A Look Back at the Firing of Bill Belichick
We’ve arrived at the 23rd anniversary of Bill Belichick’s separation from the Cleveland Browns, which takes place less than two weeks after he won his sixth Super Bowl title with the New England Patriots.
We say separation because it’s a sensitive topic among Browns fans who, understandably, want the world to know that this was part of the evil machinations of the Baltimore-bound franchise and not an unfortunate decision made by a Cleveland-based franchise that has become synonymous with ineptitude. Belichick was in Cleveland from 1991-95, going 6-10, 7-9, 7-9, 11-5 and 5-11 over five seasons before the Browns packed up and shipped east. It’s always interesting to wonder what could have been, or if Belichick needed this time in his life in order to become the head coach he is today.
But it’s also fair to wonder if Cleveland—and really, anyone covering or watching professional football at the time—views his tenure through rose-colored glasses now that he’s become, with little room for debate, the greatest football coach in NFL history.
God bless the way back machine, which provides us access to hot takes from years ago. Here are some of my favorite Belichick/Cleveland related passages from writers of the day:
Philadelphia Inquirer (Jan. 5, 1995): LOOK WHERE MR. BILL HAS HIS BROWNIES NOW: CLEVELAND'S FANS YELPED FOR HIS HEAD. BUT BELICHICK MADE TOUGH DECISIONS PAY OFF
About two minutes before the Browns' Friday practice, he strolled into the locker room and counted down the seconds until the practice began. After Sunday's game, he stood on a podium, waved a football at reporters, and told them the game ball would be given to the fans who had hated him so much a year ago for dumping Kosar.
Miami Herald (Nov. 12, 1993): BROWNS SHOULD'VE KEPT KOSAR, BOOTED BELICHICK
Browns fans are enraged by the sacking. A radio call-in poll showed sentiment running against Belichick by a 9-1 margin. Some season-ticket holders have demanded their money back. And Browns players aren't any happier. Said runner Leroy Hoard: "I thought it was a joke. How do you get a positive out of this?"
Dallas Morning News (Nov. 13, 1993): BROWNS FANS ARE SEEING RED
The No. 1-selling jersey at the Texas Stadium pro shop late this week has been No. 18, which Kosar will wear upon making his first appearance with the Cowboys on Sunday against the Phoenix Cardinals. Kosar is responsible for more sales than Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith or Michael Irvin.
Karen Pope, who works in the pro shop, said Friday that more than 100 callers from Cleveland have ordered Cowboys jerseys with Kosar's number and his name across the shoulders. Those are discontented Browns fans, who, as a form of protest, intend to wear Cowboys jerseys to Cleveland Stadium for next week's meeting with Houston, a game that marks Cleveland's first home game in almost nine seasons without Kosar on the roster….
One former Browns fan faxed this message to the Cowboys this week: "The trading of Colavito, the firing of Paul Brown, Warfield for (Mike) Phipps, (Earnest) Byner for (Mike) Oliphant, the release of Kosar . . . I've had enough, I'm moving to Dallas!"
St. Louis Post Dispatch (Nov. 14, 1993): BULLY BALL BY BROWNS’ BELICHICK:
Kosar was the third veteran starter cut by Belichick in recent weeks. The others were linebacker David Brandon and defensive back Everson Walls.
Besides snapping up Kosar, Dallas also picked up former Browns tight end Scott Galbraith. Galbraith referred to Belichick's coaching style as "bully ball."
"He has a powerful need for control," Galbraith said. "Total, absolute control corrupts. He's running around out there with a Napoleon attitude. He thinks he's God gift. When he releases players, other teams fight like crabs in a barrel to get them."
After Kosar's release, angry Cleveland fans picketed the Browns' practice site. The Cowboys received several calls from Cleveland fans wanting to know Kosar's jersey number in Dallas. They plan to wear that number at the Browns' next home game as a sign of protest.
