Despite two-plus decades of unprecedented success, how Bill Belichick will ultimately be remembered in New England should be for how he turned this Patriots franchise around from a middle-of-the-road team to a perennial contender.
Or at least that’s how he should be remembered. Locally in sports radio, it’s a different story.
Tuesday saw quite the showdown between 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Michael Felger and former Belichick staffer and NFL GM Michael Lombardi, with the two battling it out over the narrative surrounding Belichick, who the team parted ways with this past offseason.
Felger started off the interview quoting a Tweet, believing it to be from former Patriots running back Patrick Pass (it wasn’t), who wrote, “Imagine having a coach that brought you six championships in 18 years and were always close to the top the other years and letting Michael Felger convince you he was actually bad?” Lombardi had reposted the Tweet while replaying “Preech” – obviously spelling the word “preach” wrong.
Lombardi poked fun at himself for the miscue, but Felger wasted no time getting into it.
“If he’s so great, how’d it get so bad?” asked Felger.
“Well, I think it got bad like a lot of teams get bad, right?” explained Lombardi. “You miss on a quarterback, I think that’s pretty clear. You thought you had a really good quarterback. You made some mistakes in hiring. Andy Reid hired Juan Castillo to be his defensive coordinator from the offensive line. That ran him out of Philadelphia.”
“I think you make some mistakes, and your margin for error is smaller and I think ultimately what Deatrich Wise said this year was true. ‘We have a bad record, we don’t have a bad team.’ I think if you put a quarterback on that team, the narrative would change. And I’m not trying to blame Mac Jones or Bailey Zappe for everything because there were other problems that went into that.”
Felger then asked, “Is Bill not responsible for those quarterbacks and how they played?”
“I think he certainly is, and I think he is accountable for it,” said Lombardi. “I think he certainly takes accountability for that. But when you saw the quarterback play well as a rookie, you kind of feel like he was going to [continue]. The third year, I think the biggest mistake they made as an organization was not bringing competition in behind Mac because Mac wasn’t very good. Now everybody said it was because of Matt Patricia, and everybody firmly believed that Billy O’Brien would be able to fix that, and obviously that didn’t happen.”
The “Laziest Narrative”
However, from there, Felger ratcheted things up.
“For the record, I’ve taken nothing away from Bill during the Brady years,” said Felger. “He was a great compliment to a great quarterback. He obviously did a great job.”
“Here we go,” said Lombardi, clearly knowing what was coming.
“But, Mike, his track record without him speaks for itself,” said Felger.
“No, it doesn’t,” said Lombardi. “It’s completely a ridiculous narrative. It’s the laziest narrative.”
“The scoreboard is lazy?” replied Felger. “The scoreboard? Wins and losses?”
“It’s the laziest narrative you could ever have,” said Lombardi. “Don Shula, the winningest coach in football, and he went to one Super Bowl with Danny Marino, OK? You look at Andy Reid after Donovan McNabb and Kevin Cobb when they went through that…”
“Andy Reid won with Alex Smith,” quipped Felger.
“O.K., he won with Alex Smith, right? But that was when he went to Kansas City,” said Lombardi, basically pointing out that Reid also got fired the same way Belichick had in his first bid to start over. “When he was in Philadelphia with Kevin Cobb after Donovan McNabb, that didn’t go so well. So, I think there’s always a transitional period you have to go through.”
“That’s such a lazy narrative that, ‘Oh, he’s no good, Brady’s the reason he was so good.’ All coaches are good with a quarterback.”
“Shouldn’t he have some track record without him to prove how great he is?” replied Felger. “Because he has none?”
“I think you saw with Cam Newton, the year they won with Cam Newton? I think that was one of his best … with a quarterback who couldn’t throw the ball,” said Lombardi.
“They were 7-9,” said Felger. “And he chose the quarterback.”
“There were how many other quarterbacks who were available at that point?” asked Lombardi. “You sit there and second-guess, and it’s great, but unless you really understand the dynamics of everything that’s going on – which I don’t think you do – I think you’d have a hard time doing it. And I’m not here to shill for my friend because he doesn’t need me to support him. He’s going to go into the Hall of Fame. He’s the greatest coach of all time.”
“However, to me, you’ve got to look at the whole thing, the whole landscape. Have you seen the whole landscape? I mean, they’re one of the lowest-paying teams in the league in terms of payroll over the last five years.”
Felger then admitted he agreed with that point, as Lombardi continued.
“So there’s other elements that go into this thing, and I’m not blaming anybody,” he said. “He’s responsible for the record. I think he’s stood accountable for the record. But he’s also responsible for some of the winning too. It wasn’t just one player. They threw for 143 yards in the first Super Bowl, they ran for 142. Like, it’s not just one guy, and we see that.”
