Bill Belichick has served two separate terms as head coach of the New York Jets without actually coaching a game for the team. The second of these instances, in 2000, is by far the more infamous one, as his abrupt resignation led directly to six Super Bowls for a division rival. What’s forgotten is that for three seasons before that, Belichick laid the groundwork for a brief period of Jets success.
The Jets are a laughingstock
For two seasons, the New York Jets were the undisputed worst team in the NFL (So what else is new, huh?).
The Jets’ head coach at this point was Rich Kotite. Upon his hiring in 1995, he was fresh off of “leading” the Philadelphia Eagles to a humiliating collapse which saw them miss the playoffs after a 7-2 start. Neither of his Jets teams would come anywhere close to the playoffs.
In 1995, Kotite’s first season as the Jets’ head coach, the team finished with the league’s worst record at 3-13. Obviously not content with that result, the Jets one-upped themselves in 1996 by finishing 1-15. Their only win that season came in October against the Arizona Cardinals. The Jets fired Kotite one week before the season ended, but for whatever reason, allowed him to coach the final game against Miami anyway. Predictably, they lost that game too.
Two Bills converge over the Meadowlands
From the outset, the management of the New York Jets knew exactly who they wanted as Kotite’s successor, and it wasn’t Belichick. Elsewhere in the AFC East, Bill Parcells’ tenure as head coach of the New England Patriots came to a stormy end after a prolonged conflict with team owner Robert Kraft.
Parcells was exactly the kind of turnaround coach the Jets needed. In four seasons, he had led the Patriots from a 2-14 disaster to the Super Bowl. Granted, they lost that Super Bowl to the Green Bay Packers, but still, it was a heck of an accomplishment.
Unfortunately, there was no guarantee the Jets could have Parcells. Although he had stepped down, he was still technically under contract to New England for the 1997 season. In the meantime, the Patriots filed a complaint with the NFL which forbade Parcells from coaching anywhere else in 1997, and the league sided with New England.
It would take some delicate maneuvering from the Jets to get their man.
Belichick keeps the seat warm
In the meantime, on Feb. 6, 1997, the Jets hired Bill Belichick as their interim head coach. Belichick had worked as Parcells’ defensive backs coach at New England the previous year and had also won two Super Bowls as defensive coordinator with the New York Giants. Belichick had previously served as a head coach himself with the Cleveland Browns, making the playoffs in 1994.
To get around the terms of Parcells’ New England contract, the Jets hired Parcells as a “consultant”. NFL brass saw through the funny business and ordered the two sides to come to a deal. After five days, the league allowed the Jets to hire Parcells as head coach, but only after giving New England a bounty of draft picks as compensation. According to the New York Times, the Jets gave New England their third and fourth-round picks for 1997, their second-round pick for 1998, and their first-round pick for 1999.
For the next three seasons, Belichick settled into his old role of defensive coordinator behind Parcells. The Jets improved to 9-7 in Parcells’ first season, just barely missing the playoffs one year after bottoming out at 1-15. The year after that, they won the AFC East and reached the conference championship game.
Parcells left the Jets after the 1999 season, leaving Belichick as the obvious successor for the 2000 season. However, once again, Belichick abruptly left the role before coaching a game, taking the position with the New England Patriots instead. The rest is history.