Recalling the Raymond Berry era and New England’s failed run at Bill Walsh

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Bill Belichick. Pete Carroll. Bill Parcells. As coaching goes, the Patriots couldn’t have done much better over the last 22 seasons.

Parcells is a Hall of Famer, and Belichick will surely have his day in Canton, too. Carroll, meanwhile, went on to lead title-winning teams at USC and with the Seattle Seahawks after leaving New England, so the Patriots were on the right track.

But let’s go back a little further, to December 1989, when the Patriots tried to hire another Hall of Fame coach.

According to the late, great Will McDonough of the Boston Globe, then-Patriots owner Victor Kiam offered New England’s head coaching/G.M. roles to former 49ers coach Bill Walsh. However, Walsh turned down the offer, citing his commitment to continue working for NBC, the Globe reported.

Still, a coaching change was coming for New England, which fell to 5-11 in ’89.

Twenty-five years ago Thursday, the Patriots parted ways with head coach Raymond Berry, reportedly because of a conflict over the hiring of New England’s offensive and defensive coordinators.

A Hall of Fame wide receiver, Berry was a successful NFL head coach, too. He led the Patriots to a 51-41 mark, with New England making the Super Bowl for the first time in its history in his first full season on the job. Overall, the Patriots posted winning records in his first four full campaigns (1985-1988).

The Patriots would tab Steelers defensive coordinator Rod Rust to replace Berry, but he was fired after New England was a league-worst 1-15 in 1990. The Pats then turned to Syracuse head coach Dick McPherson, who led New England to a 6-10 mark in ’91. However, New England was 2-14 in ’92, with McPherson missing seven games because of illness. He was replaced in January 1993.

From there, the Patriots hired Parcells, who led New England to the playoffs in his second season and the Super Bowl in his fourth. Then came the three-season stint for Carroll (1997-1999), who was then replaced by Belichick.

But before that trio of coaches came the 9-39 stretch the franchise endured in the three seasons after Berry’s departure. Would things have been different if the Patriots lured Walsh east, or if Berry stayed on? If Walsh succeeded in New England, would Parcells ever have had reason to join the franchise? How would franchise history have been altered?

We’ll never know. But we do know this: Raymond Berry, like Belichick and Carroll, won more than he lost in his time in Foxborough, and he has his own spot in Patriots history.

57 responses to “Recalling the Raymond Berry era and New England’s failed run at Bill Walsh

  1. Most of us are too young to remember what a clutch performer Berry was as a wide receiver , but he is still the best coach the Patriots have ever had not named Bill Belichick , and remains one of the classiest guys ever to walk the sidelines in an NFL game.

  2. I loved Raymond Berry, class act and took the Pats to their first SB, but we should go back even further and mention Chuck Fairbanks when mentioning their coaching history….he was a great coach and should have taken the Pats to their first SB in the 70s if not for a phantom call against the raiders. I always laugh at those who make it out like the Pats didn’t exist before 2001….they obviously had some terrible years but they also had some very good teams with arguably legendary coaches.

  3. Worked out for the best. The lean years brought Kraft to NE. And with him, dominance that was supposed to be impossible in the salary cap era.

    Go Pats! They hate us cause they ain’t us.

  4. pats74 says: Feb 26, 2015 5:50 PM

    “I loved Raymond Berry, class act and took the Pats to their first SB, but we should go back even further and mention Chuck Fairbanks when mentioning their coaching history….he was a great coach and should have taken the Pats to their first SB in the 70s if not for a phantom call against the raiders. I always laugh at those who make it out like the Pats didn’t exist before 2001….they obviously had some terrible years but they also had some very good teams with arguably legendary coaches.”

    — I knew of Fairbanks, but did not realize until today that Mike Holovak led them to an AFL title game (1963) and a 10-3-1 record the next year (1964):

    http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/nwe/

    — MW

  5. As a lifelong Patriots fan I can say thank g-d it did not happen. This was the “Black Plaque” era in the history of New England football when Victor Kiam owned the team and hired Sam Jankovich as CEO (defacto GM) who proceeded to turn the team into the worst team in the NFL. Victor Kiam of Remington Razor fame then sold the team to the “Carpetbagger” James Orthwein whose plan was to move the Patriots to St. Louis.

    Bob Kraft made a shrewd move by buying all the property around the stadium forcing Orthwein to sell the team.

    I don’t believe Bill Walsh could have changed history with the terrible ownership we had in place.

    Now we have the best owner and franchise in the NFL.

    Thank you Robert Kraft !!

