Nick Saban, Bill Belichick exits rekindle Browns memories from 30 years ago | Jeff Schudel

Jan. 13—Nick Saban retiring as Alabama head coach on Jan. 10 and then Bill Belichick and the Patriots agreeing "to part ways" one day later brought on a rush of memories of what it was like to cover the Browns from 1991-95.

Belichick, formerly the defensive coordinator of the New York Giants, was hired to replace the disastrous Bud Carson, who after getting the Browns to the AFC championship in the 1989 season saw his team finish 3-13 in 1990.

The late Art Modell, who moved the Browns from Cleveland to Baltimore after the 1995 season, had Belichick pegged to replace Carson while the Giants were preparing to play the Bills in Super Bowl XXV on Jan. 27, 1991. I remember very clearly being among a group of reporters that interviewed Belichick that week.

"I'm not answering questions about the Cleveland Browns," he said sourly. And that was that.

Belichick's famed coaching tree took root in Cleveland. He hired Saban to be his defensive coordinator in 1991. Saban coached the Browns' defense for four years and then left in 1995 to be the head coach at Michigan State.

Belichick in 1993 replaced offensive line coach Hal Hunter (Hunter sounded exactly like late comedian Red Skelton doing a Clem Kadiddlehopper skit) with Kirk Ferentz. Ferentz has been the head coach at Iowa since 1999.

The only difference between Belichick during his 24-year reign in New England and his time in Cleveland is gray hair and wrinkles in his face. He greeted Cleveland media this way:

"I understand that some of you travel on the team plane," he said. "That's out now."

Saban had a different personality than Belichick when both coached in Cleveland. We would interview the coordinators separately in a small room. Saban would joke around a little, but he was super serious about his job and it was evident 30 years ago he wouldn't be an assistant coach for long.

Bill's father, Steve Belichick, was a football coach and scout at Navy from 1956-89. His primary job was scouting for the Midshipmen.

Saban coached the Navy defensive backs in 1982, which is how the younger Belichick and Saban got to know each other. Saban was the defensive backs coach of the Houston Oilers in 1988-89 and the head coach at Toledo for one year before Belichick hired him as Browns defensive coordinator.

"There's nobody I respect more in football than Nick Saban and I don't think there's anybody that's a better coach than Nick Saban," Belichick said in a 2019 HBO documentary titled "Belichick and Saban: The Art of Coaching."

"What he's accomplished as a football coach is, I think, unparalleled. I look up to him. I admire what he's done, and I've learned a ton from Nick.

"Somewhere along the line we're probably related, distantly, There's gotta be a brotherhood there somewhere, or at least cousins."

Belichick was the head coach for the Patriots when they won Six Super Bowls. Saban won seven national championships as a college coach — one at LSU and six at Alabama. Saban is one of the few coaches who had success after moving on from Belichick.

"I think there are a lot of similarities," Saban said in the HBO documentary. "Now whether it comes from lineage or something else I really don't know. I always thought we sort of thought a little bit alike.

"Sometimes people have a real true love and respect for someone. You really love to see them have this success and continue to have this success. I don't know how many people can really understand that kind of relationship. That's kind of how I feel about Bill."

Belichick is actually a nice guy at times. I personally got along with him well. But he could also be cold and cantankerous.

Mike Wise, a defensive end who played three games for the Browns in 1991 in Belichick's first year, tragically committed suicide on Aug. 21, 1992, when teams were in training camp. About two months earlier, Philadelphia Eagles star defensive tackle Jerome Brown was killed in a car accident when he lost control of the Corvette he was driving, went airborne and slammed into a palm tree and utility pole.

"Yeah," Belichick said when asked about Wise in training camp that day. "It's been a bad summer for defensive linemen."

Stat of the Week

The Detroit Pistons beat the San Antonio Spurs in double overtime, 138-132, on Feb. 10, 2023. Their record since then is 5-61.

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