This Is Bill Belichick’s Chance to Separate Himself From Tom Brady’s Shadow

The longtime coach can finally establish a championship legacy that isn't tied to No. 12

Ex-New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.
Bill Belichick has the chance to prove himself outside of New England.
Cooper Neill/Getty

With NFL coaches who failed to qualify for the playoffs dropping like flies with the league’s Super Wild Card Weekend looming, the Patriots sent somewhat expected shockwaves across the league on Thursday morning with the announcement that the team and six-time Super Bowl winner Bill Belichick had “mutually agreed” that he would be departing as head coach after 24 years in New England.

Included in the release were a number of statistics related to Belichick’s tenure in New England, which began on on January 27, 2000, aside from his sextet of Super Bowl titles.

  • Nine conference championships
  • 17 division crowns (with 2002 and 2008 lost on tiebreakers), including 11 consecutive division titles
  • 19 consecutive winning seasons (2001-19)
  • 30 playoff victories

The announcement of the departure, which was really just a dressed-up firing that was a long time coming, was followed by Belichick and New England owner Robert Kraft both giving prepared statements in front of a roomful of media members. On the whole, the statements were overwhelmingly positive and the upbeat vibes between the two men, for the most part, seemed genuine. It was a long and difficult lift for both, but the burden of coordinating Belichick’s exit from the team he spent more than one-third of his life coaching had finally, mercifully, been removed.

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“The man standing to my left brought the leadership and coaching skills that were needed to make the type of unprecedented success that we have had possible,” Kraft told reporters. “Coach Belichick will forever be celebrated as a legendary sports icon here in New England and I believe go in as a Pro Football Hall of Famer on the first ballot. Why? Because he is the greatest coach of all time, which makes this decision to part ways so hard. But, this is a move that we mutually agreed that is needed at this time. What Bill Belichick accomplished with us, in my opinion, will never be replicated.”

What neither speaker mentioned during their remarks on Thursday was that almost everything Belichick was able to accomplish in New England that wasn’t losing football games was done when Tom Brady, you know, that guy, was his quarterback. (Amazingly, the only quarterback mentioned by either Belichick or Kraft was Tim Tebow.)

Belichick, who began his coaching career in 1975 as a special assistant to then-Baltimore head coach Ted Marchibroda and has an overall record of 333-178 (including playoffs) during 29 seasons of coaching the Browns and Patriots, won 249 games when Brady was his quarterback and lost just 75. Without Brady in his time split between the Browns and Pats, Belichick is just 84-103 and has won just a single playoff game. That record is not just due to Belichick’s struggles coaching the Browns, as he went 47-58 in New England without Brady while relying on players like Drew Bledsoe, Cam Newton, Jimmy Garoppolo and Mac Jones at quarterback.

A point of contention amongst fans during the greatest quarterback of all-time’s time in New England, the Brady-Belichick debate was certainly tipped when the former departed for Tampa Bay and won a Super Bowl during his first season with the Bucs while the latter guided the Patriots to a 7-9 record with former MVP Cam Newton (who had lost a few steps) under center. In his three years in Tampa Bay without Belichick before retiring after last season, Brady went 37-20 with five playoff wins, including a Super Bowl victory. In his four seasons in New England following Brady’s departure, Belichick went 29-39, including a single playoff loss. Turns out Brady-Belichick wasn’t much of a debate after all.

However, what has yet to be determined is how remarkable of a coach Belichick actually is. While it would be foolish to suggest all of Belichick’s success was a direct result of having Brady as his quarterback for 20 years, it’s also now fair to question whether he really is the GOAT of coaching, as he is commonly referred to by many. There is no doubt that Belichick is a good coach, even a great one, but is he really the best who’s ever lived?

Brady thinks so. “I’m incredibly grateful to have played for the best coach in the history of the NFL,” he wrote on Instagram. “I could never have been the player I was without you Coach Belichick. I am forever grateful. And I wish you the best of luck in whatever you choose next.” Could Belichick have been the coach he was without Brady?

He’ll have the chance to answer that question for all of us and himself as Kraft noted he will be rooting for Belichick’s continued success when he sees him “in a cutoff hoodie on the sideline” except when the Patriots are patrolling the opposing sideline. Kraft was making it clear in so many words that while Belichick, who needs 15 wins to pass Don Shula on the all-time wins list, is done coaching the Patriots, he is not finished coaching in the NFL and he’ll be seeking employment elsewhere. (The Falcons, Cowboys and Chargers are all possibilities.)

Standing on the stage next to Kraft on Thursday, Belichick intoned, “I will always be a Patriot.” If Belichick doesn’t want his Hall-of-Fame legacy to always be intertwined with Brady’s greatness, he’d better hope not.

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