An NFL head coach hiring cycle in which a quarter of the league’s teams had openings is almost complete.
The Raiders’ Antonio Pierce got the full-time gig. The Chargers coaxed Jim Harbaugh back to the NFL. The Titans, as random as ever, hired Brian Callahan. Jerod Mayo was promoted from within to fill the Patriots job. On Thursday, two more jobs were filled, as Bucs offensive coordinator Dave Canales took the job in Carolina, and Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris was hired by the Falcons. Two vacancies remain: the Commanders and Seahawks.
And it’s looking increasingly like no one wants to hire Bill Belichick.
Without a last-minute change of direction in Seattle or Washington, the eight-time Super Bowl–winning coach will finish this hiring season 0-for-1. The Falcons are the only team that even interviewed him.
It’s hard to imagine the NFL without Belichick. When Patriots owner Robert Kraft talked about the choice to move on from Belichick earlier this month, he treated it as a given that Belichick would be on a sideline somewhere in 2024. Kraft even said he didn’t attempt to trade Belichick because the coach deserved the chance to pick his next spot. But it’s looking like Belichick lost his job in New England only to receive the “none for Gretchen Wieners” treatment from the rest of the league.
Belichick reportedly came very close to getting the job in Atlanta. He was considered the early favorite candidate of owner Arthur Blank—who conducted Belichick’s first interview for the job one-on-one on his yacht in the Virgin Islands—but faced an obstacle in winning over team CEO Rich McKay. Recently, Falcons coaches and general managers had reported directly to McKay. Seeing as Belichick’s first interview was with Blank and Blank alone, Belichick may have wanted something else. (In a statement late Thursday to announce the hiring of Morris, the team revealed that McKay will no longer oversee football operations.)
McKay serves as chairman of the league’s competition committee, which has, at times, put him at odds with Belichick over rule changes. It seems as though Atlanta had to make a tough decision—a report this week described Blank as “panicking” and “in total disarray” over making the right move. Who knows what Belichick was asking for in terms of salary or control and whether it was reasonable? Maybe he wanted a good parking spot. Maybe he wanted to make Matt Patricia offensive coordinator. Either way, the Falcons seemed to end up thinking it was too much to give.
There may have been other teams, too, that would have loved to have Belichick—he can clearly still coach the pants off a defense—but balked at setting up an infrastructure similar to the one he enjoyed in New England, where he ran personnel, reported only to ownership, and was empowered to surround himself with a staff full of loyal friends and family members.
If Belichick finds himself spending his unexpected funemployment doing color commentary on the Army-Navy broadcast next fall, it’s not necessarily a repudiation of him alone. It’s also an indictment of the teams that said, “No thanks.” Not hiring Belichick is one thing, but that seven teams had a chance to bring him in for an interview and ask Bill Belichick whatever they wanted about what he’d do to fix their team but declined the opportunity to do so seems shortsighted at best.
That is, however, what happened. If Belichick indeed does not get a job this cycle, he can take a year off, do whatever he wants in or out of football, and try again next year, but there’s not a lot of reason to think much would change and that a different collection of owners will be any more inclined to hire him than this year’s group has been.
Teams are often risk-averse to their own detriment, and based on most of the hires so far this cycle, it seems that owners would prefer to do the mainstream thing and hire a young up-and-comer on the offensive side of the ball rather than make a big splash. (Even former Titans head coach Mike Vrabel might wind up without a seat in this year’s game of head coach musical chairs.) And hiring Belichick when he’s a year older and a year removed from the game gets only riskier and easier to criticize if it goes sideways.
The most fascinating angle on this coaching cycle has always been that it’s an opportunity to see what league power brokers really think about Belichick and the other coaching heavyweights who took interviews. “Dave Canales and Brian Callahan, yes; Bill Belichick, no” was not what I was expecting.