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Coaching is in Bill Belichick's DNA. For more than three decades, his father, Steve, was an assistant and scout at the U.S. Naval Academy and was his son's foremost mentor. "My dad ... was a constant," said Belichick, whose first football job was at his father's summer camp.
While the younger Belichick was much better at lacrosse, he had an obsessive passion for the gridiron and would have worked for free if it had given him an opportunity to immerse himself in the game. The first paid position came his way in 1975, when the Baltimore Colts hired him at 23 as a special assistant for $25 a week. "I didn't know anything," he acknowledged, "but at least I was a warm body."
In his first five years, Belichick worked for four NFL clubs, usually as a special teams assistant. "I got a lot of exposure in a short time to a lot of football," he said. "In the end, that's not a bad thing."
Belichick collected his first two Super Bowl rings as defensive coordinator for the Giants, where he worked for a dozen years before obtaining his first head job with the Browns, who fired him after four losing seasons, just before they decamped for Baltimore. His renaissance began in 2000 in New England, where his exhaustive preparation, his absolute focus on the moment, and his unsentimental approach to his roster have produced five NFL titles and guaranteed him a place in the Hall of Fame.
"I like football. I like the game, I like the players, I like what it's all about," Belichick said. "Every part of it — whether it's assembling a team, working with new players, working with veteran players that are experienced and extremely talented at the highest level, game planning, scouting, preparation, practices, games. I enjoy all of it. It beats working."
"I was fortunate that I was able to work at my dad's football camps, which was two to three weeks over the summer. It was a great experience for me. It was a summer job that was a week off from my other summer jobs, whether that was waiting or working for Mayflower Moving or whatever it happened to be. It was good because I had an opportunity to work with a lot of college coaches, other guys who eventually became pro coaches. A couple coaches like Ralph Hawkins and George Boutselis, [who] I actually worked with my first year at the Colts, worked in my dad's camps, Whitey Dovell also. There were three of them on that staff.
"That was a great opportunity for me, too, to work in those camps. It was a lot of good coaches, working with kids in high school, junior high school. Not that I was like a full-fledged coach or anything, but just the experience of being around it, seeing a lot of the things, hearing coaches talk, exchanging ideas, seeing different coaches coach different techniques at the same position. It was a great experience, too. It wasn't a high-paying summer job, but it was a good job. Glad I had it."
"I was playing lacrosse and that was probably my better sport. But I loved football and then when the opportunity came up to go with Coach [Lou] Holtz down to [North Carolina] State in the spring of '75, that was something I felt would marry well with my education, trying to get a master's and coach with him. When that didn't work out — Lou was the first coach that hired me and the first coach that fired me, as I like to remind him — then it fortunately worked out with Coach [Ted] Marchibroda at the Colts.
"I didn't really have anything. I didn't really have anywhere to go at that point because the N.C. State thing fell through. I was totally open and fortunately that was able to work out with Ted, and, as I said, some of the other coaches that were on that staff like George and Whitey. They were able to recommend me. [Along with] Jerry Falls, who my dad coached and who was Ted Marchibroda's son's coach in high school. So all those connections helped me get started. Plus, I think the price was right."
FIRST SEASON WITH COLTS
After sending out 250 letters seeking his first paying football job, Belichick was offered a position with the Colts, essentially viewing film and running errands. "He was willing to work 'round the clock for nothing and learn everything he could about the game," recalled head coach Ted Marchibroda. While Belichick earned a pittance, it was a priceless chance to study the NFL from the bottom up.
"We went to camp July 5. The first game was September 21, I think. So, six preseason games, three scrimmages against the Redskins. It was a whole two and a half months of training camp basically before we even played a game. It was a long, long preseason. Squads were small, so I snapped a lot to help the timing for the offense, passing, 7-on-7 and 1-on-1 drills, things like that. It was a great experience with Coach [Ted] Marchibroda and [defensive coordinator] Maxie Baughan and the rest of the defensive staff, and George Boutselis, the special teams coach.
"I learned an awful lot. I didn't know anything. I was just thrown into an environment where I think there were only seven coaches on the staff. Three on offense, three on defense, and one on special teams. I was like the eighth guy. I didn't know anything but at least I was a warm body. I got thrown a lot of responsibility and opportunity to do things that, had there been a bigger staff, I would have never gotten to do. That was a great opportunity for me. We started out 1–4, playing in front of 20,000 people there at Memorial Stadium.
