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Bill Belichick’s worst season with the Patriots was in 2000 during his first year on the job. The team went 5-11, showing few signs of the dynasty that would eventually emerge. And in his first training camp, Belichick was baffled by the lack of commitment in the team he’d inherited from Pete Carroll.
In his press conference on Tuesday, Belichick was asked to elaborate on his memories from 2000. His answer provides Patriots fans with a glimpse back at what the team was before the legendary coach had instilled his philosophy:
Well, I mean, I’d say first of all, the biggest difference is in 2000, a quarter of the team couldn’t pass the conditioning run, so that wasn’t a very good start. We don’t really deal with that now or haven’t dealt with that in a while. Yeah, I don’t think there was a lot of commitment with that group. We obviously made a lot of changes from 2000 to 2001, and a lot of the guys that we stuck with from that team became pillars of the program, the organization in later years. That was a pretty slow start. I mean, it wasn’t a very good football team on a lot of levels. So, we’ve moved past that hopefully.
In fact, Belichick cut his roster down to 51 players heading into the 2000 season, despite being able to keep 53. The house cleaning was already underway, though it proved a difficult road in his first year. Former Patriots center Damien Woody recalled Belichick’s first meeting that year:
His very first team meeting, the night before training camp started, I remember him coming in and he said, ‘It’s time to go to work. Don’t ask for any breaks. There will not be any breaks. Put your head down. You’re in a tunnel. So let’s go to work.’ And he just left out of the room. So I’m thinking, ‘Oh my god, what are we in for?’ And remember this is before the new CBA where they restrict the hitting in practice. We were going at it, for like a month straight. Just killing each other. And I remember every night we had a meeting, and he would tell the team that this player retired, or that player went AWOL. There were guys literally dropping like flies. But it was all a process, because he was weeding out the guys that he didn’t want there.
The team started the 2000 season 0-4 and never recovered. Yet the foundation, as Belichick noted, was laid in that time. And the very next season, coupled with the emergence of a certain quarterback drafted in the sixth round of the 2000 draft, the Patriots marched to their first Super Bowl win.