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Kelley: Why Is Steve Belichick Applying To Be a College Assistant?



New England Patriots safeties coach Steve Belichick, right, talks with linebacker Mack Wilson Sr. during an NFL football practice, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

It comes as a great surprise to me that Bill Belichick will apparently not be an NFL head coach in 2024. There were seven head coach vacancies, not including the New England Patriots post, and each franchise chose to hire somebody aside from the winningest coach of the Super Bowl Era. But Bill Belichick is not even the person in his own family I’m most shocked is still looking for work. That distinction goes to former Patriots defensive signal-caller Steve Belichick.

ESPN’s Field Yates reported on Friday that Steve Belichick was interviewing for a job on the University of Washington’s staff as a defensive assistant. The specifics of his potential role are not known. What is known is that Belichick has been calling defensive plays for the New England Patriots for four seasons. Anyone familiar with the 2023 Patriots season understands that the team’s defense was not the problem. So why hasn’t the 36-year-old landed an NFL job?

The Patriots’ defense played well enough to help land defensive assistant Jerod Mayo a job as New England’s head coach. Defensive line coach DeMarcus Covington was promoted to defensive coordinator. But Steve Belichick is going to to other end of the continental United States to interview as a college defensive assistant.

Tenure in New England

Steve Belichick got his foot in the door based on who he knows. He is far from the only person in this boat. Throughout every industry, there is some semblance of nepotism. Many people on NFL payrolls are in similar boats. New England executives Eliot Wolf and Matt Groh are among the many who are children of successful NFL employees. But while connections might give somebody an opportunity, they do not promise anyone a career. Quality performance is the best way for anyone to secure that happening. And by all indications, Steve Belichick has always done a quality job in New England.

The Patriots hired Belichick as a defensive assistant on his father’s staff in 2012. He spent four years in that role. Belichick coached safeties for the next four seasons. He has been coaching outside linebackers for the past four. Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Matthew Judon, Kyle Van Noy, and Josh Uche are among the players who thrived with him as their positional coach. Belichick’s 12 seasons on the defensive staff coincided with four AFC Championships and three Super Bowl titles for the Patriots.

Belichick was the Patriots’ defensive playcaller for the past four seasons. Despite the team’s struggles, especially relative to their past success, the defense remained strong. New England finished 4-13 in 2023, yet allowed the seventh fewest yards in the NFL. Those numbers get defensive playcallers NFL head coach consideration, not college assistant interviews.

What Went Wrong?

Occam’s razor states that the simplest explanation is usually the right one. There are at least four simple reasons Steve Belichick is still looking for work.

Bill Belichick was assumed by many, including me, to be an NFL head coach in 2024. His sons (Brian Belichick was also a Patriots assistant) were expected to follow him. However, Bill Belichick got shut out of a coaching job, leaving his sons without a destination to call home. Most newly hired NFL head coaches filled their staffs with coaches they knew. Steve Belichick was not among them.

Jerod Mayo confirmed the Belichick brothers were offered an opportunity to return to Foxboro. It is unclear if that offer remains. Mayo and Steve Belichick reportedly enjoyed a good working relationship and a friendship. However, it does not appear Steve Belichick was considered for the defensive coordinator opening. No interview was confirmed at least. DeMarcus Covington will inherit playcalling duties for the defense in 2024, barring something unforeseen. Steve Belichick, as a result, essentially gets demoted if he returns.

Steve Belichick also has an opportunity to make his mark, even if it is at the college level. Washington is without a defensive coordinator. While Steve Belichick was the defensive playcaller in New England, Jerod Mayo led the defensive meetings. This left Belichick in the shadows of both the past and present New England Patriots head coaches. If Steve Belichick interviewed to become the Huskies’ defensive coordinator, maybe he views that as a better resume builder for him than another year as an NFL positional coach.

Finally, there could be animosity between Steve Belichick and the Patriots over how his father’s tenure ended. Robert Kraft carefully framed the “parting of the ways” as amicable and mutual, but reports since those press conferences don’t paint the same picture. Perhaps Steve Belichick is just looking forward to having somebody new sign his checks.

Not the Last of Steve Belichick

Steve Belichick has yet to secure a job for 2024, but it is unlikely that will last much longer. For any allegations of nepotism that lingered around his hiring and promotions, Belichick proved himself a capable coach. He has a dozen years as an NFL head coach under his belt and three Super Bowl rings. Still just 36-years old, Belichick has decades of coaching football still ahead of him. He might be back with a staff led by his father in 2025. He also might discover he prefers working with college players and carving out his own place in the football world. But know this, Steve Belichick is far from done. Where will his next stop be? Stay tuned.

(Feb. 5, 2024) UPDATE: 247 Sports is reporting that Steve Belichick has been hired as defensive coordinator for the University of Washington.

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