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Report: Did Robert Kraft Cost Bill Belichick a Job in Atlanta?



New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick meets with Patriots owner Robert Kraft, left, before an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

A report released on ESPN Wednesday indicates that New England Patriots CEO Robert Kraft may have played a role in Bill Belichick remaining unemployed. Not simply because Kraft “parted ways” with the longtime Patriots coach after the 2023 season. According to the report, Kraft also put in a bad word for Belichick with a potential employer.

The ESPN article is titled, “Voted off the Island: Inside Bill Belichick’s failed job hunt.” It takes a look at how the winningest coach of the NFL’s Super Bowl Era stayed unemployed. Belichick wanted a new coaching job after being let loose by New England. He failed to land any of the NFL’s head coach openings. The article was co-written by Don Van Natta Jr., Seth Wickersham, and Jeremy Fowler.

According to their reporting, Belichick believed he was going to fill the Atlanta Falcons head coaching vacancy. He had met with owner Arthur Blank and team executives multiple times. Belichick assured Blank he was not looking for full control. By the time the interviewing process was complete, Belichick thought he’d gotten the job, only to feel blindsided by the Falcons hiring of Raheem Morris.

The ESPN report claims executives were asked by Blank to rank their top candidates and Bill Belichick made nobody’s top three.

Did Robert Kraft Play a Role in Belichick Being Passed Over?

Kraft publicly put on a friendly face in the aftermath of Belichick’s departure. He characterized Belichick’s no longer being employed by the Patriots as “parting ways” as opposed to a firing. But it does not take a detective to know there was at least some bad blood beneath the smiling surface at their departing press conference.

New England Patriots press conference with Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft, discussing Belichick's departure from the New England Patriots. (Photos courtesy of @Patriots X account)

New England Patriots press conference with Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft, discussing Belichick’s departure from the New England Patriots. (Photos courtesy of @Patriots X account)

The ESPN report states a less cordial scene was unfolding behind the scenes in the aftermath of the departure. They report:

“In a conversation with Blank, Kraft delivered a stark assessment of Belichick’s character, according to a source who spoke to two people: a close Kraft friend and a longtime Belichick confidant. The source quoted the Belichick source as saying, “Robert called Arthur to warn him not to trust Bill.” That account was backed up, the source said, by the close Kraft friend.”

The report continues, “Multiple sources said that Kraft spoke with “some candor” to Blank about Belichick, though the sources declined to elaborate. One source close to Belichick said Kraft “was a big part” of why the Falcons passed on hiring him.”

If accurate, it does not appear football matters were a factor in Kraft’s lack of a recommendation.

“The sources said Kraft made clear to Blank that “you’ll never have a warm conversation with” Belichick, echoing what Bill Parcells told Kraft in 1996 when he wanted to bust the budget and hire Belichick. “Blank likes coaches who feel part of a family,” a Falcons source said, ‘and it wasn’t going to be that way with Bill.'”

Robert Kraft Refutes the ESPN Report

Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft refused to comment on the story. New England Patriots spokesman Stacey James did comment on the allegations.

“Robert (Kraft) steadfastly denies saying anything negative to Arthur Blank about Bill Belichick after Robert and Bill mutually agreed to part ways,” stated James. “In fact, Robert advocated for Bill to get the job.”

There would be motivation for Kraft to help Belichick land elsewhere. Money owed to Belichick for the 2024 season, reportedly in the neighborhood of $25 million, would be offset by whatever salary he received from the Atlanta Falcons (or elsewhere). But that did not stop speculation that Kraft also had reason to want to prevent the hiring from happening. Again, from the ESPN report:

“Asked whether Kraft had any motivation to keep Belichick off the sideline, a source close to the coach said: ‘If Bill goes on to have success and Tom already had success, then who does (Kraft) have to blame?'”

“The Dynasty” Already Covered This Issue

During Apple TV’s “The Dynasty” series the feelings Robert Kraft had about Bill Belichick were already on full display. The New England Patriots owner called his head coach “a pain in the tush.” Kraft let it be known he blamed Belichick for the team’s loss in Super Bowl 52 against the Philadelphia Eagles.

By Episode 4 of the series it was already apparent Belichick was a goner in New England before the 2023 season was ever played. Kraft stated in the series that he thought Drew Bledsoe was treated unfairly by Belichick (losing his job to Tom Brady while injured). He referred to Belichick as “a real schmuck” for the Spygate scandal. Kraft claimed that his connections in the NFL offices “protected” Bill Belichick during that time.

Robert Kraft’s negative comments about Bill Belichick might be considered accurate in some parts. One thing they were not is a secret. Kraft spoke straight into the camera during “The Dynasty” about his feelings. He put these comments (and others) on record for all to hear.

Stacey James’ denial of Kraft’s involvement with the Falcons head coach search could be true. Again, there is financial motivation for Kraft to help Belichick land another job. But none of the comments attributed to Kraft is groundbreaking feedback. One could have assumed this on their own by watching Apple TV’s production.

Public Relations Disaster

“The Dynasty” turned out to be a public relations disaster for Robert Kraft. Many former players, coaches, and fans have expressed their displeasure with the series, and specifically how Bill Belichick was portrayed. Some scribes even got so sick of reporting on every criticism they vowed to be done discussing “The Dynasty” altogether. This ESPN report did not allow that to happen.

At the press conference to announce that the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick were “parting ways” Robert Kraft said all the right things about his former coach.

“The man standing to my left brought the leadership and coaching skills that were needed to make the type of unprecedented success that we have had possible,” lauded Kraft. “Coach Belichick will forever be celebrated as a legendary sports icon in New England.”

But it is tough for New England to celebrate a disloyal, unfair, schmuck. Those were all descriptions of Bill Belichick from “The Dynasty” series. Whether Robert Kraft personally called Arthur Blank to try and bury Bill Belichick’s head coaching candidacy is a moot point. Arthur Blank just needed a subscription to Apple TV to know how the New England Patriots owner felt about his former head coach.

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