Will the Patriots Fire Bill Belichick? Legendary Coach’s Future Unclear After Disappointing Season

Bill Belichick may coach his final game for the Patriots on Sunday. How did one of the NFL's greatest coaches fail, and what's next for New England?

It never felt like Bill Belichick would go out like this. As one of the NFL‘s greatest head coaches (and the only one with six Super Bowl titles), Belichick seemed to have cemented a job for life with the New England Patriots.

But Belichick has gone 29-37 since Tom Brady left the Patriots after the 2019 season, going to the playoffs just once in four years and bottoming out with a 4-12 record entering the final week of the 2023 campaign. The 71-year-old’s multi-decade run in New England might be over — if not on Black Monday, then shortly after.

How did Belichick and the Patriots get here, and who could New England hire next?

Where Things Went Wrong for Bill Belichick and the Patriots

Losing Brady clearly hindered the Patriots’ production, but Belichick’s post-Brady mistakes added up over time, culminating with the club’s 2023 flop.

Bill Belichick’s Poor Draft Record

Belichick the general manager might shoulder more blame for New England’s recent struggles than Belichick the head coach. While he’s still among the league’s most active personnel men at trading down and acquiring more picks, Belichick has had a hard time hitting on those extra selections.

Drafting and developing young talent on rookie contracts sustains NFL rosters, but Belichick and his scouting department could not find impact talent in recent drafts. Early-round picks like QB Mac Jones, WRs Tyquan Thornton and N’Keal Harry, G Cole Strange,  and CB Joejuan Williams — all drafted since 2019 — have been injured or ineffective.

Go back further, and Belichick’s track record in the draft was slipping even before Brady left New England. Spending top-60 selections on OL Isaiah Wynn, RB Sony Michel, and CB Duke Dawson didn’t work out in 2018.

In 2017, the Pats had just four picks — third-round DE Derek Rivers and OT Antonio Garcia didn’t work out, but at least they found DE Deatrich Wise in the fourth.

Cornerback Cyrus Jones (2018 second-rounder) appeared in just 12 games for New England. Belichick hit on third-round guard Joe Thuney that year, but he’s one of only three Pro Bowlers the Patriots have drafted since 2014. (Jones made the Pro Bowl in his rookie campaign, while since-released punter Jake Bailey earned a nod in 2020.)

Free Agency Missteps

While Belichick used targeted free agent signings to improve New England’s roster throughout his tenure, he never went on a spending spree like he did in 2021.

Coming off a 7-9 campaign (his first losing season in more than 20 years), Belichick looked for quick fixes on the open market. The Patriots went 10-7 after their influx of free agent talent, but they quickly suffered a 30-point loss to the Buffalo Bills in the Wild Card round.

Few players Belichick added are still contributors in New England. Edge rusher Matthew Judon was the most successful 2021 signing, but he missed most of this year with a torn biceps. Tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, each of whom signed for more than $12 million annually, failed to give New England the “12” personnel advantage it was searching for.

Belichick’s problems with WR evaluation spilled over into free agency. Nelson Agholor received $11 million per year and never topped 500 receiving yards. Kendrick Bourne lived up to his contract in 2021 but fell out of favor before tearing his ACL this season.

Fast forward to the 2023 campaign, and Belichick chose incorrectly between wideouts again. The Pats let Jakobi Meyers depart for the Las Vegas Raiders, instead signing JuJu Smith-Schuster to a similar deal. Meyers posted 68 catches, 746 yards, and a career-high seven TDs for the Raiders; Smith-Schuster managed 29 receptions for 260 yards and ended the season on injured reserve.

Coaching Staff Disaster

Belichick’s most egregious error may have come in 2022. Searching for a new offensive coordinator after Josh McDaniels became the Raiders’ head coach, Belichick somehow landed on longtime staffers Matt Patricia and Joe Judge.

Patricia, the former head coach of the Detroit Lions, had spent several seasons as an offensive assistant, but that was 15 years prior. Yet, he was tasked with the Patriots’ offensive play-calling duties. Judge, whose experience was primarily in special teams, became New England’s quarterbacks coach.

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The results were predictable. The Pats regressed in nearly every offensive metric, slipping to 24th in efficiency while watching Jones take a step back under center.

Belichick quickly rectified his mistake by hiring Bill O’Brien as OC in 2023, but the Patricia/Judge debacle was an unforced error.

Could Belichick Stay in New England?

Belichick and owner Robert Kraft have yet to discuss their looming divorce, but the two will have a meeting next week, according to Dianna Russini of the Athletic.

While most around the NFL expect that Belichick is coaching his final game for the Patriots on Sunday, he probably won’t be technically “fired,” per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, as Belichick’s iconic legacy will likely lead to an amicable split.

Is there any chance Kraft will change his mind? Belichick is under contract through the 2024 season, so nothing will force the Patriots’ owner’s hand. Still, given how the past few seasons have gone with Belichick running the show, Kraft would likely demand a few concessions were the longtime HC to return.

That might include Belichick relinquishing control of New England’s 53-man roster. Nick Caserio will be on the team’s radar if he leaves the Houston Texans, per Russini. Speculatively, former Patriots front office executives Scott Pioli and Thomas Dimitroff could also make sense as candidates, although both are now working in the media.

How Could the Patriots Replace Belichick?

Despite New England’s recent downturn, Belichick will be a tough act to follow. No matter how successful the Patriots’ next head coach is, he’s unlikely to bring the club six more Super Bowl titles.

Perhaps the lure of a top-four draft pick, $70+ million in cap space (fourth most in the NFL), and organizational stability will be enough for Kraft to lure a hot candidate like Detroit Lions OC Ben Johnson or Baltimore Ravens DC Mike Macdonald.

MORE: NFL Head Coaching Candidates — 25 Assistants Who Could Land Top Jobs in 2024

But the top choices on the 2024 hiring circuit may have other options and might not want to be the next man up after Belichick. Instead, the Patriots could turn to one of several familiar faces as they consider their post-Belichick future.

Jerod Mayo, ILB Coach, New England Patriots

If Belichick leaves, Patriots inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo will be the top option to replace him, according to Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated. Kraft suggested last year that he viewed Mayo — whose entire tenure as an NFL player and coach has come under Belichick — as a “potential heir.”

Mayo interviewed with the Raiders, Denver Broncos, and Philadelphia Eagles in 2021 and 2022 but declined an opportunity for the Carolina Panthers’ head coaching job last offseason, signing an extension with the Pats. His contract in New England runs through 2024, per Breer.

Mike Vrabel, Head Coach, Tennessee Titans

While Mike Vrabel has publicly maintained that he doesn’t want to leave his job as the Tennessee Titans head coach, some in the NFL believe that Vrabel would be open to going elsewhere and that the Titans would be willing to let him go, per Schefter.

MORE: Titans HC Mike Vrabel Opens Up on Season Struggles

In that case, Vrabel would make all the sense in the world for New England. He spent eight years as a linebacker in Belichick’s defense, and Ben Volin of the Boston Globe reported last year that the Patriots consider Vrabel a potential “home run hire.”

Brian Flores, Defensive Coordinator, Minnesota Vikings

After spending more than a decade working under Belichick in New England, Brian Flores spent two seasons as the Miami Dolphins head coach and is now working as the Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator.

Flores has Patriots roots, but his time away from the club could work to his benefit, giving him a fresh perspective that might enable him to be more successful in a second head coaching stint.

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