Bill Belichick is a six-time Super Bowl champion, a three-time Coach of the Year, was named to the all-decade team of the 2000’s and 2010’s, and the 100th Anniversary team. The New England Patriots won the AFC East from 2003 to 2019, with the exception of 2008 when Tom Brady was hurt. For all these accolades, it seems that Belichick is grossly overrated as a general manager and as a coach.
For 16 years, the argument raged on. Is Brady making Belichick a great coach or did Belichick create the greatest quarterback of all time? The answer is crystal clear now. Brady was the engine behind the Patriots. Before Brady joined the Buccaneers, the Bucs were 7 and 9 in 2019. With Brady, the Buccaneers won the division and the Super Bowl in 2020 and won the division in 2021. The Patriots, with Brady, in 2019 were 12 and 4. Without Brady, the Patriots were 7 and 9 in 2020 and 10-7 in 2021, losing the first round of the playoffs. Even with a decent year in 2021, it didn’t really seem like the Patriots were contending for anything.
Any dominant team must have a good player or three, so every winning coach is bound to have some really good players. Their effectiveness can’t ultimately be criticized just because they have some talent on the team. But in Belichick’s case, the change in performance is dramatic. Football is a team game and the quarterback position is extremely important (though not on the field half the time), no doubt. But such a dramatic turnaround feels like he rode Brady’s coattails and didn’t know what to do when it ended.
Looking at Phil Jackson, we see a different trajectory. He had Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and a myriad of role players that won him six championships. Many said Jackson was a mediocre coach who got lucky enough to coach Michael Jordan. Then Jackson went to the Lakers and won 6 more championships. Sure, he had Kobe and Shaq, but you can’t win without talent. The point was, that given a different set of circumstances, Jackson still won. Frequently. And remember, Belichick is also the general manager, so if he doesn’t like his players, it is up to him to change that situation.
Belichick is also not the first football coach to lose their star player. After the 1990 season, Joe Montana was injured for basically two full seasons with an elbow injury and left San Francisco in 1993 for the Kansas City Chiefs. Like Brady, Montana led an immediate transformation in Kansas City, winning the division for the first time in 22 years and won 2 playoff games. Kansas City had not won a playoff game since 1970. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Steve Young was injured in 1991. But in 1992, Steve Young led the 49ers to the NFC Championship game and Young won the MVP in his first full season. Coach George Seifert was prepared to lose Montana, had a plan, showed that his offensive strategy would survive losing his star and his defensive strategy wasn’t buoyed by his offense. In 1993, Seifert again took San Francisco to the NFC Championship. By 1994, one year after Montana left, Seifert won the Super Bowl. One year after Brady, Belichick just limped into the playoffs and lost right away.
Great coaches also have great offspring. Not necessarily children, but assistant coaches. The idea is that if their strategy, their approach, and their communication style is a success formula, their assistants should be successful in their own right. Andy Reid disciples include John Harbaugh, Doug Pederson, Sean McDermott, Matt Nagy, and Ron Rivera. Pederson and Harbaugh won Super Bowls and, taking Nagy out of the equation, these coaches are viewed as successful. Especially looking at Rivera and Harbaugh’s longevity, and it feels like we are counting the minutes until McDermott’s Bills win a Super Bowl. Belichick’s offspring include Matt Patricia, Romeo Crennel, Joe Judge, Bill O’Brien, Jim Schwartz, Josh McDaniels, and Eric Mangini. McDaniels will get another shot this year with the Raiders, but all these coaches are deemed the opposite of successful. Their combined coaching record is 208-296-1. Enough said.
Belichick is a good coach. Ok, Belichick is a very good coach. But huge weaknesses are showing up without the GOAT and if he stays in the NFL for too long he could start hurting his legacy. Brady faked a resignation, Belichick should probably think about the real thing before the first two decades of the 21st century are forgotten.