New England Patriots

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - SEPTEMBER 18: Head coach Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers and head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots embrace after the game at Acrisure Stadium on September 18, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

  • A pair of new nuggets from prominent NFL reporters seem to indicate that a longtime NFL head coach is on the verge of walking away.

    Of course, in New England, the immediate question is whether that coaching departure will be Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. He’s on the shortlist of candidates for retirement that Josina Anderson hinted at on Nov. 15, when she tweeted: “There’s talk behind-the-scenes as to whether any one of 3 of the NFL’s longest tenured head coaches will step down after this season or next as these lists get compiled in preparation for vacancies. We’ll see.”

    Belichick is, of course, the longest-tenured NFL head coach, in his 23rd season helming the Patriots. The next two on the list are the Steelers’ Mike Tomlin, who has coached in Pittsburgh since 2007, and Ravens’ John Harbaugh, who has coached in Baltimore since 2008. Tomlin and Harbaugh are only 50 and 60 years old, respectively, so retirement would be much more surprising for them than for Belichick.

  • FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 25: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots and head coach John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens shake hands after Baltimore's 37-26 win at Gillette Stadium on September 25, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – SEPTEMBER 25: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots and head coach John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens shake hands after Baltimore’s 37-26 win at Gillette Stadium on September 25, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

  • We’re at the point that it wouldn’t be the most shocking development if Belichick called it a career after 2022 or 2023, now that he’s 70 years old and has long been on the record saying: “I won’t be like Marv Levy and coaching in my 70s, I know that.” But Belichick tried to correct the record in a recent interview with Dan Shaughnessy in the Boston Globe, which indicates he’s more open to the idea of coaching as a septuagenarian, now that he actually is one.

    “I wish I hadn’t said that,” Belichick told Shaughnessy. “I was probably thinking of what I would feel like. Now, there’s what I actually feel like, and those are two different things. That was not one of my better statements.”

    Dan Graziano of ESPN specifically mentioned Belichick in some (informed?) speculation of his own, adding Pete Carroll to Belichick as coaches who “are at the age where people are going to keep one eye on those spots for potential openings when and if those guys decide to walk away (not that I’ve been given any indication that either is likely to do so right now).” Carroll is the fourth-longest tenured NFL head coach, as the leader of the Seahawks since 2010.

    FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 13: Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots congratulates Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks after a Seahawks win at Gillette Stadium on November 13, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

    FOXBORO, MA – NOVEMBER 13: Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots congratulates Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks after a Seahawks win at Gillette Stadium on November 13, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

  • Perhaps most importantly, how does Robert Kraft feel about Belichick’s future in New England? Back in 2017, before Super Bowl LI, Kraft told Mark Maske of the Washington Post that Belichick can coach the Patriots “as long as he wants.” Added Kraft: “We have a pact that we don’t talk about that. He knows and I know. But he won’t be done [after 2016].”

    Since that comment, Belichick has won two Super Bowls and appeared in another – with Tom Brady as his quarterback. Since Brady’s departure in 2020, the Patriots are 23-21 in the regular season and 0-1 in the playoffs, with a mix of Cam Newton, Mac Jones, Brian Hoyer, and Bailey Zappe under center. Kraft specifically mentioned the Patriots’ playoff drought (no playoff wins since 2018) as a disappointment in an off-season press conference before 2022.

    Despite all that, there’s no indication or even speculation that Kraft is putting Belichick on the proverbial “hot seat.” Even then, publicly we’d probably be looking at a “mutual parting of ways” rather than an outright firing, if Belichick’s post-Brady rebuild hasn’t met organizational expectations. It remains unclear whether that would even happen, let alone after 2022 or 2023.

  • Nov 9, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft (right) looks on behind head coach Bill Belichick before the game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

    Nov 9, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft (right) looks on behind head coach Bill Belichick before the game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

  • If only because of Belichick’s age, he makes the most sense as the longtime coach who will walk away within the next 2-3 years. However, it also makes sense for Belichick to get one more off-season in 2023 to see if he can complete his rebuild. Mac Jones will be up for an extension after his third year begins, and the Patriots are projected to have among the most salary cap space in the league to go spend and fill needs.

    Once the 2023 season is complete and the Patriots enter the 2024 off-season, that could be when Kraft has a big decision to make. Or that could be the time that Belichick decides to walk away. Who knows. It’s interesting enough that reporters are starting to drop hints of major changes coming somewhere, for a coach who’s held his post for a long time.

    The Belichick succession plan may not be imminent – well, depending on your line of demarcation. There may still be a couple more years before the decision even presents itself. But it’s only going to become a more relevant topic as Belichick’s tenure as a 70-something head coach goes on.

  • Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @realmattdolloff. Check out all of Matt’s content here.

  • WATCH: Bill Belichick Reacts To Patriots’ Thanksgiving Loss