  6. “Bill Belichick. Pete Carroll. Bill Parcells. As coaching goes, the Patriots couldn’t have done much better over the last 22 seasons…”

    …and since they were also Jets coaches, the Jets couldn’t have done much better either…

  7. ” “Bill Belichick. Pete Carroll. Bill Parcells. As coaching goes, the Patriots couldn’t have done much better over the last 22 seasons…

    “…and since they were also Jets coaches, the Jets couldn’t have done much better either…”

    Great point.

    — MW

  8. I liked Berry too. His teams played tough and went after the ball. The biggest problem he had was that Tony Eason never really developed and Steve Grogan got old and beat up. Bill Walsh would not have won with that 1989 team either. They weren’t going to get good again until they bottomed out, brought in Parcells, and drafted Bledsoe.

  9. Ray Berry was a good coach and for the patriots prior to Parcells a great coach. However now that Belicheck is here greatness gets a whole new perspective. This is the golden age for this time as a Patriots fan I have loved the last 15 years. More to come…

  10. The Dallas Cowboys, America’s Team, have won five Super Bowls with three different coaches. And a fourth is very close now.

  11. Nofoolnodrool says:
    Feb 26, 2015 6:07 PM
    He was great….and never cheated.

    —-
    Yeah you know except when he was the GM for the 49ers and they were fined almost a million dollars and lost draft picks for “cheating” the salary cap and stashing players on IR.

  12. Cannot forgive Parcells for bailing on the Patriots like he did before a Super Bowl game.

    Worst coaching job I have ever seen in that game. Something was really off about that, like it was deliberate and I still wonder to this day…

  13. I traveled with the Patriots’ team in the Berry days and had dinner with Raymond, his wife and Steve Grogan. The man, and his wife, are two of the most wonderful people you could ever meet. A player’s coach who cared for the men who played for him and was kind and considerate to all people. Never had an angry or hateful bone in his body. Thank you Raymond for your example of kindness.

  14. Nice to hear the fond memories folks here have of Raymond Berry the person. Thanks, as always, for sharing your thoughts.

    — MW

  15. It’s funny, around 1984 into 1985 Tony Eason was showing promise and at that specific moment in time was the second best performer of that famous ’83 draft class (behind Marino). After Ditka, Ryan and the Bears pummeled him into submission he had one last decent season but he totally lost the fans and was never the same. Berry wasn’t a phenomenal coach but was a decent one. Had Eason developed into what he could have been, who knows.

  16. Anyone who lived through that 2-14 season knew the best thing about it was watching Dick McPherson go absolutely bananas whenever the Patriots made a key play or scored.

    He was entertaining all season and the ONLY reason to watch that team.

  17. Good posts here. I lived in Foxborough – used to go to HS with some of these coaches kids. No mansions in gated communities – one coach lived across the street from my girlfriend. Grogan lived the next block over. Used to see these guys around town all the time at the movies, dry cleaners….(Foxborough is a small NE town)

    …oh yeah…the upside of the years with bad records, we would sneak into the old Schaeffer stadium and could sit anywhere we wanted…. 🙂

  18. They couldn’t give tickets away back then.

    Meanwhile, NFL was making new rules to try to mitigate the “unfair advantage” Seattle fans gave to the Hawks.

  19. There were certainly some lean times. I remember a preseason game back in the early 80s that the team had only sold something like 10,000 tix too and they dropped the price to I think it was $5 apiece the week before the game in a desperate attempt to get some people in there.

    A far cry from the many years of a sold out stadium that more recent times have brought us.

  20. The younger generation has no idea the hell pats fans had to endure in the 70’s and 80’s. It was not until we got Bledsoe was there a glimmer of hope.

    God bless the Patriots

  21. Remember those ice cold aluminum bleacher seats in the old stadium? Those were brutal late in the season

  22. With the ownership of Victor Kiam…or is it Slime???…came a rapid toilet bowl like swirly for the franchise right into the laughing stock category (remember 1-15…remember the locker room female reporter harassment debacle which became known as “Patriot Missiles”???…..I still get a big laugh at that one even though it’s SOOOO politically incorrect to do so). Victor Slime went bankrupt and dragged the Pats deeper into the toilet. The team was put into receivership by the NFL and one James Orthwine (Anheiser Busch corporate genealogy) of St. Louis was assigned as interim “Owner”. He wanted to pack the team up and move them to St. Louis….bye bye New England.
    In stepped one Robert Kraft…a local businessman and huge longtime Pats fan.
    THANK GOD!….THANK YOU MR. KRAFT!

  23. There were certainly some lean times. I remember a preseason game back in the early 80s that the team had only sold something like 10,000 tix too and they dropped the price to I think it was $5 apiece the week before the game in a desperate attempt to get some people in there.

