Bill Belichick eying 3 teams for NFL coaching return next year

For the first time in decades, an NFL season will open without Bill Belichick on the sidelines. The last time that happened? The Minnesota Vikings and the Pittsburgh Steelers met in Super Bowl IX, Gerald Ford took the Presidential Oath of Office after the resignation of Richard Nixon, and this author — who is not exactly a young man — had not been born.

Yet, after parting ways with the New England Patriots, Belichick is without an NFL job for the upcoming season. While he interviewed with the Atlanta Falcons (more on that in a moment) instead of preparing to make some selections in the upcoming NFL Draft the venerable head coach, and surefire first-ballot Hall of Fame selection, is preparing to join Pat McAfee and company as an analyst during the draft.

Other than making some clinic stops at Washington and Nebraska (where he left Cornhuskers head coach Matt Rhule amazed) Belichick will not be prowling a sideline in his trademark hoodie this fall.

Will we ever see him again in the NFL?

While at first blush that seems outlandish, new reporting indicates that we might have seen the last of him in the NFL ranks.

A piece on ESPN Wednesday featuring extensive reporting from Don Van Natta Jr., Seth Wickersham and Jeremy Fowler dove into Belichick’s departure from New England, shedding new light on his interview process with the Falcons and opening the door to the idea that Belichick might not have an NFL future. According to the article, what made Belichick great, in a sense, limited his options.

During his run in New England, Belichick was a hybrid head coach/general manager, entrusted with making the bulk of personnel decisions. That he wanted such a title should not come as a surprise. After all, Belichick came up under Bill Parcells, a man who once famously offered the phrase “ … [i]f they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.”

Parcells was not talking about your local super market, but rather being entrusted with personnel decisions by an NFL owner. The owner he was referring to? None other than Robert Kraft, who after balking at Parcells having that kind of power, eventually entrusted Belichick with those responsibilities.

Of course, it ended up working. Belichick delivered not one, but two, different dynasties to New England, and when his time in Foxborough ran out, he left with six Super Bowl titles on his resume.

But that model seems to have run its course. According to the piece in ESPN:

Owners have evolved in the 28 years since Belichick last hustled for a job. Belichick’s brand of dual GM/head coach leadership has not fallen completely out of favor in the NFL. The 49ers and Chiefs, this year’s Super Bowl contestants, both use strong head-coach models.

But most team owners are loath to grant a single person as much power as Belichick wielded in New England, even with his career results. Owners now value collaboration and cooperation among football operations, the coaching staff and other team executives. Most reject the fear and leverage that fueled New England’s dynasty.

This time around, what made Bill Belichick great limited his options.

Belichick’s leadership style led, in part, to the decision by seven team owners to pass on him this offseason.

According to the ESPN reporting, Belichick knew this going in. There is an anecdote offered from a previous season indicating that the veteran coach himself started to think his model was from a bygone era. “Even Belichick was aware that his head coach/GM hybrid had fallen out of favor around the league, sources said. A year ago, Belichick had drinks with another head coach. Over cocktails, Belichick told the coach that perhaps there was a better way than the way Belichick had been doing things for nearly a quarter century.”

So when Belichick interviewed with Atlanta, he “pledged his willingness to coexist with Falcons executives under this new paradigm. In fact, he insisted he just wants to coach.”

It was not enough.

“But the Falcons realized that if you hire Bill Belichick, you hire all of him, an entire philosophy and ethos stemming from one man’s ethic and ingenuity, sources said. In the end, his assurances failed to persuade Blank and team executives. ‘He was essentially voted off the island,’ a source close to the Falcons’ hiring process said.”

So where does that leave him?

At the moment, preparing for his first draft as an analyst, and not a coach:

I must admit, as a decades-long fan of the New England Patriots, seeing Belichick so happy is almost unsettling, but I digress …

As for a potential return to the NFL, the ESPN article makes the same connection many in the industry did this past offseason, including this author.

Dallas.

“He is believed to be biding his time until next January for openings on teams he has told confidants he would be interested in coaching: the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. A source who spoke with a longtime friend of Belichick said the friend wonders if the coach will have another opportunity: ‘I don’t think Bill Belichick will ever be a head coach again in the National Football League,” the friend said. “Unless it’s [for] Jerry Jones,’” noted the ESPN article.

Leading Mina Kimes to share this incredible comparison:

So this spring, if you want your Bill Belichick fix you will find it as an analyst, and not at a press conference where he shares his gruff insight on a player his team seemingly reached for two rounds ahead of consensus.

As for this fall — and the falls beyond it — perhaps the NFC East with one of those teams mentioned, perhaps most likely Dallas with the Cowboys.

If anywhere.

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