More than three weeks ago, the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick parted ways. Today, the first Sunday without NFL football since the Sunday after Labor Day, Belichick issued an official “thank you” to Patriots fans.
In a full-page letter appearing on A3 of the Boston Globe, Belichick acknowledged those who supported the team through his 24 years on the job.
Nowhere in America are pro sports fans as passionate as in New England and for 24 years, I was blessed to feel your passion and power,” Belichick says. “The Patriots are the only NFL team representing SIX states but in reality, Patriots Nation knows no borders.
“You were undaunted by weather, attended scorching hot training camp practices and braved Foxborough’s coldest, wettest, snowiest, and windiest days.
“Your thoughtful letters offered support, critique, and creative play suggestions. You watched on TV, the internet, and from your stadium seats.
“You traveled from coast to coast and internationally. Numerous times, you overtook opposing stadiums and were the last fans standing. We loved it! You gave your precious time, resources, and energy to our team. We appreciated it!
“Six times, you packed Boston by the million for parades that were truly a two-way expression of gratitude and love. The images from those days are burned in my memory.
You may even have enjoyed my fashion sense and press conferences, or maybe you just tolerated them.
“I loved coaching here and, together, we experienced some amazing moments.
“THANK YOU ALL.”
The letter was printed just days after the 2024 hiring cycle concluded with Belichick getting none of the seven open jobs. He was interviewed only for one of them, in Atlanta. Others (the Commanders) reportedly considered pursuing him. Still others (reportedly the Eagles, possibly the Cowboys) considered hiring him if they had fired their current coaches.
Nothing about Belichick is non-strategic. The thank-you letter was likely timed to come after it was known where he would, or wouldn’t, be coaching next year. Given that he will now be relegated to waiting until 2025 to resume his quest for Don Shula’s all-time wins record, Belichick needs to close the book on New England in a way that will make another team more likely to open its doors to him.
It’s smart to show love to the fans. The fans will be skeptical of Belichick, given his recent track record. He needs to be able to win the fans in order to win the job — especially since people in any given NFL organization who already have jobs in football operations will be squeamish about the prospect of Belichick showing up and taking over, whether due to his job title or his usual way of doing things.
The next step for Belichick will be finding a way to stay in the game for 2024. He will have plenty of opportunities in media. He will need to choose strategically. How can he reach the most people? How can he make the best impression? How can he reverse the narrative that he has “horrible” interpersonal skills and that his “military system” of coaching doesn’t work anymore? How can he create a sense not of possibility but inevitability that he will get one of the jobs that will be open after the 2024 season?
That’s his challenge for the remaining 11 months of 2024. His mission. His only path to get back to doing the thing has been doing for nearly five full decades.