    A far cry from the many years of a sold out stadium that more recent times have brought us.

    ————–

    These big shot NFL owners say they build new stadiums “for the fans to enhance their experience.”

    Well, I’d rather go watch Tom Brady play while sitting on a cold aluminum bench, using horrendous restrooms, parking in a dirt lot……………and being able to actually get a seat and pay $30, any day.

  24. It was very difficult to watch what was a good team, maybe not the most talented teams, but good disciplined teams, spiral out of control with Rod Rust and Dick MacPherson.

    Berry got a raw deal at the end of his run in New England. The Sullivan family was out, Kiam was in and the circus had come to Foxboro. Anyone else remember the famous Borges piece regarding a number of Patriots players and a little green weed? Thank god its gotten better since then.

  25. Raymond Berry was the greatest receiver in the history of the game. These receivers today drop passes all the time, sometimes dropping 2, 3 passes in a game and they almost all wear gloves that have glue to hold onto the ball. Check this out if u don’t believe what you read. Raymond Berry didn’t wear gloves like the players wear today. He was drafted in the 6th round, had one leg shorter than the other, if I remember correctly, did not have 20-20 vision and was not a fast runner. Oh yea, I almost forgot. He dropped one ball in 14 years. And just as great a person as well. He caught those passes from non other than the Great Johnny U.

  26. tomsetter123 says:
    Feb 26, 2015 8:32 PM
    Good posts here. I lived in Foxborough – used to go to HS with some of these coaches kids. No mansions in gated communities – one coach lived across the street from my girlfriend. Grogan lived the next block over. Used to see these guys around town all the time at the movies, dry cleaners….(Foxborough is a small NE town)
    =================================
    …I also attended FHS, played turkey day rival MHS in the stadium that first season the stadium was open (actually played on Sat due to snowstorm). Steve Grogan bought out a locally well known sports store and still runs it today.
    The Fairbanks era was the first big coaching regime the Pats had. Built a very good team through the draft and got railroaded by the raider refs in the 76 playoffs. Bad blood between the owner’s son, Chuck Sullivan, and Fairbanks had developed from Sullivan’s forcing Fairbanks to reneg on contracts with several players. Fairbanks ended his Pats’ time by signing a deal with Colorado U for 1979 while the 78 season was still under way.
    The ultimate demise for that era of the Patriots was the owner Billy Sullivan turning the financial reins of the team over to his son Chuck. Among other things, Chuck ruined the families and Patriots finances by foolishly backing a Jackson Five tour.

  27. xsorethumbx says:
    Feb 26, 2015 8:47 PM
    Kiam liked the Pats so much, he bought the whole team
    —————————————————————————–

    LoL, not a Pats fan but had to laugh at that one. Who else remembers his commercials?

    Just a note of interest – Bill Walsh, after interviewing for the 49er HC job, was headed to Cleveland to interview for the same job with the Browns. After landing at Cleveland Hopkins Airport, he was contacted by the 49ers and officially offered the HC job. He got back on a plane and headed to SF. The rest is history.

  28. Loved that slow walking, slow talking but in charge Ray Berry. The excitement when he took the Pats to the super bowl in 1986 was incredible, the PATRIOTS actually made the Super Bowl! Almost 30 years later and 7 more appearances- we can only think “how lucky are we”.

  29. WBZ, the local NBC station, would have to step in and BUY TICKETS to keep the home games from getting blacked out.

    Unreal.

  30. ampats says:
    Feb 26, 2015 6:06 PM

    As a lifelong Patriots fan I can say thank g-d it did not happen. This was the “Black Plaque” era in the history of New England football when Victor Kiam owned the team and hired Sam Jankovich as CEO (defacto GM) who proceeded to turn the team into the worst team in the NFL. Victor Kiam of Remington Razor fame then sold the team to the “Carpetbagger” James Orthwein whose plan was to move the Patriots to St. Louis.

    ———-

    If I remember correctly I thought Kraft had bought the stadium (maybe from Kiam). When Orthwein bought the team and wanted to move it to St. Louis, Kraft wouldn’t let him buy out the lease. Kraft ended up buying the team because Orthwein only wanted it in order to move it (I think he was somehow related to the Busch – of Anhueser Busch – family.)

    And Orthwein, even given the short period of time that he owned the team, hired Parcells and was owner when Bledsoe was drafted.

    Anyone remember those Parcells post-game press conferences?

  31. Another memory of those days. When Sullivan couldn’t get public funding for a stadium he built it himself for something like a mere 3 million.

