Superfan says those eager to kick out Bill Belichick are shortsighted

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick walks on the field during an NFL football practice, Nov. 15, 2023.

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick walks on the field during an NFL football practice, Nov. 15, 2023. AP /Steven Senne

Former New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick faces reporters during a news conference Thursday.

Former New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick faces reporters during a news conference Thursday. Steven Senne / AP

New England Patriots team owner Robert Kraft, left, and former Patriots head coach Bill Belichick embrace during an NFL football news conference, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024, in Foxborough, Mass., to announce that Belichick, a six-time NFL champion, has agreed to part ways with the team. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

New England Patriots team owner Robert Kraft, left, and former Patriots head coach Bill Belichick embrace during an NFL football news conference, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024, in Foxborough, Mass., to announce that Belichick, a six-time NFL champion, has agreed to part ways with the team. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) Steven Senne

New England Patriots team owner Robert Kraft, left, and former Patriots head coach Bill Belichick shake hands during an NFL football news conference, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024, in Foxborough, Mass., to announce that Belichick, a six-time NFL champion, has agreed to part ways with the team. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

New England Patriots team owner Robert Kraft, left, and former Patriots head coach Bill Belichick shake hands during an NFL football news conference, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024, in Foxborough, Mass., to announce that Belichick, a six-time NFL champion, has agreed to part ways with the team. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) Steven Senne

President and CEO of Future In Sight Randy Pierce with his guide dog, Swirl.

President and CEO of Future In Sight Randy Pierce with his guide dog, Swirl. Courtesy of Julia Furukawa

By RAY DUCKLER

Monitor columnist

Published: 01-11-2024 6:33 PM

Modified: 01-11-2024 6:38 PM


Randy Pierce has been rooting for the New England Patriots for nearly 50 years.

He watched them when they were awful, at Schaefer, Sullivan and Foxboro Stadiums in the 1970s and ‘80s. About a dozen years after his first live game, he began to listen to them live, attending nearly every game at Gillette Stadium even after he’d lost the rest of his already-fading sight.

The Patriots once named him their own personal Super fan, combining his allegiance to the team with the mountainous obstacles he’s conquered, and these days his thoughts are filled with the historic press conference held Thursday in Foxboro, where Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft announced an amicable split, ending Belichick’s 24-year coaching career in New England.

Pierce’s message? For those who wanted Belichick gone, shame on you for your short memories.

“I wanted to hear Bill and Robert’s press conference so we could finally hear from them,” said Pierce, 57, and the CEO of Concord-based Future in Sight, a non-profit organization that provides vision rehabilitation services. “I wonder how some could not have been more appreciative for 24 years of success. Bill at times was hard to like, but that is not his job. His job is to take a culture that never won anything and turn it into the greatest dynasty of all time.”

Six Super Bowl championships, more than any other team in history, say mission accomplished. And following title No. 6 five years ago, Belichick could have drank for free in Boston for 100 years.

Glory in sports, however, is fleeting. Just ask former Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, who went from a potential hall of famer and a fan favorite with the perfect New England name (remember NOMAH?), to a clubhouse cancer just a short time later, traded away shortly after the Red Sox broke their 86-year curse and won the World Series.

As for Belichick, radio lines have crackled with don’t-let-the-door-hit-you-on-the-butt messages and that began the first month of the season, after a shaky start that led to a 4-13 record, the worst in all of Belichick’s years here.

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“I am concerned that fans are so frustrated about losing because they’ve been spoiled and may fail to see how much greatness he brought,” Pierce said. “I believe in a change that could have left him as the coach. I would have loved that most of all.”

Storylines have flown through the fall and into winter, and that was one of them. Belichick doubled as the general manager for his entire career with the Patriots, meaning he drafted players, signed free agents and coached. Did Kraft tell Belichick he could stay if he relinquished his GM duties?

Pierce thought that that was a good idea. Belichick’s track record of adding vital offensive players was seen as awful around here. He failed to give former quarterback Tom Brady the weapons he needed to win another championship. He did the same thing with Mac Jones, Brady’s replacement, and was also criticized for drafting him in the first place.

He resisted acquiring a tall, speedy receiver, a deep threat, and was slow to bolster the offensive line, the unit that protects the quarterback.

“Brady was able to cover up a lot of those mistakes,” Pierce said. “Bill loved defense, and that was a top-tier defense this season. Always, his first pick was defense, defense, defense. He was stubborn.”

Other things bothered Pierce. Once, after Jets coach Rex Ryan spoke to the media about his supposed foot fetish, receiver Wes Welker poked fun at him during the pre-game press conference, saying, with a straight face, “What you spend all year getting ready for and you just want to put your best foot forward,” and “You can’t just stick your toe in the water,” and “Just go out there and be good little foot soldiers.”

Patriots Nation thought Welker was a riot. Stuffy, old-school Bill, who maintained a powerful muzzle over his players and what they could and could not say to the media, did not. He benched Welker for the start of the Jets’ game.

“He holds grudges,” Pierce said.

Thursday’s press conference revealed little about closed-door discussions and the Boston media’s skepticism that this was a love fest until the end will run wild before Spring Training.

Would Belichick have stayed if Kraft stripped him of his GM duties but retained him as coach? Did Kraft even offer that? Was it really amicable? And how much did breaking the all-time record for wins by a coach figure into the formula?

This end of the dynasty is hitting Patriots fans hard and will continue to for a long time. Especially fans like Pierce. His allegiance and personal story earned him Patriots Fan of the Year honors in 2003.

Former linebacker Tedy Bruschi greeted Pierce at his stadium seat after wins. Bruschi sought advice from Pierce in 2011 after suffering a stroke and hearing the story about Pierce, the poster boy for grit who lost his sight at age 22, then, after a period of self-pity and despair, returned better than ever, scaling the Granite State’s 48 mountains over 4,000-feet, scaling mountains in other countries, and all sorts of mountains all over the place.

His home contains more Patriots paraphernalia than a street vendor working the Gillette Stadium parking lot. He saw the Patriots play when they were terrible, and he watches them today, at their very worst.

He appreciates what Belichick did for this region, and would have welcomed him back in a lesser role. No matter your opinion, though, the sports landscape here is shifting. Everyone can agree on that.

“I’ve gone to every game for 30 years and missed maybe two,” Pierce said. “For 24 years, that stability was helpful and you knew what to expect, and now we don’t know what to expect. There was stability with him that  I am going to miss.”