New England Patriots fans appear fed up with Bill Belichick. Frankly, it's surprising.
For the better part of the past 20 years, legions of Patriots fans lived by the mantra "In Bill We Trust." With Belichick given carte blanche to run basically everything on the football side of the business, the team enjoyed an unprecedented run of success that included six Super Bowl wins.
But about four seasons of mediocrity and bad seem to be the limit, particularly since the 2023 Patriots are in shambles. And with one mumbling curmudgeon responsible for basically all of it, if the booing fans at home games and howls of protest on sports talk radio are true indications of the fan base's collective mood, many are ready to turn the page and welcome someone new.
In a lot of ways, you can't blame them for feeling that way after a 1-4 start to this season. The problem, though, is there is no simple fix and moving on from Belichick — no matter how necessary it may feel — will likely lead to at least a couple more seasons of struggles.
Belichick is the head coach and the de facto general manager. He has surrounded himself with a cadre of comfortable faces. In the parlance of Bill Parcells, who said on his way out the door in New England, "If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries." Belichick is head chef and has final say over all of the ingredients, the menu, the prep cooks, the bartenders ... his hands touch everything.
So while Patriots owner Robert Kraft reportedly isn't at all wedded to the idea of letting Belichick stick around until he breaks Don Shula's all-time wins record of 347, it's not as easy as it seems. It's highly unlikely Belichick would assent to having his personnel hat taken away but remain as coach, and having a mutual parting of the ways may lead to a whole bunch of others, who essentially owe their careers to Belichick, following him out the door.
Maybe that wouldn't be much of a bad thing either.
Director of player personnel Matt Groh is a son of Al Groh, who worked with Belichick with the Giants and Browns. When Groh decided he wanted to leave his law career and follow his father and brother into football, he was hired as a front-office assistant with his dad's friend's team. Belichick's two sons, Steve (linebackers coach) and Brian (safeties), were handed jobs with the team when they graduated college and have never worked for anyone but their father. Super Bowl-winning former Patriots players Adrian Klemm (offensive line), Troy Brown (receivers) and Jerod Mayo (linebackers) are all on the coaching staff, though Mayo seems to be a Kraft favorite. Cornerbacks coach Mike Pellegrino has called only Belichick his boss.
In the 2018 season, the Patriots won Super Bowl LIII over the Rams. Historically that would buy a head coach a long honeymoon post-championship. In the four seasons and five games since that championship, New England is 38-33 in the regular season. (They have two wild card-round losses in that time.) Take away the 12-4 record in 2019 that marked Tom Brady's final season with the team, and the Patriots are 26-29.
Aggravating the situation: it looks like they are getting worse.
Belichick the coach should still be considered one of the best ever; we won't argue that. But Belichick the general manager has been average at best for years, and with the benefit of hindsight it's clear that Brady may have been even greater than we've long thought, able as he was to cover up the numerous mistakes of the GM like the world's most telegenic Band-Aid.
Particularly on offense, it's been bad. The Patriots have been almost comically incapable of drafting wide receivers in the higher rounds. They finally used a first-round draft pick on one in 2019, N'Keal Harry, and he had just 57 catches in 33 games over three seasons before being traded to Chicago for a seventh-round selection. Of the seven other receivers drafted in the first three rounds during Belichick's tenure, only one had anything resembling a memorable career with the team: Deion Branch, a second-round pick in 2002 who went on to be MVP of Super Bowl XXXIX.
The offensive line, not long ago consistently considered one of the best in the NFL under the tutelage of Dante Scarnecchia, is a revolving group of players in part due to injuries, but its issues mean the Patriots can't protect Mac Jones and can't run the ball. Jones may not be a future All-Pro, but at this point, between the mind-boggling decision to name Matt Patricia and Joe Judge offensive coordinators last season, the dearth of top-tier skill players and the leaky line, do we have a sense of how he well he can play quarterback?
With younger offensive minds like the Rams' Sean McVay, San Francisco's Kyle Shanahan and Miami's Mike McDaniel changing the game, Bill O'Brien, whose return as offensive coordinator this season was touted as a potential magical salve, looks like he has been passed by. New England has been outscored 72-3 over its past two games and is averaging just 11 points a game.
In much of the analysis from local and national pundits, there's often a caveat giving Belichick the benefit of the doubt: He has turned things around before, so maybe he can this year.
Maybe has never felt so empty. Right now the Patriots' proverbial meal stinks, and there's only one cook to blame.