    Now it was a dump compared to modern stadiums but it was our local stadium and the biggest venue in the area. I did the lighting at concerts 5 times at that old stadium and it was always an awesome feeling to be walking around on the field before they let the fans in knowing I was walking the same field the Pats did. And an even better feeling once the fans were covering the field.

  32. Walsh was never coming to New England, the Patriots were notoriously cheap back then even with Kiam as owner (think current Bengals). Plenty of other teams also offered Walsh money to take over, why not, the worst he can say is no. Luckily the Patriots did get a legendary coach to replace Berry, the Rod Rust era only lasted a year yet is still talked about in New England to this day.

  33. amaf21 says:
    Feb 27, 2015 8:13 AM

    But before that trio of coaches came the 9-39 stretch – get ready for another one of those.
    ————-

    In my opinion, for a team to have that bad of a stretch, you need to have poor ownership. While I have no illusions that the current success rate will continue forever, I believe that as long as the Kraft family (and by that I mean Bob and/or Jonathan) are running the show, we won’t see another 9-39 run, because they have the knowledge and experience to put the right people in place.

  34. Raymond Berry got fired because he stubbornly stuck with terrible Tony Eason when he had all-I-do-is-win Doug Flutie on the bench. So frustrating. In Dec. ’88 we would scream at the TV “PUT IN FLUTIE!!!” and then watch as Eason got strip sacked for the 100th time. Ownership was such a mess at that time too that no one would have made that franchise successful. Then came Parcells and the #1 pick (Bledsoe) and the rest was history.

  35. The ownership situation with the Sullivan Family in charge was a disaster waiting to happen. They had a great team assembled with Chuck Fairbanks as coach in the “70’s” which they managed to destroy with their meddleing and vindivtive attitude. One memory that this fan has is the incident on the track in the LA colossium after the divisional round game against the Raider during the Super Bowl run under Berry. Patrick Sullivan, the GM of the team and Bill Sullivan’s son began taunting Howie Long after the Pats victory. This prompted his teammate (Millan?) to smash Sullivan off the head with his helmet. Sullivan was out of control on the sidelines the entire game. It is no wonder to fans who witnessed the reign of the Sullivan Family that the good coaches stayed away.

  36. I think that was Matt Millen that put the head-butt on Pat Sullivan.

    some of those memories are what cause me to cringe whenever I see the current team wear the throwback red uniforms.

    Please…..stick with the blue ones!

  37. Ah the good old days. Raymond Berry had class, that’s for sure. Victor Kiam, not so much.

    I remember when the Pats were known as the Patsies. I enjoyed watching them on TV and going to Shaeffer Stadium back them. I was in awe of the Steelers back in the 70’s, how could one not be?

    Times have changed for sure.

    New England Patriots, Champions.****

    The youngsters who are fans of the Pats and who are writing crap and trolling other teams’ fans have no idea how good they have it.

    They should stay humble, for things could go downhill just as quickly as Mr. Kraft and Mr. Belichick and Mr. Brady made them go uphill.

    ****May your jealousy drive you mad.

  38. I came of age during that 1985 season, so that team will always be my favorite. This team was in a position to do what no Patriots team had ever done — put the Pats on the map. None of my high school friends even knew Boston had a team. What an exciting year.

  39. @Mike Wilkening:

    Great article for this “Original Patriot” to read.
    There’s a lot of great memories listed here by many commentators, so I know I’m not the only one!

    From BU Field, BC, Harvard, and now Foxborough…What a great run.

    And Mike, thanks for coming on here and commenting, it’s refreshing that a writer would do that. Wish more “reporters” here would comment and interact with the fans of their teams.

    Best of luck in the future Mike. Thanks.

    Surfin’ the World

  40. Raymond Berry got fired because he stubbornly stuck with terrible Tony Eason when he had all-I-do-is-win Doug Flutie on the bench. So frustrating. In Dec. ’88 we would scream at the TV “PUT IN FLUTIE!!!” and then watch as Eason got strip sacked for the 100th time. Ownership was such a mess at that time too that no one would have made that franchise successful. Then came Parcells and the #1 pick (Bledsoe) and the rest was history.

    ————-
    Unfortunately there is a little revisionist history regarding Mr. Flutie. Berry DID put him in as starter that last season. The team finished 5-11. Berry was fired. Flutie got his chance. He just wasn’t a consistent pro until the CFL.

  41. I had season tickets back then. We flew to Miami for that AFC Championship game, and of course, we went to the Super Bowl.

    I laugh when I see fans from other teams trolling Pats boards acting like there were no Pats fans before Brady/Belichick. Lolzzz. I’ll never forget the day they carried the goal posts down Rt 1 and burnt their hands on the electrical wires Lol. Those were good times. Ownership sucked though.

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