PATRIOTS CHAIRMAN AND CEO ROBERT KRAFT
January 11, 2024
RKK: Well, I want to thank you all for sticking around. It's a very emotional day for the organization, and the end of an era, like I said, that will be hard to be replicated, I think at least in my lifetime, if ever. And, I know you all made the effort to be here, so I'd like to do whatever we can talking about Bill [Belichick] and the time he's spent here. The future – I know there'll be a lot of questions about the future, and we'll have a chance to cover that in the next few days – but, I'm not sure today is the time to do it.
Q: In speaking about Bill, you referenced him as the greatest of all time, and you said that's part of what made this such a hard decision. But, that you both felt it was the best decision. Why did you feel it was the right decision?
RKK: Well, the last three years have been pretty tough, I know for our dedicated fans and myself. In life, I just learned things happen, and our family is the custodian of this asset – the New England Patriots – and 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, so we have a responsibility to do what we can to fix it to the best of our ability.
Q: Robert, there's been a narrative out there for years that people say 'It was all Tom Brady' when it comes to what happened on the field with this football team. How much in your eyes was it Tom Brady and Bill Belichick when it comes to everything that's been accomplished over the last 24 seasons?
RKK: It's not the first time I've heard that question, but why I love the NFL and why I think it's great for young people to play in it – it's a great lesson in life. Because, I don't think there's anything else, any other sport or any other experience that's as team-based and collective-based as football, and I don't think either one of those two would have accomplished what they accomplished if they weren't together. I think they're both the best at their professions, and we were lucky to have them together for two decades.
Q: Bill mentioned earlier this week that he is under contract, or he was under contract for next season. Did you give any consideration to trading him, trying to recoup some compensation for him?
RKK: Yeah, that's an interesting question. 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. And, I guess if you look at this as a transaction, he is so valuable. In how we could extract something, I didn't think that 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. But, I think each of them earned the right to be in a position where they should do what's right for them, given what they have done for this franchise. So, some people might criticize me for not extracting as much 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.
Q: This being such an emotional day, and seeing you and Bill together and the emotions that you guys shared, it makes you wonder, do you have any reservations at all, whether or not this is the right decision in any way?
RKK: That's a good question. This is a results business, and certain things in life, it's instinctual. I think both of us felt that the time was right for each of us to go off in our separate directions. But what was really – I mean, you all know Bill. You know Bill as well as I do. 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 it and talking about it, I think our relationship went to a new place, because, this is very hard. It's like a marriage, and things don't always go great. And, you get through the difficult times, and it makes the relationship stronger. I think we had a chance to do that over the last almost quarter of a century. So, I think both of us felt that 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, it's really hard in this business to create – very hard.
Q: On Monday, Bill spoke about the possibility of relinquishing some of his duties in the personnel department. How much consideration did you give to retaining Bill, but maybe adjusting his role?
RKK: Yeah, we thought about that, but, 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 hire, the organization reports to him on the draft, and how much money we spend. Every decision has been his, and we've always supported him. To then take some of that power away and give it to someone else – accountability is important to me in every one of our companies, and where he had the responsibility and then someone else takes it, it's going to set up confusion. And, 'It was his pick and that was a bad pick', or 'He didn't play them right'. It just wouldn't work, in my opinion.
Q: Just to piggyback on what Nicole said, because I think what you're saying is it would be really complicated to shift roles that way. I don't want to make this another grocery argument or whatever, but 24 years ago you did make the decision to consolidate the power with the coach. And, there are very few teams that are run that way anymore. Was part of this maybe you making the decision that somebody having that much power was too much, and the way the league is set up is very different than it was a generation ago, where that job needs to be divided now?
RKK: Well, that's a good point. Just to be clear, he didn't have all that power and rights. I don't think it happened until after the third Super Bowl, but it slowly happened, and, in my opinion, he earned it. And, it worked pretty well for most of the time. But, all of us need checks and balances in our life. We need what I say – I call it, we need doctor 'no's' around us, people to protect ourselves from ourselves, protect us from ourselves. And, as things evolve and you get more power, sometimes people are afraid to speak up. I'm speaking about all companies. I think it's good to have checks and balances, but once you have it, it's kind of hard to pull it away and expect to have the accountability you want.
Q: Do you and Bill have any plans off campus at some point to bring closure to all this, or is what we saw at noontime a new kind of closure?
RKK: No, we had some long discussions, and I think it's awkward while he's still coaching to bring closure. But, I hope when that's all over, we can do something that properly honors him and respects him for what he's done with us. Everything in life is the proper timing, so we're going to have to wait for that.