"Then we started winning and Bert Jones had a tremendous year — we had a real good defense. The front four there of Fred Cook, Joe Ehrmann, Mike Barnes, and John Dutton, they had like 50-something sacks that year. We won our last nine games. We went from 1–4 to 10–4. We went from playing in front of 20,000 to whatever that holds, 60-some. So that was pretty exciting. We lost to Pittsburgh in the playoff game — they eventually won the Super Bowl.
"[We] started training camp at Goucher College and we were there until the first of September. Then we went from Goucher to McDonogh School and practiced out in the pasture there. It was crazy. We were there for a couple weeks then finally the Orioles finished up. They were in the World Series that year, I think, so we didn't even get to Memorial Stadium until around the first of October. Of course, at that point the infield was still down. They resodded that, so we only practiced on half the field and had about 40 yards to practice on. That wore out pretty quickly, so then we would go across the street to Eastern High School and practice.
"The whole team walks out of Memorial Stadium, hits the 'WALK' button, goes across 33rd Street, and walks over to Eastern High School, which had two blades of grass — dirt, glass, rocks. It was an inner-city practice field, about what you'd expect, filming from a stepladder. But it worked. Team started slow, gained a lot of confidence and came together. That was a really good football team. Bert Jones was a great quarterback and he continued to be until he hurt his shoulder. There's no telling how good that guy would have been. If he'd had a full career, he could have been up there with anybody I've been around, certainly. I learned a lot. I didn't put a lot of money in the bank but in terms of experience I did, not actual cash. That was a fun year."
EARLY YEARS AS PRO ASSISTANT
"I was very fortunate my first few years in the league. I worked for a lot of different coaches, worked with a lot of different assistant coaches, worked in different systems, worked in different cities, a lot of different players, different organizations. So I got a lot of exposure, a lot more than I wanted, but I got a lot of exposure in a short amount of time to a lot of football. In the end, that's not a bad thing. Wasn't great at the time, but in the end it turned out to be beneficial."
The Steelers of the mid-to-late '70s were a muscular and colorful dynasty that won four Super Bowls in six seasons and sent nine players to the Hall of Fame, along with Coach Chuck Noll. The Steel Curtain, their defensive line that was anchored by "Mean" Joe Greene, set the tone for a smashmouth club that still plays old-school football.
"In '75 with the Colts, we started out 1–4 and we won the last nine games to go 10–4 and win the division. It was a tremendous turnaround. Then we went to Pittsburgh for the playoffs and they had a great team. We really had a chance in that game. It was like 17–13 in the fourth quarter. We drive down, we're on the five- or six-yard line and they intercepted, ran it back for a touchdown. So instead of going ahead now we're down by two scores and we end up getting beat.
"The point being, for my first year in the league, just seeing how good they were. I mean, they were so good on defense. Every guy was better than the next guy. From Joe Greene to Jack Lambert, that whole front four, and then the secondary. And offensively. ...
"When you're a young coach and you're [thinking,] 'Okay, who does things in a way that you admire or respect or want to emulate?' Or, 'What can you take from a good program to help you as a coach?' Or, 'If you ever get a chance, what would you do that they do?' They were one of those teams. From the first year the Steelers had a very strong impact from the outside on my philosophy as a coach."
"You talk to a lot of people. It depends on what kind of information you're looking for. If it's another team or someone that's familiar with that team or a player and they're familiar with that player, that's one thing. And if they're not or they're not as familiar with it as somebody else, it's, 'Who do you ask the questions to?' Somebody to give you the answers you're looking for. It depends on what you're after."
VISITING COLLEGE COACHES
Each year, Belichick hits the road to check in with college coaches and evaluate players that the Patriots might be interested in drafting. This year's itinerary took him to Alabama, North Carolina State, South Carolina, Georgia, and Ohio State.
"That's one of the great things about going out in spring, going to talk to Coach [Nick] Saban or Coach [Urban] Meyer, wherever the travels take you to. It's just interesting to watch somebody else run their practice, how they set up the drills, how they break it down timewise, different things like that. So, that's good.
"A lot of times you talk to people about that and say, 'Hey, how do you handle this? How do you handle that?' You're always looking for better ways to do things and how you can best teach and instruct your players and team most efficiently. We're always striving to improve that. We talk about it every year. What's our meeting time? How do we break that up? What's our practice time? How do we break that up? What's our walk-through time? When do we watch film? How do we do that? How can we do it better? Should we do it more together? Should we do it in different groups? Should we change the structure of the groups? How much should players watch by themselves? How much should they watch with the coach? How much should they ... you know, all those different kinds of things. That's a continuous self-evaluation that you do as a team to try and find the best way to do things."
