Rumors continue to swirl around the Washington Commanders making a move for Bill Belichick. This would be a gamble of epic proportions.
This is something I don’t want to write. I have been assured by people in the know that there is no truth to the rumors - yet they persist. And I worry that giving it voice here will be akin to unwitting wizards uttering Voldermort and inadvertently summoning the darkness.
But if Josh Harris and the Washington Commanders are seriously considering working some kind of deal with the New England Patriots to bring Bill Belichick in as their next head coach, I have simple advice:
Commanders must avoid the allure of Bill Belichick
I admit there is some logic to the idea. It did work at one time in the Commanders' past. It was 1969.
Legendary coach Vince Lombardi had stepped away from his coaching duties with the Green Bay Packers to serve as general manager in 1968. He believed being both general manager and head coach was too much for one man - he was smarter than most of us.
When he felt that itch to coach again, Washington’s owner Edward Bennett Williams, in a deal that could only have been orchestrated by a true insider, figured out a way to bring Lombardi to D.C.
It worked. Lombardi turned around a culture of losing. He coached Washington to its first winning record in more than a decade. He instilled discipline and a roadmap for success. He essentially discovered Larry Brown. Then he contracted cancer and died before he could build on the success of the initial season.
It was left to another veteran coach, George Allen, to complete the task. He took Washington to its first championship in three decades.
Lombardi was 56 years old when he came to D.C. Belichick will be 72 on the opening day of 2024.
As someone who has just begun his seventh decade on the planet, I hate to sound ageist. But do you want to bring in a new coach at this point who will almost certainly not be coaching by the end of the decade?
That is not a rebuild. That is a temporary panacea that smacks of the kind of star worship that plagued the previous Commanders owner.
Belichick is a first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer. He might be the greatest coach ever. I have him in my top five. He has at least three attributes that make him so good at what he does:
- His teams are always meticulously prepared
- He is not afraid to flout conventional wisdom
- He understands roster-building, valuing draft picks, and not overpaying for mediocrity
Those things - and Tom Brady - took him to heights unseen by other NFL coaches. But there are warning signs galore.
Let’s get the Brady thing out of the way. Indeed, he has only won with the legendary figure as his quarterback. But he saw something in the scrawny Michigan prospect coming out of college - gave him the reins to the franchise when it’s hard to imagine any other coach doing so. He gets credit for that.
He also built outstanding defenses to help win Super Bowls when Brady was still learning the ropes. That’s just the nature of coaching. All the greatest had great players. But not every great player had a great coach.
Let’s be honest. At this point, Sam Howell is much closer to Mac Jones than he is to Tom Brady. Would any 72-year coach have the patience to let a young quarterback grow into the position?
Commanders need an offensive-minded head coach
I would be very worried that were Belichick to come to the Commanders, Howell would be out in favor. That might be the case regardless of who's appointed considering his Week 15 benching and the player's regression in recent weeks.
I don’t know if Patrick Ramsey would have turned into a great quarterback had he received better support from his franchise. The fact is we will never know because veteran coach Joe Gibbs chose to promote aging vet Mark Brunell over him back in 2005.
Brunell did guide Washington to its last playoff win that year. That was as far as the team got. And that decision - along with similar short-term choices such as trading Champ Bailey for Clinton Portis set the franchise back long-term.
Then there’s this: Washington has had a defensive-minded head coach for the past four seasons. Teams typically swing back and forth when hiring a new coach. That would suggest the Commanders will be seeking an offensive-minded coach.
If you want to make the case for a defensive guru like Belichick, this is how you do it…
The Commanders' projected starting defense this season boasted five first-round picks and four Day 2 selections. It was rounded out by a couple of Day 3 choices. In comparison, more than half of Washington’s starting offense came on Day 3 or were undrafted free agents.
There was just one first-rounder on offense and a couple of second/third-rounders. This team was built around its defense.
That defense is arguably the worst in the league right now. Jack Del Rio was fired. Rivera took over the play-calling and even though there's been more aggression, the improvements haven't arrived.
So should Washington bring in another defensive-minded coach to try to get the most out of recent investments? No.
The Commanders desperately need an offensive-minded coach - preferably one with a quarterback coaching experience on his resume - to build the offense. You do not win in the NFL in 2023 without having a dynamic offense. Washington has not had one since Robert Griffin III's rookie season.
Belichick is too good a coach for me to say the Commanders absolutely, positively couldn’t do this. It just seems highly unlikely. If he does want a new city in which to ply his trade, there is a perfect one waiting for him.
He should head west to Los Angeles and take over the Chargers. That is a perfect situation for a coach with one final challenge left in him.
A good roster. A very good young quarterback. A team that has suffered under the weight of poor coaching for a long time now. Plus, it’s the California sunshine. As Apartments.com notes, “Retirees looking for an active lifestyle will love Los Angeles’ proximity to varied adventures.”
Do you know what that site says about Washington? “a sizeable portion of the D.C. population is extremely stressed.”
Let’s not add to Belichick’s - or our own - stress.