Bill Belichick can stake claim as NFL's greatest coach

Remarkably, Bill Belichick’s four Super Bowl-winning Patriots teams in 14 years have had very few players in common.
Remarkably, Bill Belichick’s four Super Bowl-winning Patriots teams in 14 years have had very few players in common.
Published Feb. 3, 2015

There are many things that you can call New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

Stiff. Humorless. Boring. Stuffy. Dreary. Stodgy.

Now it's time to call him something else:

The greatest coach in the history of professional football.

Funny how football works. On Sunday, if Seahawks coach Pete Carroll doesn't have a complete brain cramp at the end of Super Bowl XLIX and doesn't call for a pass play that is intercepted, Belichick's Patriots probably lose and he becomes a three-time Super Bowl loser. He is known as a good coach, but one who has lost as many big games as he has won.

But Belichick's Patriots won, and now he can be called a four-time Super Bowl winner.

That ties him with the Steelers' Chuck Noll for the most all time. Now a strong case can be made that Belichick has no equal when it comes to professional football, certainly in the Super Bowl era. He may be stiff and stuffy and stodgy and all that, but he has brilliantly guided the Patriots to the most successful run in history: six Super Bowl appearances and four championships in 14 years.

There are a handful of names in the debate for the greatest NFL coaches in the modern era.

Miami's Don Shula won more games than any coach in NFL history and guided the 1972 Dolphins to the only perfect record ever. But he won only two Super Bowls.

Dallas' Tom Landry was one of coaching's great innovators, and he took his teams to the Super Bowl five times. But, again, only two victories.

San Francisco's Bill Walsh won three Super Bowls but coached only 10 seasons and had three losing seasons in that span. A case can be made for Green Bay's Vince Lombardi and his five NFL championships, but much of Lombardi's career came when the NFL consisted of 14 teams and you needed only one or two playoff victories to win the title.

When it comes to choosing the best coach ever, it comes down to three names: Noll, Belichick and Washington's Joe Gibbs.

Gibbs often is overlooked, but he deserves immense credit for winning three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks, none of whom are Hall of Famers. But three is not four and, thus, that's why the debate comes down to Noll and Belichick.

Noll coached, arguably, the greatest team in NFL history: the Steelers of the 1970s. He guided the Steelers to four Super Bowl wins in a six-year span. But those four Super Bowl champions were essentially the same team. There were nine Hall of Fame players on the 1970s Steelers: Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, John Stallworth, Lynn Swann and Mike Webster on offense; and Mean Joe Green, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert and Mel Blount on defense. All nine played on all four championship teams. The Steelers roster over those six years barely changed.

Furthermore, it was a different era then, one that didn't have the obstacles of salary caps and free agency. Noll had one team made up entirely of players who had never played for another organization. That's incredible.

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Now look at the Patriots. Belichick has continued to dominate football despite turning over the roster again and again and again. The roster for Sunday's Super Bowl champions looked nothing like the team's first championship roster from the 2001 season. Other than quarterback Tom Brady (and, yes, that's a pretty big "other than''), no player in the Patriots starting lineup Sunday was a regular starter on New England's first Super Bowl team.

Unlike Noll's Steelers, Belichick's Patriots never have had embarrassing riches of Hall of Famers, certainly nothing like the old Steelers. Instead, Belichick has dominated the AFC and, in particular, the AFC East with a revolving door of players. He has won 12 division titles in 15 seasons. In this current 14-year span, Belichick's Pats have won an average of 11 games a season. They have missed the playoffs only twice, including the season they went 11-5 without Brady. It's remarkable to go this long without a major dip, and Belichick deserves the credit for that.

Sure, a play here or there and Belichick could be something like 1-5 in Super Bowls. But a play here or there and he easily could be 6-0. And there's no reason to think the Patriots and Belichick are done. Belichick is only 62 and seems as sharp and innovative as ever, setting up, perhaps, several more championship runs.

Now, it's impossible to discuss Belichick without bringing up some of his shady past. SpyGate, in which he was caught videotaping opponents' defensive signals, was real and clearly gave him a competitive advantage. We shall see what becomes of the accusations that Belichick's team used deflated footballs to its advantage this past postseason. Patriots fans don't like hearing this, but Belichick's willingness to bend and break the rules is a part of his story and won't be forgotten or forgiven by those who are not Patriots fans.

For some, there always will be an asterisk next to Belichick and the Patriots. Some of that is born from jealousy, but much of it is based on truth. Belichick's hands are not clean. The everybody-cheats excuse, as well as the it-was-no-big-deal alibis, aren't valid. Cheating is cheating and Belichick has been proven at least once to be a cheater.

Should that erase all that he has done? No. Clearly he has one of the sharpest minds in sports history, and he has found a way to motivate and prepare his teams to the point that the Patriots have had no equal over the past 15 seasons.

Neither has Belichick. Ever.