Bill Belichick leaves Patriots after 24 seasons, six Super Bowl wins

The New England Patriots are moving on from the NFL’s greatest modern dynasty and starting entirely over. Bill Belichick is leaving the franchise he coached to six Super Bowl triumphs, four mostly discouraging seasons after quarterback Tom Brady made his exit.

Belichick and the Patriots parted ways Thursday in what he and team owner Robert Kraft called a mutual decision reached during their conversations this week. The move came after a trying season in which the Patriots finished in last place in the AFC East with a 4-13 record.

“For me, this is a day of gratitude and celebration,” Belichick said at a news conference in Foxborough, Mass., in which he and Kraft announced the decision but did not take questions from reporters.

Kraft previously had expressed his disappointment about the Patriots’ struggles this season, and some within the league had regarded a parting between Kraft and Belichick as a foregone conclusion.

“I’m very proud that our partnership lasted for 24 years,” Kraft said Thursday. “I don’t think in the NFL there’s been any other partnership that lasted longer and has been as productive as ours.”

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Kraft said the two were parting “amicably.” He called it the end of an era and referred to Belichick as a first-ballot Hall of Famer and the greatest coach in history.

“This is a very emotional day for me,” Kraft said. “Some of my happiest and most memorable moments were celebrated with my family during Bill’s tenure here.”

Belichick, 71, could opt to continue his coaching career with another franchise. He reportedly was under contract to the Patriots through next season. It does not appear that Kraft and the Patriots will seek to receive draft-pick compensation from any other team interested in hiring Belichick in what would have amounted to a trade.

“There are so many fond memories and thoughts,” Belichick said. “I think about the Patriots, and I’ll always be a Patriot. I look forward to coming back here. But at this time, we’re going to move on. I look forward — I’m excited for the future. But I’ll always be very appreciative of the opportunity here, the support here and, Robert, what you’ve done for me.”

Kraft suggested that he expects Belichick to keep coaching when he said Thursday that he wishes Belichick continued success except when he faces the Patriots.

“Coach Belichick will forever be celebrated as a legendary sports icon here in New England,” Kraft said.

Seven other NFL teams — the Las Vegas Raiders, Carolina Panthers, Los Angeles Chargers, Atlanta Falcons, Washington Commanders, Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks — have head coaching vacancies. The Chargers could be particularly appealing, given the presence of quarterback Justin Herbert. But Chargers owner Dean Spanos has a reputation for being thrifty when it comes to paying coaches. Some within the league believe the Falcons could be a contender to hire Belichick.

The Patriots will choose a successor to perhaps the greatest coach in league history. Jerod Mayo, their linebackers coach and de facto defensive coordinator, has been viewed as a potential successor. A top candidate became available Tuesday when the Titans surprisingly fired Mike Vrabel, a former NFL coach of the year and once a Patriots linebacker.

Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores is another potential candidate. He is a one-time Patriots assistant and is the former head coach of the Miami Dolphins. Flores filed a racial discrimination lawsuit in February 2022 against the NFL and teams.

Belichick leaves the Patriots 14 victories shy of Don Shula’s NFL record for most wins by a head coach, including postseason games. Belichick has 333 wins to Shula’s 347. Belichick’s 31 postseason victories are the most by any coach in NFL history.

“What Bill accomplished with us, in my opinion, will never be replicated,” Kraft said.

Belichick joined the Patriots in 2000 as a defensive guru who’d failed in his previous head coaching stint with the Cleveland Browns, managing only one winning season in a five-year stint. He’d spurned the New York Jets, resigning as their coach just before he was to be formally introduced. Kraft sent a first-round draft choice, along with an exchange of late-round selections, to the Jets to be able to hire Belichick.

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The Patriots went 5-11 in Belichick’s first season in 2000. They went 11-5 and won the Super Bowl in the next season as Brady, the 199th player chosen in the 2000 NFL draft out of Michigan, took over for the injured Drew Bledsoe at quarterback. The Patriots never looked back, as Belichick and Brady formed the most successful coach-and-quarterback pairing in NFL history, sharing a ruthless competitiveness and an unquenchable thirst for winning.

“I’ve been very, very fortunate to coach some of the greatest players that have ever played,” Belichick said Thursday.

In a league designed for parity, the Patriots reached nine Super Bowls and won six over a span of 18 seasons between the 2001 and 2018 seasons. But their legacy was complicated, as the NFL also punished them in the Spygate and Deflategate scandals.

The relationship between Belichick and Brady became strained in the later stages, with persistent reports of tension leading to growing speculation about a breakup. Brady left as a free agent following the 2019 season and signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He played three seasons in Tampa, won a Super Bowl and reached the playoffs three times.

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Belichick failed to maintain the Patriots’ dynasty without Brady. The team has a regular season record of 29-38 in the post-Brady era and reached the playoffs only once in four seasons. The Patriots had Cam Newton at quarterback for one season, then used a first-round draft pick on Mac Jones. The offense struggled after coordinator Josh McDaniels left to become the head coach of the Raiders, only to be fired this season. Belichick’s coaching prowess was undermined by his mistakes in building the roster and staffing decisions for his assistant coaches that didn’t work out, particularly on the offensive side.

“This is our 30th year that I’ve had the privilege of owning this team, and I’ve never been 2-7,” Kraft told the league-owned NFL Network before the Patriots’ loss Nov. 12 to the Indianapolis Colts in Germany. “So it’s really disappointing. And I had hoped that things would be a lot better, as I know our fan base did. And I hope today is a chance to reset and make this a much better year. This isn’t what we were expecting to happen this year.”

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During a video news conference Monday, Belichick suggested he might be open to relinquishing his final say over the team’s roster decisions. Some within the league had wondered whether Kraft might have been receptive to retaining Belichick with changes to the front office and coaching staff, particularly after Brady experienced so much post-Patriots success with the Buccaneers. But there was no such resolution.

“We had a vision of building a winner, building a championship football team here,” Belichick said Thursday. “And that’s exceeded my wildest dreams and expectations, the amount of success that we were able to achieve together. It took a lot of hard work and the contributions of so many people. So I’m very proud of that. I’ll always have those great memories. I’ll carry those with me the rest of my life.”

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