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The source for back issues of Clint's Corner. Forget a trade? Were Clint's predictions correct? Here's every edition, verbatim.

For 12/29/1999

Standing Pat...

A year ago around this time the Patriots were a playoff team, but made a hasty exit from the postseason party following a dismal offensive performance in Jacksonville. The "fire Carroll" talk had reached it’s pinnacle. Columnists in both of Boston’s major newspapers called for Carroll’s head as Patriot Nation awaited the results of the two-week "organizational evaluation" conducted by the Kraft Family.

On January 4, 1999 (see the Archive) my entire column was written in defense of Pete Carroll, and my own opinion of why he should be given another shot in 1999. With the Pats now in the midst of a 1-6 collapse to end the season, there are a lot of "I told you so’s" being thrown my way. While it certainly appears that Pete Carroll will be fired at the end of this season, let me ask you this; do you really think the Patriots would have been a better team in 1999 if Carroll had been replaced last January?

New coaches in 1999 include Andy Reid, Dick Jauron, Brian Billick, Mike Reilly, and George Seifert. Assuming Kraft had landed the gem in George Seifert, how much better would this team be today? Of course we’ll never know, but I for one can’t see the team as it’s currently comprised doing too much better than it’s likely 4th or 5th place finish no matter who the coach had been. Coaching indeed makes a big difference in the NFL, but how much? Could Seifert have guided this bunch to the AFC East title over the Colts?

If the new head coach had been able to keep the offense from sinking, could he have done as good a job as Carroll has done with the defense? In 3 years, the Pats defense has performed as well as any three year period in franchise history. Even in the championship season of 1996, the defense was not as sound as even the depleted unit that has been taking the field during the second half of this season. During this 1-6 slide, the "D" has been doing more than just holding their own. Yes they have made backup QB’s look pretty damn good, but a lot of that is the fault of an offense which cannot sustain drives and continues to turn the ball over.

You can count on one hand the number of bad defensive performances the Pats have had since Carroll took over in 1997. If you recall, the 1997 defense was playing the best ball in the entire NFL down the stretch, yielding just 3 points in a home playoff victory and just 7 in the subsequent road loss. It’s like throwing the baby out with the bath water to dismiss the defensive coaches when it’s been the offense who is largely to blame this season. Dismissing Carroll also means that Steve Sidwell and his fine staff will also be gone, and that is a tremendous loss.

While it’s clear that the team needs a fresh start and a new direction, I will continue to stick my neck out in defense of Pete Carroll. I agree 100% that he should be let go at the end of the season, but that in no way is a reflection of where I place the blame in 1999. Being the head coach, Carroll is ultimately responsible, but this team needs new players and new attitudes more than just a new head coach. Whoever the new man in charge is will undoubtedly be an expert on the Patriots 1999 season within a few months of signing his contract. He will review miles of film, and will hopefully be able to determine which players deserve to be back for the 2000 season. Whether it be lack of talent, heart, or both there is certain to be some major turnover in personnel in 2000. I am sure that players such as Willie McGinest and Lawyer Milloy could help formulate the "to do" list.

Since the day he was hired, Pete Carroll has been under fire simply because he is not Bill Parcells. He knew that coming in, but that doesn’t make it fair. Tuna indeed is the best in the business, but people quickly forget that Parcells was 6-10 in 1995 and had the help of the gridiron God’s down the stretch on the road to the Super Bowl in 1996. Tuna is getting a lot of credit for the Jets resurgence this season, but what of the 1-6 start? Yes it was a big mistake to let the Tuna go to the Jets, but at the time I felt the Pats would continue to thrive under Pete Carroll, and that the picks received would help secure a strong future for New England while hampering the Jets chances to rebuild. While Kraft certainly ends up with egg on his face over this decision, this too was not Pete Carroll’s doing.

Not only are the Jets today a better team in nearly every respect than the Pats, but New England has just Tony Simmons, Andy Katzenmoyer, and the departed Damon Denson and Sedrick Shaw to show for letting the Tuna walk. The Jets are 4-2 against New England, and 2-1 in Foxboro Stadium on prime time television over the past three seasons. (Note, however, that Carroll was 4-3 against Jimmy Johnson over the same stretch.)

With Robert Edwards lost for the season and little talent on the offensive line, this team was doomed from the start in 1999. The national magazines had the Pats pegged as a 4th or 5th place team way back in July. Their words back then are scary to read over today. It’s as if they knew what was going to happen when across the board they all predicted the Pats would have no running game, allowing defenses to tee off on Bledsoe and shut down the passing game. I was optimistic for a 3rd place finish, thinking the Jets and Dolphins would battle it out for 1st and 2nd. All of these predictions had little to do with Carroll being the head coach. When the Pats began 4-0 and 6-2 with the Jets falling by the wayside, our expectations skyrocketed. During the bye week, I predicted in this column that the 6-2 Pats would finish 12-4 and win the AFC East. I, like many fans, media, players, and coaches fell victim to the mirage.

