BOSTON (CBS) — Back in the winter of 1996, the Dallas Cowboys were on top of the world. Fresh off winning their third Super Bowl in four years, all was good in the land of Jerry Jones, who was certainly not in the market for a new head coach for his football team.
Yet as Jones recalled this week, a future Hall of Fame head coach not only appeared before him, but also offered his coaching services.
“I’ll never forget, I was skiing after the season was over, after our season was over, after the Cowboys’ season was over, and I was buying skis for my grandkids, or renting skis for my grandkids. And there was a line, and I’m sitting in the back, somebody bumps up against me a few times, and I turn around, and there was this guy that I couldn’t make of him, because he had his ski stuff on, and goggles raised up. And it was Bill [Belichick],” Jones shared on his interview on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas. “And of course he no longer had a job. He had been with Cleveland and they had let him go up there. And he said, ‘I can coach. If you get an opportunity, don’t forget about me.’ I’ve thought about that many times. You never know when you can find a great coach. You can find him in a ski checkout line sometimes.”
At the time, Belichick had just been fired, at a time when the Browns were re-establishing themselves as a yet-to-be-named team in Baltimore. Reports at the time speculated that Belichick may land a job working for Jimmy Johnson (who won two Super Bowls for Dallas a few years prior) in Miami, or for Bill Parcells in New England.
The latter became true, as Belichick served as the assistant head coach and defensive backs coach for the Patriots in 1996, a year that ended with a trip to the Super Bowl. The timeline doesn’t line up precisely, though, as the Patriots hired Belichick just days after he had been fired by the Cleveland/Baltimore franchise. If that were the case, it’s likely that Belichick offered his services after landing that Patriots job, with an eye toward the future and returning to head coaching.
Though Belichick was let go by the Patriots after Bill Parcells’ abrupt departure for the Jets, a relationship had been established between Robert Kraft and Belichick. And after three seasons of Peter Carroll at the helm, Kraft hired Belichick to run the team in 2000.
Since then, Belichick has steered the Patriots on an unprecedented run of success. The Patriots have gone 30-10 in the playoffs under Belichick, winning six Super Bowls and reaching three more.
Since the ski lodge meeting between Jones and Belichick, the Cowboys have played in just 14 playoff games, going 4-10. Barry Switzer lasted in Dallas just one season after 1996, and the Cowboys have had six head coaches since then.
One can understand why Jones still might be wondering what might have been had he thought a little longer about Belichick’s offer.