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The Belichick Vigil Starts Now

12:06 PM EST on January 8, 2024

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - JANUARY 07: New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick speaks during a press conference after a game against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on January 07, 2024 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images)
Winslow Townson/Getty Images

This is already the most anticipated Black Monday of the century, and it is all because Bill Belichick is potentially an active participant for the first time in 25 years. There will be a runway of other victims, but nobody cares about the warm-up acts. They want the main event.

To be completists about this, we must mention Arthur Smith, who got fired in Atlanta two minutes after midnight because they don’t call it Black Sunday. Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who is cast as the anti–David Tepper, waited until the calendar changed to can his third coach in a decade because he is having a hard time enjoying the team's fifth seven-win season in the last six years. Plus, nobody didn't enjoy Smith snapping at New Orleans coach Dennis Allen for scoring a needless sixth touchdown in their 48-17 win, even though that was Allen's own players going rogue. It reminds us that players ultimately run the games; they just have to ignore the voices placed in their heads by their own helmets.

There will be more. Ron Rivera is mort in Washington because he failed to overcome a quarter-century of Danny Snyder in four seasons. Mike Vrabel may lose the gig in Tennessee because the Titans' 28-20 elimination of Jacksonville doesn't really mitigate the 5-18 stretch he took into that game. Carolina general manager Scott Fitterer got fired for his absurd choices of coaches, quarterbacks, and owner. Giff Smith lost his only three games in the Chargers interim job, Mark Davis is likely to seek a bigger name than Antonio Pierce in Las Vegas, and Mike McCarthy just finished his 70th consecutive game on Dallas's hot seat despite winning 44 of them, including the last one, 38-10, because that’s just what happens in Dallas.

But those are just names. This is Belichick's day, even if it isn't today. Everyone who pays attention to bloody axes has been antici-predicting this one since the day Tom Brady left, and this was supposed to be the season in which the SS Schadenfreude finally docked. Belichick's counter to having no offensive threats has been to try to make every game a highlight film from 1971, and in that way and only that way it was a success. He is still a superb defensive coach, and the fact that his most effective passers in these four Bradyless years were receivers Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, and Julian Edelman, and two games of backup Brian Hoyer, does not change that fact. 

But it does highlight Belichick’s shortcomings as a general manager, and the alternate reality aboard the Carousel Of Speculation to him being handed a cardboard box was him staying as coach and handing over roster control to someone else, upon which he would quit in the face of such ingratitude and then be handed a cardboard box. Either way, three losing seasons in four years and the last one being one in which they scored as many points as the hideous Panthers should be more than enough for Bob Kraft. The empire is dead, and the emperor is getting an interview with Bob Myers in Washington.

All we're doing now is waiting for the indelicacy of the chop. The love letters of his seven-rings-for-eight-fingers history, the savage takedowns of him being nothing more than Brady's passenger, the loving mockery of his sour pressers, the spite-drenched disdain of his sour pressers, his history of neck-shaving the rulebook, the oldest-man-in-the-room persona for each of the 38 years of his career, even the fight for his punditry services by the NFL's empire of streaming services (early bet: Amazon, because Jeff Bezos won't be told no by the NFL a second time) … it all writes itself, because it's all been written and shot already. History waits for no man to actually become history, and Belichick's postmortem far predates his actual demise. So have the reactions to it, both the dancing and the dirges.

Belichick, you see, is the most public coach in North American history, even though he played at being the guy who hated publicity. He was never above doing TV, but only when it was with safe subjects like mentor Bill Parcells, or a look back at a season when he could do the editing. But he hated scrutiny, and perfected the strategy of public disdain that coaches with the illusion of security have copied ever since. He gets extra points for dressing like a mechanic working weekends, but it was all a singular look that he was hyperaware of the entire time. As long as he won, he was bulletproof.

He could not overcome the brutalities of having no useful quarterback, however, and choices like end-stage Cam Newton and the alleged futures of Jarrett Stidham, Mac Jones, and Bailey Zappe contributed to the momentum that made this the worst Patriot era since the bleakest days of the early '90s. People who saw Belichick as the towering coaching figure of his age (and they are right) got to see him stay too long at the fair, and will now have to get used to him wearing powder blue and gold, or black and red, or maroon and gold, or some other mismatched color scheme to remind us of when he wore orange-and-brown in Cleveland. It will be weird, all of it, and it all starts today with his odd exit interview in which he hinted he might accept a lesser role if asked, even if that seems implausible. But it might happen tomorrow, or Wednesday, or whenever Jonathan Kraft is sent out to Belichick's boat to nail the press release to the hull. We all wait for the thing we've waited for for years, and for Belichick's refusal to react in public, which really is the only payoff anyone actually wants.

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