When it’s all said and done next Sunday, the team will finish right about where everyone thought they would. A couple of short field goals would have this team still in the playoff hunt, but that would only further serve to mask the problems. In actuality, it’s probably best that Vinatieri missed those two kicks. This team has more the look and feel of 8-8 than it does of 10-6, field goals or no field goals. Kraft and the new head coach can now see this team for the 5th place bunch that it is and do something about it.

Belichick or bust...

So where do we go from here? I cringe every time I read or hear the short list of coaches being mentioned to replace Pete Carroll. Art Shell? Marty Schottenheimer? Gary Kubiak? Mike Martz? I weep for the future. Although he too is no Tuna (who is?) the only sensible choice out there, for a number of reasons, is Bill Belichick.

Although there has been some turnover on the Pats roster since the ’96 season, the defensive unit remains mostly intact. Belichick is very familiar with Ted Johnson, Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy, Willie McGinest, Chris Slade, Tedi Bruschi, and Chad Eaton. That’s seven solid starters on what today is a sound defense. Bruschi and Milloy are free agents, but certainly New England would be their #1 choice with Belichick in the fold. Whoever the defensive coordinator is, Belichick would likely play a big role on that side of the ball, where he is an undisputed genius.

Belichick was well respected by the players when he was here, and would command instant respect returning as the head coach. Although I think this aspect of coaching is a bit overrated (ref: Ray Rhodes), Belichick does fit the mold of the hard-nosed, no-nonsense disciplinarian that the Doctors of Patriot Nation seem to have prescribed. The suspension of Terry Glenn for week 17 is too little, too late. With "mini-Tuna" in charge, the off the field nonsense is sure to be cut off at the neck before it comes to a head.

Over the past three seasons, not only has Belichick designed defenses to shut down the Pats offense, but he did it so well it provided a blue print for the rest of the league. The past three seasons have seen the Pats go 10-6, 9-7, and 7-8. However, following a loss to the Jets, the team hit 1-3, 1-3, and 1-5 skids in those respective seasons. It’s a phenomenon known as "Tuna Hangover", but the poison was provided by Belichick’s defenses. Not only would Belichick no longer be working against New England, but he could now turn his attention to slowing down Martin, KJ, and Vinny twice a year. How great would it be to see the Jets offense hit the skids against a Belichick coached Patriot Defense, such to the extent that the Jets subsequent opponents copy the scheme with similar success?

Belichick halted the streaking Pats offense with extensive film study. The only time the Pats offense ever enjoyed success against the Jets was when there was no film to study – week 1 of this year. The rematch in week 9 certainly proved to be a different story. Although he’s not known as an offensive genius, perhaps the man most adept at stopping the Pats offense would be best equipped to tweak it back to high octane as well. Given the current personnel to work with, Belichick and his new offensive coordinator may struggle to figure out which plays will work – but they already have their PhD’s on which plays will not.

While my endorsement is 100% with BB, I will not exactly make my reservations for Super Bowl XXXV after his press conference. His previous head coaching stint was not exactly successful. While he did enjoy a fine year in 1994 when his Browns were a wild card team (beating New England in the first round) that season was the lone highlight of his 5-year tenure. When the move to Baltimore was announced at the beginning of 1995, his playoff squad quickly went in the tank, and Belichick was fired at the end of the season. The "skinny" was that his players were not buying the tough-guy act. He was trying to be Bill Parcells, and his players, including a few ex-Giants, knew he was not. The task master act only works if your players respect you. They don’t have to like you, but they must respect you. Players who hated playing for Parcells still respected him. Perhaps that was not the case with Belichick, who’s act apparently had worn thin in Cleveland.

Belichick is a well-respected assistant coach in this league, but you have to wonder how much of that was lost when he took the podium as the (chuckle, chuckle) next head coach of the Jets in 1997 shortly before the Tuna was named as a "consultant". If you looked close enough, you could almost see the marionette strings running from Belichick to Leon Hess and Bill Parcells. Who among you bought that performance for even one second? That was a complete joke from the start, and Belichick was the head stooge.

With reservations intact, however, as a season ticket holder I am holding my breath that Bill Belichick will be the next head coach of the New England Patriots. Anyone else will have me in dire fear that the beginning of this decade will resemble the beginning of the last.

In closing, and I’m sure I’ll get some priceless feedback for this, I do want to offer my sincere best wishes to Pete Carroll and thank him for the effort he gave this franchise over the past three seasons. You out there can question the coach if you’d like, but you cannot question the man. He clearly gave his heart and sole to this job, and thirsted for a Super Bowl championship as bad as anyone. Throughout this slide, knowing that his days were numbered, Pete has continued to conduct himself with class, and has yet to point the finger at any of the obvious guilty parties around him. Those of you who doubt his abilities to coach in this league had better hope he’s never on the opposing sideline in any capacity. Bledsoe would be lucky to complete a pass, to a teammate that is.

See you next week. In the meantime, I’ll be there in the cold on Sunday cheering my lungs out for a 7-8 team to beat the Ravens.