“I mean, Warren Moon threw for 27 miles of yards in the National Football League. 27 miles. He went to one Conference Championship game. One of the greatest teams of all time, the Houston Oilers, they went to one Conference Championship game. It takes three things working together.”
“Why does no one want” Belichick?
Felger then switched gears and asked, “Why does no one want him?”
“There’s opportunities that are out there. Sean Payton did a good job after his first year of leaving the league,” said Lombardi. “So there’s always a time period. It’s got to be the right situation for him too. Was Tennessee going to be the right situation with Ran Carthon as the president of the team? I mean, you just jump to conclusions.”
Felger then said, “I’m just looking at the scoreboard,” and then he continued chanting, “scoreboard, scoreboard.”
“Scoreboard, my ass,” said Lombardi. “When he was winning, you wouldn’t give him credit.”
“I enjoy the debate because to me, what makes championship teams, what wins titles, what won those six Super Bowls were the things he brought together,” continued Lombardi.
“If you don’t want to acknowledge it … Look, the San Antonio Spurs haven’t done anything, they acknowledged [Gregg] Popovich for what he did. Now if you were down in San Antonio doing talk radio down there, I’m sure you would be killing Popovich. I’m sure you would say, ‘Look at the scoreboard! Look at the scoreboard!’ And they think Popovich is a great coach. So, to me, you’ve got to do your gig, but you’re doing it with 1/3 of the knowledge that it takes to put together a great team.”
Felger then turned to Tony Massarotti, who had been completely silent to this point, “You want a crack at this?”
Massarotti then asked Lombardi what happened at the end and why it collapsed.
“I think a lot of it was some poor decisions,” said Lombardi. “I think the quarterbacking, they should have brought competition in. I think the staffing was an issue. The offensive line coach [Adrian Klemm] got sick during the season, the young offensive lineman [Calvin Anderson]. I think they lost a lot of close games. I think there’s a lot of reasons and look, he’s got to stand up and take accountability for it, which he will. But we’re talking about one year.”
“I think the Kraft Family had run their team a certain way, and they’ve given Bill all the authority to do that, they wanted to kind of come back and say, ‘OK, we need to revisit this thing.’ And they have every right to do that. That’s why they’re called owners.”
Lombardi did eventually ask Felger about Mike Vrabel, who also didn’t get hired after being let go in Tennessee. Felger didn’t really have an answer other than adding that he believes Vrabel “has more in the tank,” which is obviously true simply due to the significant differences in age.
Did Robert Kraft Force Jones on Belichick?
Massarotti then asked Lombardi about the selection of Mac Jones, inferring that the decision to take Jones was forced on Belichick by ownership. Lombardi disagreed.
“I think he felt like there were a lot of people in the building that liked Mac,” said Lombardi. “I’m not sure that he felt like – and I don’t want to speak for him, he can certainly speak for himself – but I think there were other variables in play too. I think the reason why you saw them not trade up to get the quarterback is because they felt like maybe if they didn’t get Mac, they could get another player.”
“I think when you go back and really study the year that Mac had as a rookie when Josh was there as the quarterback coach, I think you could see there were things that Josh did really well with Mac that haven’t been done since then. But, they come off that bye win and they win in Buffalo where he only throws three passes, and they go into Indianapolis on that Sunday night game, you know, he has two turnovers in that game that have a chance to win the game and they can’t quite get it done.”
“Mac has been a player that has been, I don’t want to say mistake-prone, but has not made the plays that you need to make at the right time. And I was high on Mac. Look, I was a huge Mac fan. Where I misevaluated Mac was his decision-making in terms of being able to make plays, and the ability to be accurate with the football when he needed to be.”
Did Belichick Try and ‘Prove a Point’ to Kraft and Jones?
Felger then went on to talk about what happened with the relationship with Patricia, Mac seeking advice from Alabama, and then things devolving this season to the point some had speculated Belichick hung Jones “out to dry” to “prove a point to him or to the owner.”
Lombardi then sarcastically questioned Felger believing in conspiracy theories, also referring to the situation with the theories surrounding the John F. Kennedy assassination before telling him if he believes the former Patriots coach had other motives, Felger clearly doesn’t know Belichick.
“Let me say this to you,” said Lombardi. “I think if you know Belichick just a little bit, you would know that winning is the most important thing. See, this shows you how naive you are, and this shows you how you really don’t know the guy you’ve been covering for as long as you have because if you think there’s one ounce of him, one ounce, that he doesn’t want to win. He’s put everything into his life to win.”
“He wants to win his way, Michael,” said Felger.
“If you’re telling me that he was sabotaging the game, then you don’t really know the guy,” said Lombardi.
“Did you watch the Kansas City game? Did you watch some of these games?” asked Felger. “Do you think he played to win against Kansas City when he kept punting on fourth and short in the second half of that game?”
