Bill Belichick was hired Thursday as coach of the New England Patriots after New York Jets boss Bill Parcells made a last-ditch phone call to mend fences and grab New England's top pick in this year's draft.
The call Wednesday night prodded Patriots owner Bob Kraft to pay the first-round draft choice Parcells had demanded as compensation for letting Belichick out of his contract with New York.
"For a No. 1 draft choice, we can bring in a man that I feel certain can do something, rather than the uncertainty of a draft choice," Kraft said Thursday night after shaking hands with Belichick on a five-year deal. "And it wasn't even close when I thought about it that way."
It took 24 days for the Patriots and Jets to agree on compensation for Belichick and a couple hours for Kraft and his would-be coach to reach an agreement somewhere off the highway between Boston and New York.
Patriots Owner Robert Kraft Talks On Bill Belichick's Qualifications. Courtesy CBS Affiliate WBZ.
The Patriots will give New York their No. 1 draft pick this year and a fourth- and seventh-rounder in 2001. The Jets gave the Patriots a No. 5 in 2001 and a No. 7 in 2002.
"It resolves a lot of issues lingering a long time and helps Bill get back into coaching, where he wants to be," Parcells said. "I think Bob has the coach he wants and we were compensated pretty well."
Terms of Belichick's contract remain to be hammered out.
The deal came so quickly, Kraft claimed, that there wasn't time to discuss whether Belichick would also take over as general manager. Belichick said he wasn't concerned about having total control of the team.
"This is not a one-man band here. I can't play all the instruments," he said. "I don't think it's important who's right. I think it's important what's right."
Belichick was 37-45 as coach of the Cleveland Browns and an assistant with New England when the Patriots went to the 1997 Super Bowl. He went to the Jets when Parcells and Kraft had a falling out about control over player personnel decisions.
The Jets made Belichick their coach and Parcells a consultant to get around the fact that Parcells was still under contract then with New England. When commissioner Paul Tagliabue rejected that arrangement, New York gave New England four draft picks and made Belichick the contractually designate heir to Parcells.
On Jan. 3, Parcells stepped down and Belichick was elevated to coach. A day later, Belichick quit.
"Hopefully, this press conference will go a little bit better than the last one I had," Belichick joked Thursday. "Hopefully, my tenure here will be a little bit longer."
Kraft dodged questions about who would have final authority over player personnel. Asked why he hasn't made Belichick the general manager, Kraft said, "We'll think about that. Thank you for suggesting it."
Control over drafts and trades was precisely the reason Parcells moved on in 1997, saying, "If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries."
Instead of letting Parcells do the shopping, Kraft gave that authority to Bobby Grier and hired Pete Carroll as coach. The team got worse in each of the three seasons under that arrangement, dissolving Parcells' Super Bowl team into a fifth-place finisher with an 8-8 record.
Carroll was fired with two years left on his five-year contract. But before the Patriots could get permission to talk to Belichick, Parcells resigned and Belichick was automatically made coach.
Belichick decided he didn't want the job, saying he had misgivings about his future considering the team was for sale. Tagliabue and a federal judge said Belichick was stuck with the Jets, leaving him in limbo while the Patriots decided whether he was worth a first-round choice.
"Any time you give up a first-round draft pick, that's something you obviously don't want to do," said quarterback Drew Bledsoe, who was among the players who had lobbied for Belichick. "But to get a coach of the caliber of Bill Belichick, it's probably a worthwhile thing to do."
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