The New England Patriots conducted a major housecleaning yesterday, firing head coach Bill Belichick and vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli, just one day after the teamâ€™s 2005 draft received only a â€œCâ€ grade from draft expert Mel Kiper, Jr.
â€œI made the moves because I fear that after three Super Bowls, Belichick and Pioli were becoming complacent,â€ said team owner Robert Kraft. â€œThe draft is the most important thing a team does off the practice and playing fields, and if you muck that up â€“ as Mel Kiper, Jr. of all people says we did â€“ well, then you have to make some changes.â€
In giving New England the middling grade, Kiper called their first round selection of guard Logan Mankins â€œa reach,â€ said third round picks Ellis Hobbs and Nick Kaczur have â€œnot enough skillâ€ and â€œcame off the board a little early,â€ respectively, and claimed seventh round pick Matt Cassel is a â€œproject.â€ Plus, Kiper implied that in picking two players from Fresno State, Belichick may have relied too heavily on his friendship with Bulldogs head coach Pat Hill.
â€œWhen I saw Kiper give his scathing review of our draft on â€˜SportsCenterâ€™ on Monday night, my mind was made up right then and there,â€ said Kraft. â€œI didnâ€™t even need to think about it. I called Bill and Scott and scheduled a meeting for first thing Tuesday morning. I think they knew what was coming.â€
Both Belichick and Pioli said Kraft didnâ€™t let them try to explain their side of the story at the Tuesday meeting, and instead just fired them the moment they walked into his office. But both felt his reasons were ultimately sound.
â€œI was watching the same â€˜SportsCenterâ€™ broadcast and when I saw Kiper give his opinion on our draft, I knew my job could be in trouble,â€ said Belichick. â€œI pulled my wife aside and told her what had happened and what Mel had said. Not a minute later, I got the call from Bob about meeting.â€
Pioli, too, says he was not surprised by Kraftâ€™s decision.
â€œFor years weâ€™ve been walking the tightrope with Mel Kiper, Jr,â€ said Pioli. â€œLots of Bs, but never a C-grade. Until now, unfortunately. And like everyone in the NFL, Bob Kraft highly values Mel Kiper, Jr.â€™s opinion â€“ and why wouldnâ€™t he? Sure, people might crack on Kiper about his hair or how he predicted Andre Ware and Tony Mandarich would be Hall of Famers, but donâ€™t forget that he also famously predicted Trent Dilfer would be a better pro than Trev Alberts. And think how great Trent Dilfer has become. Kiper is an unparalleled visionary and no one â€“ not even me and Bill Belichick â€“ can hope to measure up to him. If he says you screwed up your draft, well â€“ you screwed up your draft.â€
Left without a coach and general manager with the regular season just more than four months away, Kraft said he will first consult Kiper about a successor.
â€œIâ€™d love to hire him as general manager, but I donâ€™t think I could afford him, plus I figure thereâ€™s some NFL rule prohibiting one team from having sole access to his genius. It would provide an unfair advantage,â€ said Kraft.
And as Kraft searches for their successors, Belichick and Pioli ponder life after football.
â€œSure, it would be great to get latch on somewhere else, maybe even at a Division III college or with a high school team as an assistant or something,â€ said Belichick. â€œBut Iâ€™m damaged goods. Once Mel Kiper trashes you, no one in the football world wants to be around you anymore. Heâ€™s that respected. Probably because he had such a great playing career and gained all of his knowledge from that.â€