HEAD COACH'S OVERALL RESPONSIBILITY
"There's no set formula for me. I try to coach the entire team because that's what I'm responsible for. The assistant coaches do a great job in each of their areas, but part of my responsibility is to coordinate the whole thing — offense, defense, special teams, and any other elements of the team that come into it, the conditioning, training and preparation, and so forth. That's really what my job is.
"It varies from day to day, year to year, situation to situation, where that time is spent. But whatever I do is where I feel I can be the most efficient and help the team the most. Part of that is organizational, making sure that everybody is in a position where they can do their job and be productive in what they're being asked to do, that they have enough time to do it, that they have the resources to do it, whatever it happens to be. It's not 'do this' or 'do that,' it's ultimately 'do everything,' and let the coaches and other people on our staff do their job and handle their responsibilities and try to make sure that it all sort of fits together and we look like we halfway know what we're doing."
"What I try to do is make decisions that are the best for our football team. And some of them are hard, some of them are pretty obvious, but in the end I try to do what's best for the team and that excludes personal feelings and personal relationships. We're in a very competitive sport, competitive environment. We all understand that. It's based on performance and that performance is week to week and year to year."
COACHING A NEW TEAM
"Sometimes a coach comes up from within his own organization. But when you come into a new organization you try to get things in a way that either you're used to or you're comfortable with as a head coach. All the support people that are involved in that are important components, too, because they interact so closely with the coaching staff and the players and the team — trainers, doctors, video people, equipment people, grounds crews, so forth and so on. There are a lot of moving parts in and around the team.
"So trying to get all of that coordinated and done in a way that is really efficient so you don't feel like you're wasting a lot of time on things that in the past were pretty smooth for you wherever you were before. It feels like you're having time taken away from football, the team, and preparation to deal with all of these other things. So that's one thing. The other thing is just trying to institute your program, what you believe in, the way you want to play the game, your plays, your philosophy, your practice tempo. Just all the little things that in some way or another in the big picture are all connected. It might seem like it is one little isolated thing on a team, but when you tie that into a lot of other things that are going on it can be an important component of the whole team-building process. Trying to get all those things to work properly and efficiently, that's a challenge, too."
AFTER THE FIRST YEAR
Belichick was head coach in Cleveland from 1991 through 1995, and was dismissed after four losing seasons. Though he wasn't hired as Patriots head coach until after Pete Carroll was fired in 1999, he did spend a year in Foxborough as Bill Parcells' assistant in 1996.
"In some respects it's easier to coach the team after the first year. The first year, a lot of times there's an adjustment or a transition depending on what happened previously. In succeeding years at least you have the ability to build off of some kind of base. Each year brings its own challenges. I think that's the way it will always be. There are always new things. Every team changes somewhere along the line — players, coaches, situations, schedule, opponents, conditions.
"There is always change and, to a certain degree, you have to go back and rebuild that every single year. That is what training camp is for, that's what preseason games are for, that's what practice is for, is to just continue to build that up brick by brick and get your team prepared for it, to deal with it this year, not just because it happened in the past. That ensures that you'll handle it correctly or well this time or the next time it comes up."
"I feel a loyalty to all the people that are in the organization. And I'm not saying I'm great or anything, that's not the point. The point is, when you're the head coach, there are a lot of people that are dependent on you. Having been an assistant coach for a long time and been the son of an assistant coach for a long time, you know that your future is, to a certain degree, tied to the head coach. It's important to me to be able to hopefully provide some stability to the other members of the coaching staff, the members of the organization that relate to the football department, the players. We all know that the first thing that changes is the coach; the next thing is most of the roster.
"I certainly like the fact that we have players that have been brought up in this system, that have tried to develop in this system and hopefully they have the confidence to know that they can come back and play in this system again with the skills and the training and the knowledge that they've learned to do it. I feel a loyalty to them and I think that they also feel a loyalty to me along those same lines. It's a two-way street. I know everybody has got to take care of themselves and their own needs and all that.
"I do have a lot of loyalty and respect for the people who work for me and I want to try to continue to provide a good working environment for them to be successful, for us to be successful, so that we can all benefit from that. So, yeah, I would say that's definitely important to me. That's the way I was brought up. I mean, when you're an assistant coach and the head coach isn't there, you're probably not going to be there, either. That's just the way it is. I learned that a long time ago.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Fridays with Bill"
Copyright © 2018 The Boston Globe.
Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1 Coaching 1
2 Players 35
3 Roster 73
4 Training Camp 101
5 Season 113
6 Opponents 147
7 Offense/Defense 175
8 Special Teams 211
9 Strategy 235
10 Art & Science 265
11 Hoodie on Holidays 275
12 Bill in Brief 279