Find me a resume better than Bill Belichick’s. Since he got his first job in the NFL back in 1975, he’s been a part of eight Super Bowl Champion teams and has coached in the big game 12 times. He currently has the records for most Super Bowl appearances, wins, playoff wins, and division championships. His fingerprints are all over the development of not only arguably the greatest defender ever, Lawrence Taylor, but also the greatest offensive player ever, Tom Brady. He’s creeping towards his 300th win in the National Football League and has four times as many playoff wins (31) as losing seasons (seven). Is there any argument that he’s had the greatest career of any head coach in NFL history? Not really.
But is the GOAT? It seems like a stupid question after everything I just said, but there’s some lingering doubt from one very specific perspective. As a head coach, he’s experienced incredible success… with Tom Brady as his quarterback. Without Brady? Not so much. Before we crown Belichick as the best ever, let’s take a closer look at his career without #12 under center.
Reality Chick: Is Bill Belichick Overrated?
Before I really jump into this, we need to discuss the term “overrated.” There’s a fairly common misconception that something being overrated means it isn’t good. That’s not the case. In fact, it’s almost the opposite, nobody says that the Star Wars prequels (or sequels) are overrated. Nobody says that Zach Wilson is overrated. Nobody’s ever called white tic tacs overrated. To be overrated is to be good, just not as good as people would have you think. Ironically, things that are overrated consistently become underrated.
We’ll use Metallica as an example. In the eyes of many, Metallica is one of the most overrated bands of all time. All of their songs sound the same, they haven’t made a good album since the early 90’s, and James Hetfield has the vocal range of a smoke detector, and yet we’ve all heard Enter Sandman (or more recently, Master of Puppets) a million times. To call them overrated isn’t a novel or original concept. However, if everyone is calling them overrated, then they’re being rated pretty negatively, aren’t they? If everyone says bad things about them, even though they did reinvent an entire genre of music, selling out arenas around the world, releasing timeless classics that everyone knows and loves, aren’t they underrated?
See? It’s fluid. It changes with the tide of public opinion. It is not a set, binary thing that cannot be changed at the drop of a hat. So when I say Bill Belichick is overrated, I’m not saying he’s a bad coach. He’s not a bad coach, he’s an exceptional coach. He belongs on the Mount Rushmore of coaches, and is quite obviously a sure-fire no-brainer first ballot Hall of Famer… but he’s not the best ever.
Bill Belichick is the star disciple of Hall of Famer, Bill Parcells. Bill was a head coach for the better part of the 80’s, 90’s, and early 2000’s, winning a couple of rings and being successful just about everywhere he went. As impressive as that is, what really stands out about his legacy is his ridiculous coaching tree.
Belichick, Sean Payton, and Tom Coughlin have won nine Super Bowls as head coaches in the NFL, as well as 29 division titles and 52 playoff games. Mike Holmgren and Marty Schottenheimer can only look on in envy at Parcells’ tree. It’s truly historically brilliant.
But Belichick? His tree hasn’t had as much success at the pro level. In fact, it could be argued they haven’t experienced any success at all. I’ve broken this down before, urging the Las Vegas Raiders not to hire Josh McDaniels last off-season, and not much has happened to change my perspective. If the best head coach that Bill Belichick has ever produced in the NFL is Bill O’Brien, a man who infamously traded an All-Pro receiver for a hot dog and a handshake, it’s not pretty.
Coaches are ultimately teachers, and it doesn’t seem like Bill is a very good teacher.
In case you forgot, Bill Belichick’s first head coaching job in the NFL was not in New England. In fact, it wasn’t even his second, that honor belongs to his 24 hour fling with the New York Jets. No, long before Tom Brady fumbled his way to a Super Bowl, Bill Belichick was the eighth head coach of the original Cleveland Browns, and in fact, was the last man to hold the job before they relocated and rebranded as the Baltimore Ravens.
