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Reliance, luck and better resumés: why Bill Belichick is not the greatest coach of all time

Bill Belichick during pregame warmups before the Patriots game against the Atlanta Falcons on September 29, 2013 at the Georgia Dome. Photo used with Creative Commons permission from Football Schedule on Flickr

For most of the 21st Century, the team the rest of the NFL feared the most was always the New England Patriots who have won six Super Bowl titles, all during this century, and tied for the most for any team with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Within the Patriot dynasty, two main members come to everyone’s mind — Tom Brady, widely considered as the greatest quarterback of all time, and Bill Belichick, considered by some to be the greatest head coach in NFL history. However, for many different reasons, both in Belichick’s control and out of his control, Belichick is nowhere near being the best of all time; he’s probably not even in the top three when you do the research.

The main reason that prevents Belichick from being the NFL’s all-time greatest head coach is his success relied on Tom Brady and the stats back it up. Many people ask the question, which one of the two is the bigger contributor to the dynasty? Was it the coach or the quarterback? It was obviously the quarterback. A Brady-less Belichick, stats/record-wise, has been barely mediocre. In Belichick’s 29 seasons as an NFL head coach (24 with New England and 5 with Cleveland), Brady was not the main starter for 11 of them. Why does this prove Belichick’s reliance on Brady? Belichick made the playoffs for only two of the eleven seasons. 

Many people, however, disregard this by claiming that Belichick was a genius for finding and creating Brady. The Patriots’ finding and selection of Brady was simply just the luckiest pick of all time. Brady went in the sixth round, and the Patriots drafted six players before him. The Patriots were not even looking hard at Brady; they already had Drew Bledsoe, and they were looking at Tim Rattay out of Louisiana Tech in addition to him. Anyway, knowing that Brady could still win a Super Bowl without Belichick and that Belichick can barely make the playoffs without Brady proves their “Patriot Way” partnership was really just Brady carrying Belichick to victory most of the time like a prize thoroughbred at the tracks. 

Other than components that hurt Belichick’s all-time best resumé that are in his control, there are also simply better coaches than him. In my opinion, the three greatest NFL head coaches of all time (in order) are Don Shula, Bill Walsh and Vince Lombardi (Honorable Mention: Chuck Noll). 

Vince Lombardi has always been considered as one of the original greats, which is largely why he is the namesake of the Lombardi Trophy (the championship trophy for those who are unaware). He was one of the greatest speechgivers of football history, he largely dominated his nine seasons as the Green Bay Packers coach (three NFL Championships and two Super Bowls), and he designed the “Packers Sweep” play (also known as the power sweep). 

Next up there is Bill Walsh, who coached the San Francisco 49ers for 10 seasons and won the Super Bowl three times. He should even be credited for a fourth Super Bowl because the 49ers won the year after he retired with a team created by Walsh. Walsh was able to dominate the NFL by revolutionizing his West Coast Offense and drafting future stars such as Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Ronnie Lott. 

Finally, the greatest head coach in NFL history, in my opinion, is Don Shula. Don Shula started his career in 1963, creating a successful Colts franchise with a Super Bowl appearance (III). Two years after that Super Bowl, Shula began his time with his main team, the Miami Dolphins, and turned a rock-bottom franchise into a powerhouse in an instant. In his first four years with the Dolphins, Shula went 54-11-1 with three straight Super Bowl appearances while winning two of them. Shula kept being a dominant force in the NFL up until he retired in 1995. In addition to all that, Shula is the winningest coach in NFL history with 347 total wins. He is also the only coach in history to have a fully undefeated season (the ‘72 Dolphins; the greatest team in NFL history), which was something Belichick and the Patriots came close to (2007), but failed in the end. Also, many people often forget that Shula’s team went undefeated even with a back-up quarterback starting for most of the season (Earl Morrall). So, he was definitely not reliant on a particular quarterback.

So, whether you are an analyst, fan, or someone who just watches the Super Bowl, when you debate who is the greatest coach of all time, look past the glitz and glamor of those six rings on Belichick’s fingers and search deeper to find why the real greatest coach of all time is not a man who was reliant on a man named Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr.

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