You can say this about Bill Belichick, or you can say that, but you have to say the stylishly challenged leader of the New England Patriots with the mumbled responses during interviews is the greatest NFL coach ever.
Sorry to Paul Brown, my all-time favorite.
Bill Walsh also did some fabulous things on a chalkboard, and the same goes for other multiple winners of Super Bowls such as Tom Landry, Chuck Noll, Joe Gibbs, Bill Parcells and Don Shula. Not only that, but NFL coaches of lore stretch from John Madden and Marv Levy to Bud Grant and George Allen. Then you have George Halas and Vince Lombardi, the other members of The Big Three with Brown, the founder of two NFL franchises (the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals) and the inventor of the facemask, the playbook and a slew of other football things. While Halas was the father of the NFL along the way to grabbing a bunch of championships, Lombardi was so mythical they named the Super Bowl trophy after him.
Oh, well. We're back to Boring Bill, who tops the list, and I hear you screaming that his greatness comes from Tom Brady, because Belichick is 41-55 overall without one of the greatest quarterbacks ever, but you know what? How many games does Walsh win without Joe Montana, Noll without Terry Bradshaw, Lombardi without Bart Starr, Shula without Johnny Unitas (or Bob Griese) and Brown without Otto Graham? You get the picture, and I know Gibbs and Parcells were proficient with multiple quarterbacks, but if nothing else, they don't join Belichick with five Super Bowl rings.
OK, I still feel your wrath, and it involves Spygate, Deflategate and all of those times Belichick's Patriots did a little creative writing on injury reports, but here's the thing: Those were just offside calls around his football universe dominated by touchdowns and Lombardi trophies. If last year's fifth Super Bowl victory out of nowhere didn't seal the deal for Belichick, this season is doing it. For verification, you can start with his usual collection of Brady, Rob Gronkowski and bunch of other dudes pushing the Patriots to 10-3 and just a victory shy of clinching the AFC East for a ninth consecutive year.
As for the postseason, Belichick will remain king of all-time kings in his profession whether the Patriots win it all in February or not.
Who am I fooling?
The Patriots WILL win it again. Either that, or they'll come close, and you'll see a bunch of Belichick stuff along the way.
"What he does is unbelievable. I mean, he takes people that other teams reject, and he fits them into his system, because he always knows what kind of players he needs," said Dan Reeves, 73, an expert on NFL coaches.
Reeves played eight seasons through 1972 as a running back for Landry's Cowboys, and stayed around Dallas for another seven years as an assistant. After he left the Cowboys, he began 23 seasons as the head coach of the Denver Broncos, New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons. Success dominated his professional football life. He played on the winning side during one of his two Super Bowl appearances, and he got another championship ring coaching under Landry. During Reeves' decades in charge of his own NFL teams, he made three Super Bowl trips with the Broncos and one with the Falcons.
All this is to say that Reeves has seen a bunch of efficiency and longevity for his NFL teams and others . But to hear him tell it, he never has witnessed anything close to the Patriots of this century. Nobody has. They're dominating folks, and this is happening during the most pronounced era of parity since the league's birth under Halas in 1920.
In addition to that, there's this to justify Belichick's seat at the head of the NFL coaching throne: Ever since Belichick arrived in New England before the 2000 season (after five years running the Browns), he has prospered despite owning rosters without overwhelming talent.
"He's not afraid to get rid of guys, and what does he do? He gets a higher draft choice, whereas, if you're drafting 28th, 31st or 32nd, you know, drafting in that area, it's hard to get an impact player," Reeves said. "He responds by trading somebody, and he moves up into the top five or top 10 and gets a good player, and he's back on top. So, yeah, he's done an unbelievable job of knowing what kind of player he needs offensively and defensively, but particularly defensively.
"He plays with people where you just scratch your head and go, 'Golly. How's that guy playing that way?' He has a no-name defense, basically."
Not basically. Definitely.
Eric Lee? Lawrence Guy? Elandon Robert? Yikes. They became visible only through the ineptness of the Patriots' defensive unit overall during the early going. The Patriots allowed their opening four opponents an average of 32 points per game, and no NFL team was worse in total defense through the opening six weeks. In fact, every quarterback the Patriots faced during that stretch torched their secondary for at least 300 yards.
Belichick is a defensive wizard, though, which is why it wasn't shocking when the Patriots adjusted. Before they traveled to Miami on Monday night, they hadn't allowed any of their previous eight foes to score more than 17 points. Not coincidentally, they had an eight-game winning streak. They were four victories shy of tying the NFL record of the 1988-90 San Francisco 49ers for most consecutive wins on the road at 18. Now consider that the Patriots sought to continue those streaks against the Dolphins without Gronkowski, serving a one-game suspension for a late hit. They're also playing without number of significant players due to injuries: Wide receivers Julian Edleman and Malcolm Mitchell, linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Shea McClellin, defensive ends Trey Flowers and Derek Rivers and offensive tackle Marcus Cannon.
That's for starters. On Monday night, the Dolphins played the game of their lives, which added to Brady's lifetime struggles whenever he's in South Beach (he is now 7-9 in Miami with 15 interceptions), and you'd would expect the Patriots to go something like 0-for-11 on third downs and trail 27-10 in the third quarter. The thing is, the Dolphins only won 27-20, because despite that adversity, the Patriots kept clawing back.
We're back to Boring Bill, both on and off the field.
On it, Belichick wore one of his traditional gray sweatshirts and stayed as calm as he did when the Patriots trialed the Falcons 28-3 late in the third quarter during the Super Bowl last February. New England won back then in overtime, but Belichick couldn't push all of his magic buttons in this one. Off the field, he gave his normal monotone responses to postgame questions -- if you could call them responses; you may just want to call them stares or long pauses before answering with a few words, or shall we say syllables.
That said, when Belichick takes his team to Pittsburgh this week to face the 11-2 Steelers, both teams will play with home-field advantage on the line for the AFC. He'll have Gronkowski back, and the same goes for several among the injured. I'm thinking the Patriots will rebound from that Miami loss just fine, and they'll do so against the streaking Steelers on their home turf.
Such things happen when you're the Patriots, and you have a head coach who isn't cuddly, but who is peerless.