It was a simple yes or no question asked to Robert Kraft at the NFL owners meetings in Arizona.
“Robert are you as confident in Bill [Belichick] leading your football operations as you were five years ago?”
What followed was a pause. Then a careful, winding response that at no point directly answered the question.
“I think Bill is exceptional at what he does and I’ve given him the freedom to make the choices and do the things that need to be done,” Kraft said. “His football intellect and knowledge is unparalleled from what I’ve seen. Just when you talk to him, the small things analytically that he looks at….but in the end, this is a business. You either execute and win or you don’t. That’s where we’re at. I think we’re in a transition phase. I think we’ve made some moves this year that I personally am comfortable with and I still believe in Bill.”
Not exactly a ringing endorsement. Kraft also said he hopes that Belichick breaks Don Shula’s coaching record but is more focused on team making the playoffs this season. New England has now posted a losing record in two of the last three seasons. The 2022 season was a big step backwards from 2021, Mac Jones rookie season. A lot of that was due to coaching changes on the offensive side of the ball.
“I was very disappointed with the way our season went,” Kraft said. “I had the privilege of being a fan for decades before buying the team. I think in the end, l’m still a fan. And I think in the end, I’m still a fan. My objective, for our team is that we make the playoffs because once you make the playoffs, anything can happen. But if you don’t, your season ends in a way that doesn’t make me very happy. And I thought last year, you know, we’ve gone three years without it we’ve been in a position to do it. And the season, we finished under .500, which is first time in a long time (sic). And so I thought changes had to be made. And I think we’ve made some moves and changes that, I think give me personally some hope for the upcoming season.”
Here is the FULL transcript from the Robert Kraft Interview.
Q: On the day after the season ended, the season ticket members received the letter that critical evaluations were being made going forward. What did you learn from those evaluations? And what changes have been made?
RK: Well, I was very disappointed the way our season went. I had the privilege of being a fan for decades, before buying the team. And I think in the end, I’m still a fan. My objective, for our team is that we make the playoffs because once you make the playoffs, anything can happen. But if you don’t, your season ends in a way that doesn’t make me very happy. And I thought last year, you know, we’ve gone three years without it we’ve been in a position to do it. And the season, we finished under .500, which is first time in a long time (sic). And so I thought changes had to be made. And I think we’ve made some moves and changes that, I think give me personally some hope for the upcoming season.
Q: Robert, is Mac Jones, still somebody who you have a great belief in towards the end of the year, actually, after the season, Bill was asked about the arch of Mac’s season and he kind of said, well, he can play in this league, which seemed a bit of a come down. Where’s your, what’s your feeling on Mac right now?
RK: I’m a big fan of Maac. I think he came to us as a rookie quarterback in his rookie season and did a very fine job. I thought we made the playoffs. I think we experimented with some things last year that, frankly, didn’t work when it came to him in my opinion. And I think we made changes that I think put him in a good position to excel. But in the end, Bill is in charge of my football team and makes the decisions of who should start and who should play? And has done a pretty darn good job of it for the last you think about 24 years. I had peach fuzz when he started. But I don’t know. For me, I think I see him as a very hard-working young man. He’s in the stadium almost every day now in the offseason, I think bringing in Bill O’Brien, I think will work to his advantage. And I’m very positive and hopeful about this upcoming year. And I personally am a big fan of Mac.
Q: Are you as confident in Bill leading your football operation as you were five years ago?
RK: Look, I think Bill is exceptional at what he does. And I’ve given him the freedom to make the choices and do the things that needed to be done. His football intellect and knowledge is unparalleled from what I’ve seen, and just when you talk to him, small things analytically that he looks at, but in the end, this is a business. You either execute and win or you don’t. You know that’s where we’re at. I think we’re in a transition phase. I think we’ve made some moves this year that I personally am comfortable with. And I still believe in Bill.
Q: When you talked about experiments on offense, I assume we’re talking about Matt Patricia. running the offense. And now they bring in Bill O’Brien, more experienced coordinator. After the season you said changes need to be made and how did Bill take it when you said, this experiment can’t continue, I guess we need to change course I guess.
