Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

Genius is as genius does

Genius, it should be said, never runs amok. It arrives sparingly, or not at all.

And so it goes at Super Bowl XXXVIII, where there is barely enough genius to go around. Just a dab to brush Bill Belichick, and not another soul.

Belichick is wise. He is analytical and cerebral. To hear the chorus, other coaches still use X's/O's while Belichick has advanced beyond with IQ.

Yes sir, that Belichick is genius personified.

So how is it John Fox landed on the same stage?

No one calls the Carolina coach brilliant. No one asks opponents how they can possibly succeed against Fox's advanced game plan. And no one, among the 50 voters who elected Belichick as the Associated Press coach of the year, were moved to write Fox's name on a single ballot.

Herein lies the problem with story lines. They get written once and are perpetually repeated.

New England reaches the Super Bowl without a roster of superstars and, thus, Belichick must be a genius.

Carolina reaches the Super Bowl with even fewer stars and, thus, the Panthers must have been awfully fortunate.

"Coach Fox can coach with anybody," Panthers safety Mike Minter said. "I'm not concerned about Belichick."

Funny how it goes. For, though they arrive at Sunday's game with different public perceptions, Belichick and Fox have similar backgrounds.

Both grew up in military environments. Belichick's father was a football coach at the Naval Academy for 33 years. Fox's father was a Navy SEAL.

Both had to overcome the stigma of never playing in the NFL, and both first found fame as the defensive coordinator of the Giants.

True, Belichick's resume is longer and better dressed. This is his ninth season as a coach and his second Super Bowl in three years.

But Fox's success has come more quickly and, arguably, from a more difficult passage.

Two years ago this week, both were in the news. Belichick won New England's first Super Bowl. And Fox was hired by a franchise coming off a 1-15 season.

Now whose task was more difficult during the past 24 months?

By just about any measure, Fox's performance has been remarkable. Look big picture and he turned around a franchise that had not made the playoffs since 1996. Focus on Sunday afternoons and he made enough right calls for the Panthers to go 7-0 in games decided by three points or fewer.

Carolina scored fewer touchdowns than its opponents in the regular season and, yet, Fox has somehow steered the Panthers to the title game.

"He's the coach of the year in my book," receiver Muhsin Muhammad said. "I don't think he's gotten the credit he should for what he's done."

Of course, there is one comparison often offered between Belichick and Fox: They are, the story goes, exceedingly dull.

None of Jon Gruden's charm. Little of Bill Parcells' aura. They are the difference between watching paint dry and grass grow.

Yet even this perception is slightly skewed.

Belichick, 51, will never be described as affable, but those who know him say he has a razor sharp mind and a surprising wit.

Fox, 48, purposefully puts on a drab face in public, but players say he is among the most personable coaches in the league.

"Every morning when you get to the stadium, he's going to be waiting for you in the locker room. And that's unusual with head coaches," backup quarterback Chris Weinke said. "He's already had about four cups of coffee by 7 o'clock in the morning. He'll pace up and down the locker room, listening to conversations or telling jokes and stories himself.

"And he's like that every single day."

If Belichick is all business, Fox is all cornball. Oh, he'll spend just as many hours studying tapes and just as much time devising schemes, but he wraps his message in a never-ending stream of cliches.

Don't be afraid to be great.

It is what it is.

Practice is like money. Invest your time, don't spend it.

"You think they're rehearsed, but he drops them on you in spontaneous situations," defensive end Mike Rucker said. "He must have hundreds of them stored up in his brain.

"It's gotten to be a joke. Guys are starting to throw his cliches back at him whenever he says something to them."

Fox grins when the subject is brought up and claims to be fresh out of pithy words of wisdom. This, of course, is a lie.

"There are a million of them," said center Jeff Mitchell of Clearwater. "We all compare it to someone lobbing grenades. When you're in the locker room, he's walking away and you think the conversation is over. Then he lobs a cliche at you from about 50 yards."

If Fox has been put out this week by all the questions of Belichick's intellect, he has hidden it well.

Actually, New England players seem more sensitive to the issue, as if their talent is secondary to Belichick's cleverness.

Which, naturally, is what gets lost in all the talk of genius. Without the correct players, schemes and game plans are worthless. Or don't you recall Tampa Bay's record this season?

Belichick wasn't considered a guru when he bombed as a coach in Cleveland in the 1990s. It took until this, his ninth season, to get his career record above .500.

Yet, for now, Belichick is the game's resident genius.

And Fox is just another Jeopardy contestant.

Which, do you suppose, is the smart pick for Sunday?

Up next:Pirate hat