Bill Belichick getting a second chance -- in the same decade, no less -- to be the head coach of the Cleveland Browns?
Whoa! That’s a stunning thought.
But if former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar had had his way, then it indeed would have happened and Belichick -- not Chris Palmer -- would have been hired as the first head coach of the expansion Browns a decade ago.
Kosar said that Friday morning while serving as a guest on “The Really Big Show” on Cleveland sports talk radio station WKNR (850-AM) with host Tony Rizzo.
“I went to Mr. (Al) Lerner and Carmen Policy in 1998 and told them when they were talking about who should be the head coach of the new franchise, that they should hire Belichick. They laughed at me. They ridiculed me,” Kosar said.
Rizzo then stopped Kosar in mid-sentence to make sure he had heard him correctly, and Kosar repeated that he did indeed push Belichick to the first owner and president of the new Browns.
That would be the same Bill Belichick who, in his first stint as head coach of the Browns from 1991-95, had unceremoniously cut Kosar, one of the most popular players in club history, in mid-season in 1993 with the team at 5-3 and in first place in the AFC Central. The reason Belichick gave was Kosar’s “diminishing skills.“
To make matters worse, untested and unheralded Todd Philcox was the only choice as replacement as Vinny Testaverde had just suffered a shoulder injury. Kosar was signed by the Dallas Cowboys shortly thereafter and played a part in them winning the Super Bowl.
In 1998, Kosar, by then retired as a player, served as the front man for Lerner and Policy when they made their bid to be considered as the ownership group of the new Browns. The Lerner-Policy group was ultimately chosen by the NFL on Sept. 8, 1998 to get the Browns, and they received the key to the building, so to speak, on Oct. 23.
Also at that time, Belichick was in the third of his four seasons with the New York Jets as assistant head coach/defensive coordinator after coming from Cleveland. Two years later, in 2000, he would be named head coach of the New England Patriots, the job he now holds.
Instead of pursuing Belichick, who had greatly alienated Browns fans during his first stint here mainly for getting rid of Kosar, but also for a number of other incidents that were handled poorly from a public relations perspective, Lerner and Policy tried to woo then San Francisco 49ers head coach Steve Mariucci and then Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Brian Billick to be head coach. When both men -- and others -- said no, Lerner and Policy turned to their fifth choice, Palmer, then offensive coordinator of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Palmer went a combined 5-27 in those first two seasons before getting fired, and have struggled to get on track since. Butch Davis was hired as his replacement, the second of four full-time head coaches of the new Browns over the last decade.
In 2000, while the Browns were struggling to a 3-13 finish, Billick guided the original Browns, who had moved to Baltimore after the 1995 season to become the Ravens, to a Super Bowl victory.
But why would Kosar push Belichick? Because, Kosar said, he and Belichick had patched things up between them by 1998 and Kosar was convinced Belichick had learned valuable lessons from his experience in Cleveland, had corrected those issues and was ready to be the head coach Art Modell thought he would be in Cleveland when he hired him 18 years ago. As it turns out, of course, Kosar was right, for Belichick, in his second head coaching chance, has turned the Patriots to the best franchise in the league year in and year out, guiding them to three Super Bowl wins in the process.
“We were the learning curve. We got screwed here in Cleveland, me more than most,“ Kosar said of the Browns, who had losing records in four of the five seasons under Belichick and made just one playoff appearance, serving as the coach’s apprenticeship on the way to stardom elsewhere. “But everybody makes mistakes, especially when you’re in your 30s. It’s like I tell my kids, though, that when you make a mistake, the key is to learn from it and not repeat it.”
And that’s what Belichick has done.
On another, sobering note for those who remember how he led the Browns to greatness through the last half of the 1980s and owned the town, Kosar said on Rizzo’s show that he was going to file for personal bankruptcy, “probably today.”
He explained, “I’ve tried to be generous with family, friends and ex-teammates. I’ve tried to help people out and let people manage things for me.
“I’m glad I was able to help those people and to help charities. But I’ve got four great kids, and now I have to focus on them.
“The money comes and goes. But God has blessed me with the ability to make it.”
Kosar and Rizzo joked with each other that they would get into the basket-making business together.
“You know what Kosar means in Hungarian?” Kosar asked rhetorically. “It means basket maker.”
Wonder what Belichick means in Hungarian? Maybe “a lost opportunity for the new Browns,” an opportunity that Kosar said he tried to provide the team 11 years ago with no success.