RK: I think we had a discussion and it was in Bill’s hands what he wanted to do. We talked about it, came up with a number of different people. Actually, Bill was at the top of my list. So I was really happy, he’s someone who’s been here. You know, one of the things I’ve learned when I came in early as a new owner I saw, and it’s like, the way I run my other businesses, people come in and they make changes when something isn’t going right. But if you’re going to make a change, you want to improve things. So when you change your coaching staffs, it’s the kind of players in the system you have, it’s always constant upheaval. So I decided I was going to do my best to have continuity and stability. And because every year is a unique customer experience. When you find people you can trust and Bill trusts to stay with it. Yeah, a lot of things don’t go right on to make a change. But I tried to discipline myself not to do it. And it’s worked out sort of okay.
Q: You talked about being happy with the changes made so far and you’re optimistic looking forward. Feel enough, has been done, currently? And one more thing. We talked about being in a transition, this transition mean, it’s going to take a while for it, you know, to pay dividends getting back to the playoffs again.
RK: I hope it’s next year. But when you say changes, one of my beliefs that I go back to when we had the privilege of winning the Super Bowls. In the end, to be good in this league, you got to draft better because given the salary cap, you know the value of people you draft, as opposed to hiring them as free agents. That’s where your greatest return is. We have a number of picks this year, we have done a pretty good job of drafting. Especially if you look, when we won the Super Bowls, we always seem to have 12 to 15 players that were really products of the draft. And when you get them on the rookie contracts when you’re dealing with salary cap, it allows you to compete. We had a little period where we didn’t draft as well a few years ago, and we’re able to get that changed. And I think we’re doing much better. And I look at the addition of the draft choices to make a difference. You know, just spending money, two, three years ago, I think we spent more cash than any team or one of the top two in the three teams in the history of spending, and it didn’t get the value that we hoped it would. I think having a solid draft is the foundation to building a team and sustaining it.
Q: Jerod Mayo why was it important for you to derive his back patriots and what do you foresee in this future?
RK: Jerod is individual I think there’s no ceiling on his ability to grow and how competent he is. We had the privilege of having him as a player and I saw how intense he was, and his leadership skills that he had on the field and then saw him leave us and go in the private industry and learn the X’s and O’s of business and then come back to be a coach. And, and do that with us and good coaches get hired away. So I was happy we were able to sit with him and try to keep him here long term. And I’ll do everything I can to try to make that happen.
Q: Robert, you guys have posted a losing record two of the last three seasons. If that happens again, could Bill’s..
RK: We were 8-9 last year. What was the other year?
Q: The Cam Newton year.
RK: Two of the last three seasons …
Q: If that happens again, could Bill’s job be in jeopardy or is he here to break Don Shula’s all times wins record and beyond?
RK: Look, I’d like him to break Don Shula’s record but I’m not looking for any of our players to get great stats. That isn’t … we’re about winning, and doing whatever we can to win. That’s what our focus is now. And it’s very important to me that we make the playoffs and that’s what I hope happens next year.
Q: What do you envision for Jerod Mayo going forward? And he said he wanted to be a long term. He’s he’s made no secret of his aspirations to one day be a head coach, with those ever have the opportunity to intermingle
RK: There’s no ceiling on his ability to be a head coach, and he’ll be a head coach. I’m sure that I hope you know he’s with us. So we’ll see what happens.
Q: Were you surprised at all that Patricia was named offensive coordinator last year because it seemed strange to those of us on the outside
RK: In life it’s important to try to know what you don’t know. And then get the best people. I’m in no position to know whether going in, that’s the right thing. He’s a very good guy, very smart, an engineer, works hard. And I think he got put in a difficult position. And I think it was sort of an experiment. And he worked very hard at it. In retrospect, I don’t think it was the right thing. And I feel bad for him. Because he’s such a hard worker he got put in a difficult position.