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Robert Kraft explains decision to part ways with HC Bill Belichick after 24 seasons

An admittedly "very emotional day" required a breather before Patriots owner Robert Kraft was ready to field questions on Thursday regarding the departure of head coach Bill Belichick.

A somber, but grateful tone filled the air as Kraft said goodbye to the greatest coach both the Patriots and the NFL have ever seen. Then, it was time for Kraft to explain the decision to part ways with Belichick after 24 seasons.

The main takeaway was rather simple: The Patriots haven't been good enough to justify continuing in the same fashion -- even if that meant moving on from a legendary coach.

"Well, the last three years have been pretty tough, and I know for our dedicated fans and myself, and (in) life I just learn that things happen," Kraft said. "Our family is the custodian of this asset: the New England Patriots. We know how important it is to the psyche of the community and what's gone on here the last three, four years isn't what we want. We have a responsibility to do what we can to fix it to the best of our ability."

That responsibility meant seriously considering moving on from Belichick, a six-time Super Bowl champion coach with the Patriots, and ending an era that lasted 24 years and included the rise of the game's greatest quarterback ever in Tom Brady. As painful as such as decision might have been, Kraft was sure of it, a resolution that came only after he and Belichick spent three days meeting following the conclusion of New England's worst season this century.

Earlier in the week, Belichick met with the New England media and insinuated that he could be open to relinquishing some personnel control if he returned for the 2024 season. Kraft said such an arrangement was considered, but that he felt that was not the right course for the franchise.

"Yeah, we thought about that," Kraft said. "But, you know, I've had experience running different businesses and trying to develop a team. Think about it, when you have someone like Bill who's had control over every decision, every coach we hired. The organization reports to him on the draft. How much money we spend, every decision has been his. We've always supported him.

"To then take some of that power away and give it to someone else, accountability is important to me. … Where he had the responsibility and someone else takes it, it's going to set up confusion. … It wouldn't work, in my opinion."

Kraft added: "All of us need checks and balances in our life."

Despite New England's fall from football glory in recent years, Belichick remains an incredibly valuable asset. His rings -- of which he has enough to occupy nearly all 10 fingers -- speak for themselves, and in the annual coaching carousel, he could have been a tantalizing trade chip.

Kraft, however, told reporters that he didn't feel it would be right to trade Belichick, even if the Patriots could have received a haul in return.

"I'm fortunate in our family, our businesses are all private, and so we try to create a culture and develop an environment where people want to stay and stay long term," Kraft said. "Yeah, I guess, if you look at this as a transaction, he is so valuable and how we could extract something, I didn't think it was right. I didn't think it was right for Tom Brady, who gave us 20 years. And I don't think it's right for Bill.

"Each of them earned the right to be in the position where they should do what's right for us, given what they have done for this franchise. Some people might criticize me for not extracting as value, and I understand that. But we just try to do what we think is right for the proper values and ability to operate and try to get people who want to come and feel that we're going to treat them fairly."

Some wondered why Kraft would opt to move on the Belichick era. Sure, New England wasn't a good football team in 2023, finishing 4-13, but Belichick's track record should have earned him some slack.

As Kraft saw it, three years was enough to see things weren't getting better. New England has reached the postseason just once since Brady left for Tampa Bay in 2020, and the Patriots haven't shown any signs they'll suddenly be a better team in 2024.

If ever there were a time to end an era and move onto a fresh start, it was now.

"This is a results business," Kraft said on Thursday. "Certain things in life, it's instinctual. I think both of us felt the time was right for each of us to go off in our separate directions.

… "For him to say he'll always be a Patriot. It's great. The last few days, since Monday since we've been thinking about and talking about, I think our relationship went to a new place because this is very hard. It's like a marriage, things don't always go great. You get through the difficult times and it makes the relationship strong. I think we had the chance to do that over the last almost quarter of a century.

"I think both of us felt at this point in time it was in our mutual interest to each go our own way, but knowing that we have that bond and foundation that's really hard in this business to create -- very hard."

Kraft sounded wistful when answering questions on Thursday, almost as if he knew he'd likely never witness another run of greatness like the one Belichick oversaw in the last 24 years. He has every reason to believe it, too: Prior to the Patriots, no club had ever been as consistently successful and at times, dominant, as Belichick's team was for so long.

There is, of course, the comparison of the Patriots before and after Brady. But Kraft wasn't thinking about his former quarterback on Thursday as much as he was expressing appreciation for the architect of New England's six Super Bowl-winning teams (and nine AFC champion squads), and the coach who led them to the promised land.

"I'm not sure I can say one thing," Kraft said when asked of the football lessons he learned from Belichick. "The thing that always amazed me with him -- and I get exposed to a lot of people -- is he's the only person I've met with the football intellect and the knowledge. I think part of that went back to his dad and the training he got. But also how he absorbed it as a little kid watching film with his dad.

"What I saw in '96 when he got fired by the Browns and Bill Parcells said you should go out and meet him. … I remember I went out in '96 and spoke with him at the combine and he agreed to come join us. I saw the impact that he had in that season coaching the secondary, how he could relate to the players. … He knew how to give information, complicated (information) that they could relate to. … I thought to myself, here's a guy who can relate to the players at that level, but also has the football intellect and understands the economics of the game because most coaches coming into the mid-90s and late '90s didn't know how to put value coming into a salary cap, that parity of budgets. He had the greatest ability to relate the two things.

"Now I think a lot of his contemporaries -- younger contemporaries -- have caught up to that. But I don't think there's anyone like him that has the composite knowledge. So that always impressed me. And then he can pull something out of the air and quote 30 years ago some play in some game. For those of us who have short-term memory lapses, that really impressed me."

Expertise was the name of Belichick's game, one that propelled New England from afterthought to a pillar franchise of the NFL. It will be up to Kraft to hire the right coach to keep them there.

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