clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

On Brian Cashman, Bill Belichick, and the dangers of a lifetime appointment

When is it time for the old guard to step aside?

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Belichick and Patriots Part Ways After 24 Years Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

This is not a column calling for Brian Cashman’s head. There is a lot about the way he runs the Yankees that I disagree with, but it’s pretty well understood at this point that his job is among the most secure of any GM in the sport. For anyone who clicked here hoping I’d add my voice to the chorus of voices demanding the end of Cashman’s reign, I’m sorry to disappoint. However, recent events around the sporting landscape provide the impetus to reflect on the course the Yankees are charting under Cashman’s watch.

The last month has seen a seismic shift in the football coaching landscape. In under 24 hours, two of the greatest coaches in football history departed their longstanding homes in rather abrupt fashion. Nick Saban announced his retirement from coaching the Alabama Crimson Tide football team followed by even more earth-shattering news. Bill Belichick and the Patriots agreed to mutually part ways after 24 years and six Super Bowl titles.

What does this have to do with the Yankees you might ask? Because of the unprecedented runs of success both men enjoyed — each man winning six championships while at the helm of their respective football teams — both were essentially understood to possess lifetime appointments in their respective roles. What’s more, both coaches enjoyed unfettered reign over organizational decisions with minimal oversight from ownership or athletic director. Aside from the unprecedented success side of things, this pretty well describes Cashman’s situation with the Yankees.

Belichick’s tenure with the Patriots was characterized just as much by his surly attitude as the winning his teams did. He rankled many of the players he coached, to the point where even Tom Brady had enough (and won his last Super Bowl elsewhere). No one was spared his prickly personality, not even owner Robert Kraft. In many ways, this lack of regard for how he was perceived strikes a common chord with Cashman, only the Yankees’ GM goes about it in a different way. He has bashed his own players and fanbase publicly, unconcerned over the fallout of his actions (until just recently, perhaps).

However, once the wins dried up, Belichick’s M.O. became harder to live with. After a losing season in 2022, Kraft demanded a return to the playoffs, and was instead rewarded with the joint-second-worst record in the league. It ultimately cost Belichick his job. What’s more, it became increasingly clear that Belichick was no longer one step ahead of the league and in fact was falling behind the pace.

“Belichick didn’t think [DeAndre] Hopkins was worth the money. He knew the Patriots’ offensive roster wasn’t as good as some others around the league, but he thought his team could avoid mistakes, play a fundamentally sound game, and win on the margins. Perhaps all of that would be enough to compete for a division title. Instead, Belichick failed in both his roster construction and in his assessment of whether his coaching could make up for the team’s deficiencies ... Most inside the Patriots organization believe the game has not passed Belichick by. He still knows how to coach, still loves to teach and still knows how to build a game plan as well as anyone. It’s that the organizational structure, his roster construction and his leadership methods are outdated and have allowed the rest of the league to overtake the Patriots. Belichick was always willing to change on the football field, trying different schemes and styles. But he hasn’t changed who he is or how he functions.”

This all sounds eerily similar to the way Cashman runs his team. Understanding that he does not have a blank check from ownership, there are still far too many instances where Cashman has felt the need to prove he is the smartest man in the room. It’s why he has stocked his rosters with lottery tickets and bounce-back candidates over surer bets. It’s why he is largely more concerned with winning a trade, often remaining stubborn at the expense of improving the team.

The comparison is an imperfect one. As much as we’d have preferred the last half-decade of Yankees baseball to have gone, we must begrudgingly admit that the team had never fallen to quite the depths that recent iterations of the Patriots did under Belichick’s watch. The Yankees still have yet to finish last in the division or with a losing record in over thirty years. Last season was the first without playoff baseball in seven years. The Patriots meanwhile have missed the playoffs with a losing record in three of the last four seasons.

One thing that struck me in the discourse surrounding the departure of long-tenured football coaches was the mention of the shift in their respective teams’ fundamental identity. Belichick’s teams in his final years in New England were error-prone and poorly disciplined, no longer resembling the “Patriot Way.” The same goes for Pete Carroll, who stepped down after 14 years as head coach of the Seahawks — according to several unnamed voices around the league, the once-champion Seahawks were no longer “the Seahawks” by his final season.

The same could be said of the Yankees, who can no longer lay claim to the Evil Empire moniker. Whether measured by results on the field or a broader organizational philosophy and ethos, this is fundamentally not the same Yankees team I fell in love with watching as a child. Expecting them to be is perhaps foolish on my part. But when a team strays from the identity that brought it such sustained success, hard questions must be asked.

Again, this is not a call for Cashman’s job. Instead, I simply want to offer Belichick as a cautionary tale that no position in the organization should be unassailable. Both he and Cashman had become part of the furniture, synonymous with the organizations they led, but in recent years a combination of Belichick’s bravado and straying from “the Patriot Way” led to his ultimate demise. Sometimes, it’s best for all parties for the old guard to stand aside, ceding some power and being open to letting newer voices and perspectives take over before idea and styles truly grow too stale.