Jan 24, 1979

Chuck Fairbanks and the New England Patriots slogged their way through a bitter divorce. Presiding over the team’s suit against Fairbanks for breaching his contract, a Colorado judge ordered NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle to serve as an arbiter in the matter.

If any folks think Bill Belichick’s parting of the ways with Bob Kraft was poorly handled, they should consider the mess made by the Sullivans and Fairbanks.

Fairbanks told Billy Sullivan and sons in December that he would be leaving at the end of the season, heading back to the college ranks at the University of Colorado.

The Sullivans suspended Fairbanks hours before their regular-season finale against Miami, appointing assistant coach Ron Erhardt to serve as his replacement. The Dolphins hammered the Pats, 23-3.

Fairbanks came back for the Patriots’ first home playoff game ever. Houston crushed them, 31-14.

As details of their dispute trickled out, it became clear neither side could wear the white hat.

Fairbanks claimed the falling out began with Jack Tatum’s brutal hit on Darryl Stingley in an exhibition game at Oakland, which left Stingley paralyzed. Fairbanks had negotiated a contract extension with Stingley just before the game.

The Sullivans told Fairbanks that the informal deal would not be honored, and the coach/GM nearly walked away then.

By December, players complained that Fairbanks had become increasingly disinterested in his coaching duties, later finding out his ambivalence came as he worked on a deal with Colorado.

Then came the hideous loss to the Oilers at Schaefer Stadium. Fairbanks, who must be credited for making the Patriots respectable during his tenure, was quickly out the door.

Belichick v. Krafts can’t hold a candle to Fairbanks v. Sullivans.