“I think he was playing a game that he knew that if the more he let his quarterback play … How much more evidence did you need?” said Lombardi. “I watched every single Patriots game. I’ve watched every single Patriots tape. I watched everything. Like, I would scream at the television, ‘put the other guy in.’ But the other guy wasn’t any good either. So you were going from bad to [worse]. And at some point you’ve got to sit there and say to yourself, ‘OK, we should have signed a veteran quarterback. We should have brought somebody else in.'”
Belichick’s Relationship With Mac Jones
Felger then questioned Belichick not mentioning Jones by name at various points, along with his relationship with Brady and other past players.
“Players that you tell the truth to, you’re not going to have a good relationship with, and you’re going to have to tell the truth to some players,” said Lombardi. “Like, at some point, you’re the leader of the team, you can’t make everybody happy. You just can’t. You’re not going to make everybody happy. I mean, Mayo’s going to have to make some tough decisions too. You’re going to have to ruffle some feathers.”
“When we were in Cleveland together, we had to cut players…”
Felger then started laughing about Belichick having “a good relationship with Bernie Kosar,” who he ultimately benched.
Whey he picked that one to criticize Belichick for is questionable. Looking back, it was the right move, as Belichick turned that team around and made it to the playoffs, beating New England in 1994 and started off strong in 1995 before the announcement came about Art Modell pulling the rug out from everyone with the announcement of the team being moved to Baltimore. Things fell apart from there, but the Browns were considered a favorite to potentially contend in the AFC that season prior to that news.
Most people in New England have seen the documentary of that season, which added significant context as to why Belichick wasn’t able to complete the turnaround. Lombardi was also among an all-star staff that included Nick Saban (he left to take over the head coaching job at Michigan State after the 1994 season), Ernie Adams, among quite a few other notable names.
But for Felger to laugh off what turned out to be a tough decision that ultimately changed the trajectory for the Browns (in a very good way) when Vinny Testeverde was put into the starting role, is puzzling.
Meanwhile, Lombardi talked about the decision.
“Because Bernie wouldn’t accept the fact he couldn’t throw the ball from me to the guy over there …,”
“It’s Bernie’s fault, it’s Mac’s fault, I got it…” said Felger.
“If you want to know the truth, I’ll tell you the truth,” said Lombardi. “At the end of the day, Bernie couldn’t make a throw. Bernie would come over to the sideline and say, ‘Bill, why you pulling me, I’m ten for eleven. He threw for 32 -yards. Like at some point, it’s not just the coach’s fault.”
What Happened to Mac Jones in 2023?
Felger then asked what the problem was with Jones.
“Mac didn’t play worth a darn,” said Lombardi. “If Mac’s going to be honest with himself instead of sitting there saying, ‘Oh, don’t coach me too hard,’ … I thought Mac was going to behave like an overachiever, right? Like, what made Brady so great? Brady was great because he had great talent, and he thought of himself as the 199th pick in the draft, and he was an overachiever, and he worked his ass off, and he took coaching. And he took hard coaching and he welcomed it and he loved it.”
“Listen to him on [Pat] McAfee talk about accountability and all those things, right? Mac doesn’t want that and it’s a different generation of players. And so the only way Mac’s going to get out of this funk is he’s going to have to accept hard coaching. Whether it comes from Alex Van Pelt, whether it comes from Ben McAdoo, I don’t know.”
Felger: ‘It’s not a Narrative’
“He’s 29-39 since Brady left, they haven’t won a playoff game. They stink, Michael, and he was in charge of all of it,” said Felger. “I’m not making that up. It’s not a narrative.”
“He was in charge of all of it. But it was amazing when they won the six Super Bowls, somebody else brought the team together. It’s amazing. Like, all of a sudden, he got stupid? Like all those players who won Super Bowls, you never give him any credit for that.”
Felger then asked about Lombardi’s early comments about the spending, asking how it broke down.
“I think to me, and I was in the building, I don’t know the details of how it goes, but there were certainly always budgets and stuff that go into it what plays,” said Lombardi. “I’ve never seen a coach … I think Bill was very, very, very good at being able to justify the value of the player versus the contract. And that’s why they’ve never really have been in a bad cap situation and he’s always looked to the future and I think that’s what you have to do as a leader of an organization. You just can’t say I’m going to spend all the money on one player.”
Felger then asked Lombardi if Belichick got everything he needed from the ownership level.
“I do think that the ability, when we were winning, I think the ability to win was there, sure,” said Lombardi. “I don’t think there’s any question about that. I’ve never doubted that.”
Felger later asked if Belichick will be successful if he does coach again.
“Is Bill going to come back, and is he going to win?” asked Felger.
“I think he will,” said Lombardi. “And I’ll come back on your show and we’ll talk about it.”
For those who have the patience or the desire to listen to it, here’s the full interview – albeit 98.5 seems to have issues getting the audio synced up with the video.
Posted Under: Patriots News
Tags: Michael Felger Michael Lombardi