NFL fined Patriots coach Bill Belichick $500,000 and team $250,000 for spying on opponent
By DAVE GOLDBERG, AP Football Writer
September 13, 2007
NEW YORK (AP) -- Bill Belichick should be able to read this signal clearly:
Spy on your opponents, and it will cost you.
The New England coach was fined the NFL maximum of $500,000 Thursday and the Patriots were ordered to pay $250,000 for stealing an opponent's defensive signals.
Commissioner Roger Goodell also ordered the team to give up next year's first-round draft choice if it reaches the playoffs and second- and third-round picks if it doesn't.
The videotaping came to light after a camera was confiscated from Patriots video assistant Matt Estrella while he was on the New York Jets' sideline during New England's 38-14 win last Sunday at Giants Stadium.
The NFL said the camera was seized before the end of the first quarter and had no impact on the game.
"This episode represents a calculated and deliberate attempt to avoid longstanding rules designed to encourage fair play and promote honest competition on the playing field," Goodell said in a letter to the Patriots.
He said he considered suspending Belichick but didn't "largely because I believe that the discipline I am imposing of a maximum fine and forfeiture of a first-round draft choice, or multiple draft choices, is in fact more significant and long-lasting, and therefore more effective, than a suspension."
Instead, Goodell imposed the biggest fine ever on a coach and took away a first-round draft pick as a penalty for the first time in NFL history.
Reached at his home, Patriots owner Robert Kraft declined to comment.
Belichick, however, accepted full responsibility "for the actions that led to tonight's ruling. Once again, I apologize to the Kraft family and every person directly or indirectly associated with the New England Patriots for the embarrassment, distraction and penalty my mistake caused."
"I also apologize to Patriots fans and would like to thank them for their support during the past few days and throughout my career," Belichick said in a statement issued by the team. "As the Commissioner acknowledged, our use of sideline video had no impact on the outcome of last week's game. We have never used sideline video to obtain a competitive advantage while the game was in progress."
Goodell's hard line on discipline has been aimed so far at players -- most notably Michael Vick and Adam "Pacman" Jones.
By penalizing a coach and a team he showed that no one, not even management, was immune.
"We support the commissioner and his findings," the New York Jets said.
New England, strengthened by the addition of Randy Moss, two other first-rate wide receivers and linebacker Adalius Thomas, is considered one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl for the fourth time since the 2001 season. If the Patriots lose their first-rounder next season they still will have a first-round pick, obtained from San Francisco in the deal that brought Moss from Oakland.
NFL rules state "no video recording devices of any kind are permitted to be in use in the coaches' booth, on the field, or in the locker room during the game." They also say all video for coaching purposes must be shot from locations "enclosed on all sides with a roof overhead."
That was re-emphasized in a memo sent Sept. 6 to NFL head coaches and general managers. In it, Ray Anderson, the league's executive vice president of football operations wrote: "Videotaping of any type, including but not limited to taping of an opponent's offensive or defensive signals, is prohibited on the sidelines, in the coaches' booth, in the locker room, or at any other locations accessible to club staff members during the game."
The NFL statement said Goodell believed Kraft was unaware of Belichick's actions.
But it said the commissioner believed penalties should be imposed on the club because "Coach Belichick not only serves as the head coach but also has substantial control over all aspects of New England's football operations. His actions and decisions are properly attributed to the club."
On Wednesday, Belichick issued a one-paragraph statement 10 minutes before his regular availability, saying he had spoken with Goodell "about a videotaping procedure during last Sunday's game and my interpretation of the rules."
"Although it remains a league matter, I want to apologize to everyone who has been affected, most of all ownership, staff and players," he said.
The Patriots have been caught once before. Last November, during their 35-0 victory in Green Bay, the Packers caught Estrella shooting unauthorized video and told him to stop.
NFL coaches long have suspected opponents of spying. In the early 1970s, the late George Allen, coach of the Washington Redskins, routinely would send a security man into the woods surrounding the team's practice facility because he suspected there were spies from other teams there.
And coaches like Seattle's Mike Holmgren and Philadelphia's Andy Reid, among others, always cover their mouths when calling plays from the sideline because they fear other teams have lip readers trying to determine their calls.
The most recent hefty fine against a coach was in 2005, when Tagliabue fined former Minnesota coach Mike Tice $100,000 for scalping Super Bowl tickets.
Last November, Goodell fined Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher, co-chairman of the competition committee, $12,500 for criticizing officials. He also fined Pittsburgh owner Dan Rooney, one of his mentors and the man who informed him he had been elected commissioner, for the same violation.