By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
Updated at 10:10 a.m.
The Morning Kickoff …
Happy anniversary: It’s been 20 years since Bill Belichick rocked Cleveland and the NFL by firing Bernie Kosar in the middle of the 1993 Browns season.
Twenty years. Good lord, what has become of him and us?
That first seminal event of Belichick’s coaching career could’ve ruined a lesser man. Yet here he is leading the New England Patriots down the stretch to their 13th straight winning season and 11th division crown.
He is the NFL’s second-longest tenured coach – 39 years as an assistant or head coach. That is a distinction that prides him.
On Wednesday, Belichick will address the Cleveland media via conference call as the pre-eminent coach of his generation, still tracking records of legendary coaching giants of the sport.
He has surged past Chuck Noll for fifth place on the all-time win list with 214. His next Super Bowl appearance will match Don Shula’s record of six, and his next Super Bowl win – always a possibility with No. 12 at quarterback – will match Noll’s record of four.
Twenty years ago, I witnessed an amazing sight. Belichick and the Browns were playing the Falcons in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. At some point late in the game, the Falcons’ crowd picked up the chant that rang so loud and vicious at Browns home games in the aftermath of the controversial Kosar firing:
Bill must go! Bill must go! Bill must go!
These were the fans of the Browns’ opponent joining Browns fans in attendance and paying homage to the faithful back in Cleveland watching on TV. It was typical of the vitriol directed at Belichick in those days. I have never seen one man take so much – and never blink.
Who could have foreseen the trials and tribulations of the next 20 years?
Belichick going on to win three Super Bowls with the Patriots and replacing Bill Walsh as the NFL’s reigning coaching genius.
Art Modell moving the Browns to Baltimore and taking Ozzie Newsome with him to construct not one but two Super Bowl championship teams.
And the Browns being chewed up and spit out, turned inside out and upside down, over and over again, never winning anything but one measly wild-card appearance through a tie-breaker, being a training ground for coaches, a graveyard for quarterbacks, and finally being sold and placed in the hands of a supremely confident regime that, through circumstances in and out of its control, now confronts Belichick with a possible quarterback tandem of Alex Tanney and Caleb Hanie.
Haven’t we suffered enough?
Mr. Analysis: It wouldn’t be unlike Belichick to conduct his conference call on Wednesday while chomping on a ham sandwich, pedaling a stationary bike and viewing game video.
Belichick’s painful, legendary interview sessions often got in the way of his message. I discovered a while ago if you can filter out Belichick’s grunts and standoffishness, you can learn a lot from him.
Thanks to the top-of-the-line Patriots media relations department headed by Stacey James, I have been on the team’s media email list for quite some time. I frequently read the transcripts of Belichick’s daily press briefings and often find them to be compelling and instructive.
An example of this occurred on Tuesday when Belichick was asked about Josh Gordon. Consider this to be the ultimate analysis of the play-making receiver now striding into national prominence:
“He’s a very explosive player,” Belichick said. “He can get behind the defense. He has good speed down the field. He does a good job on underneath routes, inside routes, crossing patterns, curls, in-cuts, things like that of not only going in and catching them in traffic but he’s a strong guy, breaks a lot of tackles, bounces off guys."
“They have trouble getting him on the ground. They also throw him some quick passes out in the flat, like quick three-step drop plays or look-type passes that complement the running game if the defense is all packed in there trying to stop the run and that kind of thing."
“He’s a hard guy to handle one-on-one out there in terms of tackling and just getting him on the ground. I think he has over 500 yards run-after-catch or something like that. He makes a significant amount of yardage after he’s got the ball in his hands but he also makes a lot of yardage down the field, too. He’s a really hard guy to defend because they do so many things with him and you have to defend him at all three levels of the defense. Depending on what coverage or what type of coverage you’re in, that can stress everybody, it’s not just really one guy.”
Bill’s lasting effect: The previous Browns owner was obsessed with recreating Belichick’s success in New England here. Whenever he went looking for another regime, he plucked a limb or two off the famous Belichick Tree.
Randy Lerner paired up Phil Savage and Romeo Crennel, and Eric Mangini and George Kokinis. He tried to lure Newsome and he interviewed Scott Pioli twice.
The one Belichick disciple that Lerner never called on, never considered, was the one closest to him in those dark days in Cleveland 20 years ago.
And wouldn’t you know it that this new regime would bring him back to be its general manager?
Bill Belichick has three Super Bowl rings and is stalking a fourth.
And Mike Lombardi is general manager of the Browns.
What were the odds?
(Ed. note: An earlier version of this story stated Belichick was the longest-tenured coach in the NFL. We corrected it after it was brought to attention that Dick LeBeau has Belichick bested by two years.)
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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