Akron Beacon Journal (Nov. 12, 1993): BELICHICK NOT PHASED BY ANGRY FANS
Coach Bill Belichick has heard so much about Kosar and the yelping of angry fans that he says he's resigned to the fact that he isn't going to win any popularity contests any time soon.
"I'm not running for mayor," Belichick said. "I'm running a football team. And you can't make everybody happy. It comes with the territory. I have to do what's best for the team and the organization."
The fans outside the practice facility, waving their anti-Belichick placards feverishly, wondered why Kosar fits in with Dallas but isn't good enough for the Browns.
Belichick offered no answer. Instead, he wondered if the fans "spelled my name right."
Atlanta Journal Constitution (Nov. 19, 1993): THE LATEST IN BROWNS WEAR: BEAVIS AND BELICHICK T-SHIRTS
You'll probably be able to spot Cleveland Browns coach Bill Belichick Sunday in Cleveland Stadium. He'll be the one wearing the headset with the helmet under it, just in case a shower of dog bones heads toward him on the Browns' sideline.
Such an attack would hardly surprise anyone. Since Belichick cut quarterback Bernie Kosar - who apparently has enough zip remaining in his right arm to start for the Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys on a fill- in basis—guess what item has the potential to outsell dog ears and dog masks in Cleveland?
How about a "Beavis and Belichick" T-shirt?
Houston Chronicle (Nov. 19, 1993): BROWNS' BELICHICK UNPOPULAR WITH EVERYONE
In 14 years of covering the Oilers, I never have seen a coach work harder at being a cold fish than the Browns' Bill Belichick. He possesses the worst communicative skills of any coach I have interviewed. When circumstances force him in front of the public or media, he frowns and squirms uncomfortably.
Belichick is vilified in northern Ohio. In the wake of the Bernie Kosar debacle, Browns fans are finding out what most of the players and reporters who cover the team knew -- that Belichick is an insecure control freak with a little man's mentality. The chip on his shoulder is the size of a football, and anyone who even thinks about questioning his authority is given a bus ticket out of town.
Columbus Dispatch (Nov. 21, 1993): PEN PALS TAKE AIM AT BELICHICK, BROWNS
Mr. Strode: Here's some wit, wisdom and advice for 'Wild Bill' Belichick and the rest of his Wild West Show: When you shoot yourself in the foot so many times, two things are bound to happen. You run out of toes, or you run out of bullets.
Maybe an offensive coordinator can help you with your aim. Or at least start Tom Tupa so when you run on first and second down, you'll have the option of passing or punting on third down.
USA TODAY (Nov. 22, 1993): BELICHICK PELTED BY BERNIE BOO-BIRDS
Of all the NFL action Sunday, the toughest run was the one Cleveland Browns coach Bill Belichick had to make.
He had a police escort for his 5-yard jaunt, but the distance from Cleveland's locker room to an interview room was as tough a gauntlet as any coach has had to face.
There, about 200 fans waited for Belichick after his Browns gave a dismal, five-turnover performance while losing to Houston 27-20.
This was Cleveland's first home game since the Browns told Bernie Kosar to get lost, and now the fans were going to share that same sentiment with Belichick.
They knew that this was where Belichick would have to emerge, sooner or later. Even if it was only for a few seconds, they were going to have their say. And Belichick should count himself lucky that the building emptied early, or it could have been much worse. Of all the things the fans chanted in the bowels of Cleveland Stadium, "Bill must go!" was the most polite.
Belichick and the Browns were braced for a negative reaction, but nothing like this. During his postgame news conference, the embattled coach barely could be heard over all the booing outside.
Extra police were called in, and there was some pushing and shoving to keep fans behind crowd barriers.
There were no conciliatory remarks from Belichick.
And at a time when he needed a public-relations miracle, he made the peculiar move of dipping into Buddy Ryan's playbook.
Said Belichick: "To quote Buddy Ryan, 'If you listen to the fans, you'll be sitting up there with them.' I've got to do what I think is right, and I've been doing that. I know this team is headed in the right direction."
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