The NFL coaching carousel is in full swing, and the New England Patriots are also somewhat involved: inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo is expected to interview for the Philadelphia Eagles’ vacant head coaching position. The Patriots themselves, meanwhile, did not have to fill that most important role on their staff in quite some time.
Bill Belichick took over the job in 2000, and since then has turned the organization from an afterthought into the lone dynasty of the salary cap era — winning six Super Bowls along the way and earning himself a future spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. History, however, could have gone in a drastically different direction had one particular coaching search ended in another way back in 1998.
Back then, the Oakland Raiders were looking for a new head coach after firing head coach Joe Bugel following a 4-12 season. Thus, Raiders owner Al Davis embarked on a coaching while assisted by chief executive Amy Trask.
Earlier this week, Trask appeared on the SB Nation NFL Show to talk about the process of looking for new head coaches. She also told an anecdote about that 1998 offseason, when she almost helped change the course of the NFL forever.
“In my almost 30 years with the team, Al only included me in one coaching search,” Trask said. “One time in almost 30 years, and, by the way, I think we know he hired a lot of coaches. One of times he allowed me in, he invited me to meet all the candidates, and I recommended one and he didn’t hire him.”
That coach later led the Patriots to their unprecedented run of success.
“I recommended that he hired Bill Belichick,” continued Trask. “He did not hire Bill, he went on to hire Jon Gruden, who also... Very good coach, did a very good job with the team, I’m not suggesting otherwise, but I recommended Bill. And then Bill went on to have the tremendous success that we’ve seen him have and I used to smile ear-to-ear when Al would periodically say to me, ‘Kid, you know how to pick a coach.’”
Belichick entered that interview coming off his first season as the New York Jets’ defensive coordinator, and later spent two more season with the organization before jumping ship amidst a tumultuous 2000 offseason. The rest is history, but he still recalled the interview with the Raiders ahead of a regular season game in Oakland in 2011.
“He’s a great mind,” Belichick said at the time. “It was unlike any other interview I’ve ever had with an owner because he was in in-depth, his interview was so in-depth, really about football, about Xs-and-Os and strategy and use of personnel and acquisition of — all the things really that a coach would want to talk about.
“He was asking a lot of questions about what we did defensively. You kind of don’t want to give too much information there because you know, he’s running the defense. He wasn’t really too interested in talking about offensive football.”
Davis went on to hire Jon Gruden, who led the team to a 38-26 record in four seasons before being traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002. One has to wonder how the Raiders, and especially the Patriots, would have fared had Al Davis listened to Trask in 1998 and went with Belichick instead — and how this year’s coaching hires will shape the league for years to come.