In fairness to Belichick, he is undefeated as the head coach of the New York Jets… but that’s because he ended up coaching them as many games as I have.
Between 1991 and 1995, Belichick was the man in Cleveland, and despite what you’ve witnessed over the last twenty years, they were not a powerhouse. He had losing records in four of five seasons, and only snuck in as a wild card in 1994. His offenses were dreadful, averaging around 17th in the league in scoring, and his defenses were mediocre, hovering around the middle of the pack every year except for 1994, when they were top ten. In five years with the team, they never sniffed a division title, didn’t really stand out at any position, and only won a single playoff game.
That playoff game, ironically enough? Was against Bill Parcells and the New England Patriots on New Year’s Day, 1995. Tom Brady was a senior in high school when that happened, and it was the last time Bill Belichick won a playoff game without him under center.
New England… without Tom
In New England, without Brady, Belichick is 44-41. This includes his first year in New England, where he went 5-11 with a squad a couple of seasons removed from a Super Bowl appearances, the 2008 season where Brady tore his ACL, the 2016 season, where Brady was suspended for four games, and the three years since Brady departed for Tampa Bay. Admittedly, he has had three winning seasons in that span, including a playoff berth, but never as division champions or anyone that the rest of the league took seriously. His lone playoff appearance since Brady departed resulted in a cathartic 47-17 rout at the hands of the new AFC East powerhouse, the Buffalo Bills.
Outside of that, they’re a middling team that exists purely to play spoiler to the more complete teams in the division, irrelevant to the point of being bumped out of primetime. Bill Parcells had five losing seasons in 20 years as a head coach, his protege hit that number in the 90’s. While Belichick won six rings with Tom Brady, Parcells coached Jeff Hostetler to a Lombardi Trophy.
Career Sans Brady
All in all, Bill is 80-85 without Tom Brady under center. His offenses usually rank around 17th and his defenses are fringe top-ten. He is 1-2 in the playoffs and that one came almost 20 years ago. He’s never developed another quarterback, his defenses are good-not-great, and the legendary situational football that everyone preaches about goes out the window when you watch the end of this game. You wanna see a really funny stat comparison?
That second coach? Coach B, who ran away with the poll? That’s the first ten years of Jon Gruden’s head coaching career. Bill Belichick, with more games, is less successful than Jon Gruden was before he was fired in Tampa.
Is BB the GOAT?
Nobody says Tony Dungy is the best coach of all time. Nobody is fighting hard for Bill Walsh. Nobody is crying for Tom Flores or Jimmy Johnson. Know why? Because it’s easy to write those guys off for the teams they had. Dungy had Manning, Walsh had Montana and Rice, Flores had Madden’s monsters, and Jerry Jones was so confident that anyone could win a Super Bowl with those Cowboys that he proved it. So why is Belichick any different? Obviously all the rings help, but he’s experienced a shadow of the success he had with Tom Brady. I’m watching Mike Tomlin come closer and closer to another year without a losing record, despite a roster with little talent in a competitive division, and I’m supposed to make excuses for the Hoodie?
Sure, his rosters haven’t always been the best, but correct me if I’m wrong, isn’t Bill the one in charge? Bill Belichick is the judge, jury, and executioner in New England, and with all that power comes much responsibility. He’s not a great talent evaluator, through drafting players or hiring coaches by any metric, and whether it’s Bernie Kosar (a two-time pro bowler), Drew Bledsoe (a four-time pro bowler and one-team league passing yardage leader), Cam Newton (a league MVP), or Mac Jones (a first round pick), he has completely failed to find any kind of success without the man who went to Tampa Bay and won a Super Bowl on his first try.
So does Belichick deserve credit for the Patriots dynasty? Absolutely. Should he be enshrined in Canton when he retires? Why wait? But is he the best head coach of all time? I struggle to answer that. Though he has all the accolades, his entire career is peppered with asterisks. When I look at Belichick’s legacy without Tom Brady, I’m reminded of that infamous scene from The Temptations.