Bill Belichick era with Patriots ends 'amicably,' team owner Robert Kraft says

A legendary era ended with a pair of statements delivered to the media.

Bill Belichick ditched his trademark cutoff hoodie for a sport coat and tie as he ditched his 24-year New England Patriots tenure for a free agency sure to draw suitors.

Team owner Robert Kraft stood beside Belichick as the longtime head coach addressed reporters first.

“Robert and I, after a series of discussions, have mutually agreed to part ways,” Belichick said. “For me, this is a day of gratitude and celebration.”

Bill Belichick and Patriots owner Robert Kraft put the official stamp on their divorce Thursday. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Bill Belichick and Patriots owner Robert Kraft put the official stamp on their divorce Thursday. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Belichick thanked the Krafts, his coaching staff and especially his players, giving them public praise beyond what his outwardly gruff tenure often produced.

“Players win games in the NFL, and I’ve been very fortunate to coach some of the greatest players who have ever played,” Belichick said. “I respect the way players come to work here on a daily basis — all of them — and I’ve coached well over 1,000.

“Certainly, we’ve had many that have been here for a long time and had great contributions. Too many to name at this time, but great thanks to the players.”

Belichick and Kraft shook hands as Kraft succeeded Belichick at the podium. The team owner was scheduled to field questions later in the afternoon, so for now, Kraft focused on his longtime partner and what they accomplished together.

“I don’t think in the NFL, there’s been any other partnership that lasted longer and has been more productive than ours,” Kraft said. “Coach Belichick will forever be celebrated as a legendary sports icon here in New England and, I believe, go in as a Pro Football Hall of Famer on the first ballot. Why? Because he is the greatest coach of all time – which makes this decision to parts ways so hard.”

Kraft’s voice caught as he completed the sentiment: “But this is a move that we mutually agreed that is needed at this time.”

The move, as hard as it was to believe, was in many ways expected. Because despite the six Lombardi trophies, nine Super Bowl appearances, 31 playoff wins and 17 division titles that Belichick brought New England, the Patriots have struggled in the four seasons since quarterback Tom Brady left. Only once in the past four campaigns did New England qualify for the postseason, losing in the wild-card round. This season, Belichick oversaw a career-worst 4-13 split. Injuries contributed, but his personnel decisions drew scrutiny as well.

Belichick indicated Monday in a 7:30 a.m. news conference that he would be open to “whatever, collectively, we decided as an organization is the best thing to help our football team,” but he stopped short of saying he’d hand over the GM reins. He instead emphasized then that personnel decisions were collaborative even if he had the final say.

That model no longer served the Patriots. Perhaps it no longer served Belichick in New England, though he’s expected to garner significant interest in a league with eight head coach openings. Kraft knows he’s releasing arguably the NFL’s greatest coach to compete against him, quipping that “it’ll be difficult to see” the hoodie on another sideline but saying he’d root for Belichick all weeks except against the Patriots.

The succession, Kraft said, was a mutual decision made “amicably.”

Kraft leaned forward, his eyes widening, to emphasize “amicably.”

Handshakes, back-pats and hugs seemed to validate that claim.

Because even as Kraft navigated a “very emotional day for me,” he also celebrated the run few could've imagined when it began in 2000.

“We had high expectations for what we could achieve together,” Kraft said. “I think it’s safe to say we exceeded them —”

Belichick chimed in: “We did.”

Kraft completed his thought: “Thanks to you.”

Belichick did not take questions, but he also did not settle for a written statement as he thanked the thousands who supported his tenure in remarks lasting five minutes nearly to the second.

Four days after his final game and three days after his final team meeting in New England, Belichick and Kraft divorced in the same way they long worked: together.

And as their paths diverged, with the Patriots angling toward their next leader while the nearly 72-year-old Belichick eyes his next coaching stop, an era ended.

Or did it? In some ways, to Kraft and Belichick, it never will.

“I’ll always be a Patriot,” Belichick said. “I look forward to coming back here.

“But at this time” — Belichick took a deep breath as the enormity set in — “we’re gonna move on.”