The New England Patriots finally got their man today, for a price. Bill Belichick was named their new head coach, but it will cost the Patriots their No. 1 selection in the April draft, the 16th overall choice, which now belongs to the New York Jets.
The Patriots reached a compensation deal with the Jets today before introducing Belichick at an evening news conference in Foxboro, Mass. The Patriots also will get the Jets' No. 5 choice in 2001 and No. 7 in 2002; the Jets will get the Patriots' fourth and seventh picks in 2001.
The agreement eased three weeks of bitter feelings between the AFC East rivals that no doubt will resume when they play each other next season. It began when Belichick resigned one day after being named as Bill Parcells's replacement to coach the Jets.
The NFL ruled that Belichick had a contract with the Jets, and any team interested in his services would have to resolve the issue with New York. Belichick sought injunctive relief in federal court on Monday, but that was denied. He then dropped his plans to sue the league, reportedly at the urging of Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who announced the hiring today.
"I like him a lot," said Kraft, who employed Belichick as a defensive coordinator in 1996 when Parcells was the Patriots' head coach. "He's the most capable person out there at this point in time to help us win next year."
Belichick said that he was prepared to sit out the 2000 season until Parcells called him Thursday morning and let him know about the compensation deal. Belichick said he spoke with Kraft before noon and accepted the job, his second go-around as a head coach since he compiled a 37-45 record at Cleveland from 1991-96.
"An opportunity to be coaching is something I didn't know I'd have until the last 24 hours," Belichick said. "I'm thankful things have worked out. It's been an ordeal, but it's behind me."
Belichick said that he resigned from the Jets in a rather bizarre news conference on Jan. 4 because "I was not comfortable with my situation. I didn't know where I was going, but I wasn't ready to commit.
"I have no animosity, I have no hard feelings toward the Jets. Business is business. I did what I had to do. It's time to move on, and I've done that. . . . Bill [Parcells] and I have a good professional relationship. I feel that's still in place."
Parcells was not available to comment.
The latest development was another strange twist in a story that has taken many turns since Kraft had a falling out with Parcells during the team's run to the 1997 Super Bowl. That led to Parcells's departure after the Patriots lost to the Green Bay Packers.
The Patriots had interviewed a number of possible coaches and in recent days had spoken with Jacksonville defensive coordinator Dom Capers. The former Carolina Panthers head coach had a four-hour interview with Kraft on Wednesday. Capers is believed to be a candidate for the only remaining coaching vacancy, in New Orleans.
The Patriots had an 8-8 record, which led to the firing of Pete Carroll the day after the regular season ended. The Patriots got worse in each of Carroll's three years, going 10-6 in his first season and 9-7 in his second year.