The New England Patriots have brought Coach Bill Belichick back together with his former right-hand man from Belichick’s controversial tenure as coach of the Cleveland Browns. Mike Lombardi had returned to the Browns as General Manager just a year ago, only to be fired earlier this month after the Browns’ 4-12 season.
New England, which finished the regular season the other way around at 12-4 and made it to the AFC Conference Championship game before losing to the Super Bowl-bound Denver Broncos, hired Lombardi Thursday, barely over a week after Cleveland fired their GM.
Mike Lombardi who has never been a coach, was hired as “assistant to the coaching staff,” a position that appears to be created specifically for him, suggesting that this Patriots hire was designed mainly to make Belichick happy.
When Belichick was head coach of the Browns from 1992 until 1996, Mike Lombardi was director of player personnel.
“He’s thorough, he’s smart, he understands football,” Belichick said of Lombardi back in December. “He understands not just personnel, but schemes and how certain players fit into certain schemes better than others because of the responsibilities in those schemes, the type of plays or the type of system that coaches run.”
But Patriots fans are likely wondering right now — why would Belichick want to return to the bad old days of his career?
Unlike during his 14-year-and-counting reign as New England Patriots head coach during which his teams have appeared in five Super Bowls, won three, made the playoffs 11 times and in 2007 compiled the only 16-0 regular season record in NFL history — all of which have led to Belichick being considered one of the greatest NFL coaches of all time — his years in Cleveland where he worked with Lombardi were somewhat less successful.
In five seasons with the Browns, his squads made the playoffs just once and put together a losing 36-44 record overall before Belichick was fired in 1996 shortly before the Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens. Cleveland later got a new NFL franchise, also named the Browns.
Lombardi comes to the New England Patriots, a team still viewed as model for other NFL organizations in its acquisition and use of player personnel, after a bitter, ongoing dispute with Browns CEO Joe Banner, who was fired this month along with Lombardi.
Lombardi has already assumed his duties with the New England Patriots, accompanying Belichick to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis which opens Saturday.