Takeaways: ESPN report details failed Bill Belichick job hunt, ‘bad blood’ with Robert Kraft

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Patriots

Over a dozen anonymous sources from around the NFL said “bad blood between Kraft and Belichick was no secret.”

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, left, and former Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, right, face reporters during an NFL football news conference, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Even 24 years ago – before Bill Belichick was hired to coach the Patriots, before he won six more Super Bowl rings, or became the second-winningest NFL coach of all time – he would’ve had the resume to secure the Atlanta Falcons head coaching vacancy this offseason. 

According to an ESPN report by Don Van Natta Jr., Seth Wickersham and Jeremy Fowler, the former Patriots boss was confident that he had the job in the bag. In fact, he was reportedly “shocked” to find out that the Falcons chose another candidate over him. 

The rest of the world, too, was shocked when Falcons owner Arthur Blank announced on Jan. 25 that Raheem Morris would be the team’s next head coach. Morris, the former Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator who had previously spent six years in Atlanta as an assistant coach, was heralded as a “good fit.” 

But if Belichick’s impressive coaching pedigree wasn’t enough to earn him the gig in Atlanta – or with six other teams in pursuit of a new head coach – what was the problem? 

The bombshell report released on Wednesday by ESPN sheds light on Belichick’s failed job hunt. There’s a lot of puzzle pieces – from insiders to rivals, confidants to sources. Here’s what to know about Belichick’s 2025 coaching bid gone wrong. 

A superyacht that took a left turn

By late January, Belichick had had not one, but two meetings with Blank about the head coaching position in Atlanta. Following their first one-on-one aboard Blank’s $180 million yacht, he told colleagues that Belichick might be his guy for the job. 

A second meeting the following week – this time lasting 4.5 hours – seemed indicative of the job going to Belichick. However, the report revealed it was scheduled “largely out of respect” for the former Patriots coach. Within the Falcons front office, they already tagged Morris as the frontrunner for head coach. Not to mention, Blank checked out Belichick’s references (i.e. Kraft) and didn’t love what he heard. More on that later.

“Bad blood” between Kraft and Belichick ruined the job hunt.

According to two sources involved in the report, a close Kraft friend and a Belichick confidant, Kraft offered Blank an unflattering assessment of his former head coach. 

Multiple sources confirmed that the Patriots owner cautioned that Belichick was untrustworthy and that he’ll “never have a warm conversation with” Belichick. Knowing that a “family first” team culture was important to Blank, Kraft’s comments were pointed – and personal. 

While Kraft claims to only offer praise for Belichick, sources confirmed the Kraft family felt “betrayed” by the coach. 

“I don’t think they’d try to hurt Belichick,” the source said. “But I don’t think they’d try to help him either. They weren’t going to try to sink him. He was finished as an effective head coach. Just look at his last four years in New England. A disaster … If you’re Arthur Blank, why do you want the headaches?”

Belichick tried to change his tune.

According to the report, Belichick knew his default totalitarian model – in which the head coach absorbs GM responsibilities – was on its way out. Despite finding success with that leadership style for 24 years in New England, Belichick was ready to relinquish some control. He assured Blank that he was eager to work alongside established leadership like general manager Terry Fontenot and CEO Rich McKay. 

Fontenot and McKay, however, didn’t believe in the whole “if you teach a dog new tricks” mentality. A source close to the executives said that they viewed Belichick as  “an older, stoic coach who’d blow up the building.” They’d never witnessed a laissez-faire Belichick, and they weren’t willing to let their team be the guinea pig for a new regime. 

Birds of a feather

While the Eagles held a strong faith in their head coach Nick Sirianni, they sniffed around Belichick back in January. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and general manger Howie Roseman are both fans of the former Patriots coach, but ultimately shared the Falcons’ reservations about bringing him on board.

Front offices were unwilling to shepherd in a tornado-like Belichick, especially if the 72-year-old only planned on coaching for a few more years. 

“Though not seriously considering a move, Lurie wondered to a confidant: Was it worth overhauling the building, changing personnel and philosophies on everything from training staff to salary cap structure, for someone who might coach only two years?” the report said about owners’ hesitation to work with Belichick. 

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