Belichick reaches 200 wins
11/27/12 12:00 PM
It was a happy Thanksgiving for Bill Belichick and his Patriots. Pounding and embarrassing the division-rival Jets is satisfying enough most weeks, but doing so while celebrating his 200th
win as an NFL head coach gave Belichick even more to be thankful for this year. Yet in typical Belichick fashion, he deflected the credit.
"It's been a privilege and a great opportunity to coach the players that won those games," Belichick said in his post-game press conference, “I didn't make a block, didn't make a tackle, throw a pass, kick a ball. The players win them, but it's an honor to coach the group of players that really go out there to make the plays and win those games. That's the way it was [tonight against the Jets].”
Step back for a moment. Think back. There is Belichick on a cold January day in 2000 sitting in a suit at a white-cloth covered table littered with tape recorders in the Foxboro Stadium Patriots Club after being announced by owner Robert Kraft as the Patriots 14th
New England was fresh off three years of football decline. The 1996 AFC Championship season, during which Belichick served as the Patriots assistant head coach under Bill Parcells, was a distant memory. The hope that followed that season dwindled as 11-5 became 10-6, 9-7 and eventually 8-8 in 1999.
Pete Carroll was dismissed as head coach and owner Robert Kraft followed his gut when he tabbed Belichick, who had his share of critics, to replace him. There was no fanfare. A few weeks earlier, Belichick had been ridiculed in New York for resigning his new head coaching position with the Jets amidst organizational uncertainty.
And here he was sitting at Foxboro Stadium making no public promises. He had a plan, to be sure, but there was much work to be done.
There was similar work to be done in Cleveland nine years earlier when he accepted his first head coaching job with the Browns. His reconstruction in Cleveland was slow to show impactful results. After three seasons, Belichick’s club was 20-28. But the fruits of his labor began truly sprouting in 1994 when the Browns went 11-5 and won a playoff game against the Patriots before bowing out in the second round.
A year later, Super Bowl hopes gripped Cleveland like a warm winter embrace.
Then came the announcement.
The team was relocating to Baltimore. The warm embrace gave way to chilly receptions and feelings of abandonment. The dark cloud’s gloom derailed the team’s and city’s attitude. When the moving trucks arrived in January of 1996, Belichick was gone and the team was packing a 5-11 final season to bring to its new home.
On Jan. 27, 2000, though, Belichick, with his 37 head coaching wins, was accepting a new challenge. Guarded optimism followed him to Foxboro, but his first season in New England ended with the same record as his last in Cleveland – a 5-11 mark that fueled his critics’ fire.
But two things had happened during Belichick’s first year as head man in Foxboro. First, he had worked to reshape a financial landscape that led him to carry as many as 13 undrafted rookie free agents during the 2000 season. Second, he had drafted an unheralded quarterback named Tom Brady in the 6th
round of his first draft.
The 2001 offseason saw Belichick vigorously attack free agency like a ferocious lion, and the stream of new players in the locker room changed the makeup of the team and the culture in the locker room. Mike Vrabel, Bryan Cox, Roman Phifer, Antowain Smith, Damon Huard, Terrell Buckley, Matt Stevens, David Patten, Marc Edwards, Mike Compton and Larry Izzo among others comprised a sizable and impactful free agent class.
And then two games, and two losses, into his second season at the helm, Belichick watched long-time starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe go down with a major injury.
Belichick had seen something in the young kid during a rookie season in which Brady was fourth on the depth chart yet still embraced a leadership role within his rookie class that didn’t escape Belichick’s view.
After signing Huard to back up Bledsoe in the spring of 2001, Belichick had, perhaps surprisingly, named Brady the No. 2 quarterback in early September following an impressive preseason in which Brady saw time with the team’s starting offense and performed well. The announcement barely caused a ripple.
That is until Brady, under Belichick’s tutelage and that of offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, guided the Patriots efficient if unspectacular offense to 14 wins in 17 starts ending with a shocking upset of the high-powered St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. Then everyone took notice.
Two more world championships in the next three seasons gave the Patriots a dynastic feeling and saw Belichick pile up head coaching wins at an unusual clip.
He surpassed his five-year win total from Cleveland (37) in fewer than four seasons in New England and did it in just 63 games (38-25). By the end of his fifth season in New England, Belichick had three new Super Bowl rings and 62 more wins for 99 in his career.
After another seven-plus years, including the league’s first ever 16-0 regular season in 2007, Belichick reached 200 career wins. In addition to his three Super Bowl titles, Belichick has led New England to five AFC Championships and nine division titles.
Between 1960 and 2000, the Patriots won just five division titles, two AFC Championships and no Super Bowls.
Belichick, Kraft and Brady will be forever connected to the Patriots run of success that started in 2001 and continues today. The 49ers of the 1980s and the Cowboys of the 1990s can confirm that success in the NFL is fleeting to say the least.
And so it may be with the Patriots. But that leadership triumvirate (all of whom are featured in The Hall’s new Lead to Succeed
exhibit), it’s likely that Belichick will add quite a few to his win total before he retires to his Nantucket getaway. Maybe then, he’ll reflect upon his work. But for now, it’s about everyone else.
"The players went out there and made the plays,” Belichick said.” It's a privilege to coach this team, for Mr. Kraft, the Kraft family, the Patriots organization and the players that are on it. It's nice, but it's really more of a reflection of what the players have done. They win them."
NOTE: The game ball from Belichick's 200th win is on display at The Hall.