Q: Robert, in your mind, watching this team over the last three losing seasons in four years, 4-13 this year, what's the biggest reason in your mind on why the team has fallen?
RKK: Well, I'm not sure I'm qualified to answer that. You might be better than I. I don't know. So many games we're close. Is it the coaching? Is it the personnel? Something isn't quite right from where it was. And I'm not smart enough, I think, to give you a credible answer.
Q: Now that we have you, Robert, throughout the course of the season, as the losses were sort of piling up, did you ever talk to Bill about this potentially being it for him, what he would have to do throughout the rest of the season to, A, keep his job, or just the thoughts that you had, you know, as October rolled into November and has now brought us here to a four and 13 season?
RKK: This is a business that you have to wait until the season's over. You can't be a fan when you have the responsibility of making strategic decisions that aren't short-term or what I call transactional based on one incident. And, you know, you change. You change your mind. Things change so fast. I mean, look at some teams in the league who started out so hot, then they lose five or six games. The thing with Bill that was unique and special is his work ethic is so strong. That's what I looked at. He always gave us the best he had. There wasn't a shortage of effort. Now, whether he has the right people around him or selected the right players, that we all can make judgment on. But he was always giving it his all, and that's what was most important to me.
Q: Hi, Robert. Over the 24 years and beyond that you've known Bill, what's the biggest thing you've learned from him or learned from knowing him?
RKK: You're saying football related?
Q: Anything related.
RKK: Yeah, I'm not sure I can say one thing. 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. But what I saw in '96, when he got fired by the Browns and Bill Parcell said, 'You should go out and meet him, he's going to go to Miami, and we should get him here,' because he had worked with him at the Giants and said how good he was. And, I remember I went out in '96 and spoke with him at the Combine, and he agreed to come join us. Then I saw the impact he had in that season coaching the secondary and how he could relate to the players, what was that? Twenty-seven or twenty-eight years ago, and how he knew how to give information, complicated, that they could relate to. And remember, we went to the Super Bowl that year, but we won the last seven games, we were mainly defensive oriented. 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 where you had the 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 with some of that. But, I don't think there's anyone like him that has the composite of knowledge. So, that always impressed me. And then he can pull something out of the air and quote, 30 years ago, some play and some game. For those of us that have some short-term memory lapses, that really impressed me.
Q: In regards to the power structure that Belichick had, and the upcoming power structure, I was curious, will you look to acquire a general manager first, what do you see as the timeline in regards to the hiring process with the football structure up top and the head coach?
RKK: Well, the question you're asking is very important. Until we settle what we settled yesterday and announced today, we will try to move very quickly to solve those issues. We'll have a chance to talk about that in the very near future.
Q: Robert, I know you talked about the amicable split on both sides deciding this is the right thing to do. But I'm curious, on Monday, at some point in your meeting, did Bill fight for his job? We heard Pete Carroll sort of talk about that yesterday, like he fought for it, but then realized this wasn't the best way to go.
RKK: You know, we have had a partnership where we've gone through all kinds of situations. This was really unique. You know, I have a saying, when I'm making important decisions, I try to 'measure nine times and cut once', because you want to be sure. This is one of those times we went through the season we went through, which is three seasons like this, and you realize how capable he is. You know, you try to understand why you wound up where you are, and it just is something that it was best we each moved on. I think that's what the last three, four days of taking the time to figure it out allowed us to do.
Q: Robert, so what are you looking for in your next head coach?
RKK: Well, I said at the beginning, and this is the closing question, because if it is, I'll just say we're looking for someone who can help us get back to the playoffs and win. Believe me, after my family, this is really one of the two most important assets in my life. I am very upset when we don't win games. It carries the whole week. So, I promise you I'll be focused to do the best I can do to make sure we're putting ourselves in the best long-term position to win for many years.
Q: Thank you all for coming here today and being part of this. It's something, you know, I said it earlier today, sitting in those metal benches in the old stadium where your tush got frozen to the seat in November, December, and dreaming about an opportunity to maybe own this team and try to figure out how to do it.
RKK: I always say I had a greater chance of being a starting quarterback in the NFL, believe it or not, because there are 32 of them, than owning a team in my hometown and having the privilege of doing it as a custodian of the Patriots and then never imagining that we would go to the Super Bowl ten times and I'm so happy for that. I promise you our family will be dedicated to doing the best we can and bringing a winning team back. Thank you very much. I appreciate you all being here.