INDIANAPOLIS — Patriots CEO and chairman Robert Kraft said today he knew way back in 1996 it was the right call to hire Bill Belichick as the Patriots’ next football coach, even though it was against the strong objection of some TV network executives.
“I knew then we had a special simpatico, and when the staff changed, I knew then he was someone special who would be back in my life one day,’’ Kraft said of Belichick, who will attempt to guide the Patriots to their fourth Super Bowl title in five overall appearances in Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVI matchup against the Giants at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“The first year he was with us we went 5-11 and then the year we won it we were 1-3 the second, so we were 6-14 and a lot of my friends in the media were telling me I made a big mistake hiring him, and I didn’t know what I was doing, and he didn’t know how to give a press conference, with his monosyllabic answers.
“But I’ve learned in life that I don’t sit in judgment of other people,’’ Kraft said. “I know what’s right for me, and he was right for me.’’
Kraft said there was no prescribed formula for success in the NFL, which he said was geared toward parity.
“If you do well, you draft higher and you have a tougher schedule, so you want to get managers you can encourage to be bold and do different things and then when they take those risks and they don’t work out, you back them,’’ Kraft said. “A perfect example this year, and something I can relate to personally, is Marcus Cannon, someone who had cancer and went through chemo.”
Cannon’s fight resonated for Kraft, who was at the side of his late wife, Myra H. Kraft, who passed away July 20, 2011, after her courageous battle with cancer.
“I went through chemo with my wife and I know what it takes out of a person,” Kraft said. “He went through the chemotherapy and it looks like it’s arrested and now he’s playing in the Super Bowl.
“But that was a big chance when he dropped from where he should’ve been [on the draft board],’’ Kraft said of Belichick’s decision to draft Cannon. “But you have to be willing to take risks. Then when he went for it on fourth-and-2 here in Indy, a lot of our plans were second-guessed. I’m not second-guessing, because I understood why he did it. So he has my full support.
“Very often in the NFL, you have division from within where there’s a lot of egos involved,’’ Kraft said. “My job is to make sure everyone’s on the same page.’’
But the decision bring in free agents such as wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, who has yet to pan out, and recalcitrant defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who was released Nov. 8, certainly were not easy calls for the organization.
“Well, I meet with every one of these players before we bring them in, because I want to make sure these are people that fit in,’’ Kraft said. “My family name is on this team and it’s very important. Haynesworth, I liked him; Ochocinco, he’s a terrific guy. I hope somehow great things happen in this game [for him]. You never know. The potential is there, so we’ll see what happens.’’
Expressing the sentiment that he felt “fortunate to have the best coach in the NFL and I believe we have the best quarterback in the NFL,’’ Kraft said it was his duty as team owner not to meddle with, but to support and reinforce that partnership.
“Ownership can mess it up,’’ he said. “You need decent ownership, but you’re not going to have sustained success if you don’t have a good quarterback and a good head coach
“And you need stability. In my opinion, I found a great life partner that I was married to for 46 years and I miss her dearly and I loved her and our relationship got stronger as the years went by.
“I’d like to think it’s the same thing in our companies our family has, we do business in over 90 countries in the world, and we have the same people running our companies in different countries overseas, because we try to develop relationships,’’ Kraft said. “I’m concerned with texting, tweeting, and e-mailing, that we’re not doing enough relationship building. I think Bill’s comfortable with where he’s at and I think all our players are and I hope we can bring a fourth championship home to our fans in New England. This is a special year for us.’’
Asked if he saw the soap opera Colts owner Jim Irsay was involved in with his aging quarterback, Peyton Manning, as a cautionary tale for his organization, Kraft said, “I like Jim Irsay a lot, I like Peyton a lot, I’m going to let them deal with it. I’m at a point in my life where I’m enjoying things; I might never be back at this game again. I’m going to focus on that and enjoy it. I like Peyton and Jim a lot and I’m sure they’re smart enough to sort it out.’’