Revisiting Bill Belichick and Nick Saban’s time with Browns: How two coaching legends rose from the same staff

On consecutive days, two of the greatest coaches in the history of their respective sports announced they would be moving on to the next step in their careers.

On Wednesday, Alabama head coach Nick Saban shocked the college football world when he announced his retirement after 17 successful seasons with the Crimson Tide. The following day, the Patriots organization sent shockwaves throughout the NFL when it was announced they had mutually agreed to part ways with head coach Bill Belichick after a historic 24-year run.

Saban will hang up his headset and clipboard with seven national championships, the most by a head coach in college football history. Belichick will depart New England with six Super Bowls, the most by a head coach in NFL history.

Before the two future Hall of Famers began their reigns of dominance in Tuscaloosa and Foxborough, it all started on the same sideline in Cleveland with the Browns, where their long-time friendship began.

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The Sporting News takes a look back at Belichick and Saban’s time as coaches with the Browns below.

Revisiting Bill Belichick and Nick Saban’s tenure as Browns coaches

In 1990, Belichick served as the Giants’ defensive coordinator under head coach Bill Parcells, while Saban was in his first season as head coach at Toledo.

Belichick played a key role in leading the Giants’ elite defense to a Super Bowl title that season, earning his first head coaching job with the Browns. When Belichick took over in Cleveland in 1991, he brought on Saban as his defensive coordinator, who resigned as head coach at Toledo after just one season.

The Belichick-Saban duo didn’t produce immediate results, going 6-10 in their first season. Belichick took over general manager duties in Year 2, and the Browns proceeded to go 7-9 in each of the next two seasons, missing the playoffs in his first three campaigns at the helm.

In 1994, Belichick and Saban’s Browns finally had a breakthrough. Cleveland’s defense allowed the fewest points per game in the NFL (12.8), going 11-5 to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 1989.

The Browns, ironically, went on to defeat the Patriots in the wild-card round before losing to the Steelers, who won the AFC Central that year, in the divisional round.

Saban’s success as the coordinator for the best defensive unit in the NFL set him up to take the Michigan State head coaching job the following season. He spent five years in East Lansing before moving on to LSU, where he won a national title in his five seasons there. After a mediocre two-year stint as the Dolphins’ coach, he returned to the college ranks, spending 17 seasons and winning six national championships with Alabama.

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Belichick was fired by the Browns the next season after Cleveland finished with a disappointing 5-11 record in 1995. He went on to become the assistant head coach and defensive backs coach for the Patriots under his former Giants colleague Parcells.

In the first season of his new role with New England, Belichick helped lead the Patriots to the Super Bowl where they would fall to Brett Favre and the Packers. The success would be a sign of things to come in the future when Belichick took over as New England’s head coach in 2000.

Browns’ record under Bill Belichick and Nick Saban

In four seasons as the head coach and defensive coordinator, respectively, Belichick and Saban led the Browns to a 31-33 record. They went 1-1 in their lone playoff appearance.

Year Record
1991 6-10
1992 7-9
1993 7-9
1994 11-5*
Total 31-33

*Indicates playoff appearance


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