Bill Belichick can really coach. Sure, that’s hardly news, but for me, it is an admission into which I grudgingly arrived last season. I don’t pull for Boston teams. I have never cared much for Belichick’s public persona. His Browns’ stint supplied seemingly ample evidence of the “great coordinator – lousy head coach” syndrome. Yet, his team’s recovery from the early season debacle last year coupled with a Super Bowl trip with an injury-depleted secondary this season has made me a true believer.
From a managerial perspective, Belechick’s rise illustrates important decision skills. With the Browns from 1991-95, he lived and died by “the system” that he borrowed from his New York Giants’s days– conservative offense-great defense. He knocked heads with his best QB, Bernie Kosar. He tried to make every decision. He treated the media and fans as a nuisance. All in all, he failed badly with a 41-55 record in Cleveland and his first year with the Patriots.
Since then, his teams have racked up a 48-16 record with three Super Bowl trips. He learned valuable lessons in Cleveland about managing based on the resources at hand – not on aping some system. His offense has been diverse within and across seasons, exploiting personnel to great effect. He has distributed key decision rights to coordinators, while excelling at greatest gift – making adjustments that take the other team out of strengths.
The decision that won me over completely was his use of Troy Brown, a wide receiver, as a part-time defensive back. How many coaches are flexible or brave enough to do that no matter how depleted their secondary? In the NFL world of hyperspecialized, monkey-see-monkey-do coaching, the answer is not many. It’s a throwback to a time, as John Madden puts it, where coaches thought in terms of “football players” instead of narrowly defined labels such as wide-receiver. Who knows, maybe a Belichick team will line up in the 70s-style, “pro-set” with two real running backs one of these days. If they do, I might even become Patriots fan.