The story of the Cleveland Browns can’t be told without mentioning former owner Art Modell and former head coach Bill Belichick. Sometimes the details get skewed in the national narrative but Belichick was the final coach of the original Browns team and was only fired after Modell had moved the team to Baltimore.
Belichick’s tenure in Cleveland is often highlighted by his benching of QB Bernie Kosar but he coached the team to an 11-5 record and a playoff victory in 1994. The wheels fell off in 1995 after Modell’s intentions to move the team was made known.
In his 80 games as Browns head coach, Belichick reeled in 36 victories. His .450 winning percentage is eighth best among full-time Cleveland head coaches. Current Browns coach Kevin Stefanski sits at fifth (.522) and best since Marty Schottenheimer in the mid to late 80s.
Modell’s legacy in Cleveland was secured when he stole the team from the city.
The relationship between Belichick and Modell was rocky but the disdain grew following the move to Baltimore and the head coach’s subsequent firing. On Monday Night Football, Peyton Manning retold a story of just how bad it got as Belichick forced Modell to pay a $1 million bonus by choosing Peter Boulware to the Pro Bowl:
Peyton Manning says Bill Belichick hated Art Modell so much that he added @pboulware to the Pro Bowl roster just to force Modell to pay Boulware's $1 million Pro Bowl bonus. pic.twitter.com/4QjQvtH8LP— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) December 13, 2022
Given that money management was a struggle for Modell, Belichick’s decision had to cut deeply.
To be fair to Boulware, he made the Pro Bowl four times in his career. Belichick was only the Pro Bowl coach for one of those seasons, 1998, when the linebacker had 8.5 sacks, 61 tackles and a fumble recovery. Only 21 players in the entire NFL had double-digit sacks that season with only three players also listed as linebackers having more than Boulware.
While few will ever hate Modell as strongly as Cleveland fans, Belichick (and some of the players on that 1995 team) might come close.