 first-round selection as well as fourth- and seventh-rounders in 2001 — for the rights to the then-47-year-old. New England, meanwhile, received Belichick, a 2001 fifth-rounder and a 2002 seventh-rounder.
Kraft was therefore able to step in front of the press on that fateful Thursday to introduce Belichick as the team’s new head coach:
“Hopefully, this press conference will go a little bit better than the last one I had,” was Belichick’s opening statement — yes, the Belichick era started with some light-hearted remarks about the Jets situation that had unfolded three weeks before — and the official beginning of the greatest run in league annals. At that point, of course, nobody knew what was in the cards for the two franchises involved in the Belichick trade.
The media reactions to Belichick’s arrival in New England were therefore somewhat of a mixed bag. The New York Times’s Judy Battista pointed out that everyone would be “happy” with the results, while the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy wrote that “Belichick’s behavior in recent weeks indicates he might be enough of a wacko to be an effective head coach.” On the other end of the spectrum was Ian O’Connor of the Courier News in New Jersey, who wrote that the “Patriots will regret hiring Bill Belichick.”
20 years later, it is clear that they did not.
Kraft sending three draft picks to the Jets to acquire Belichick could also very well be the best and most consequential trade the NFL has ever seen. Just think about what he has accomplished since being brought aboard. Belichick — in combination with quarterback Tom Brady, whom he drafted just three months after joining New England — led the Patriots to six championships, nine conference and 17 division titles, and 19 straight winning seasons. He has become a sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Belichick lifted the franchise from NFL afterthought status to the highest of heights, turning it into the model organization in pro football. Along the way, he helped the Patriots brand become one of the most valuable in all of sports. What Robert Kraft gave up in the trade with the Jets was a lot for a coach who had flamed out spectacularly at his last gig and had a losing record as a head coach, but every single pick sent to New York was worth it in the end. At least for New England.