The man is being hailed as a football genius. All right, he's a really good football coach. He's the best in the business and he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath with the greats.
But is Bill Belichick a football genius? Might that be overstating his impact? If he's a genius now, why wasn't he a genius in Cleveland? Why did Belichick get blown out in the 1994 playoffs by the same coach Belichick has since beaten twice in AFC title games?
That last question is actually easy to answer. In '94, Belichick's quarterback was Vinny Testaverde. Now it's Tom Brady.
There's your genius, ladies and gentlemen. Coaches who have Brady at quarterback are geniuses. Those with Testaverde get fired.
An exaggeration? No way. Great quarterbacks make for great coaches. Examine history. Lombardi had Starr, Noll had Bradshaw, Walsh had Montana and Johnson had Aikman. Among those four coaches, Noll is the only one who spent any significant stretch of time with something other than a great quarterback. Noll also had Malone, Brister and O'Donnell. The titles stopped, didn't they?
Joe Gibbs won Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks. It underscores his genius, but he is the exception to the rule.
Lombardi went from Starr to Jurgensen briefly before Lombardi died. Walsh only had Montana. Johnson went from Aikman to Marino for a few years at the end.
Write it down. Etch it in stone. Great quarterbacks make for great coaches and Brady is without a doubt a great quarterback.
That's where Belichick's genius is. It's in Brady. Belichick got lucky. He drafted the guy who would become the best quarterback in the game and all he had to use was a sixth-round pick.
Every team in the league that had a full complement of draft choices in 2000 had at least five chances – most had more – to select Brady ahead of the Patriots. The Jaguars took Emanuel Smith, a wide receiver from Arkansas who was summarily cut in training camp, three spots ahead of Brady's selection at the 33rd spot in the sixth round.
The Patriots didn't even think enough of Brady to draft him with their first pick in the sixth round. The Patriots waited until the compensatory selections at the end of the round to draft Brady.
Genius? I prefer lucky. Kind of like the Broncos in the 1995 draft, huh? They picked Terrell Davis in the sixth round, which made Mike Shanahan a genius, but nobody was referring to him in such lofty terms after his team's embarrassing loss to the Colts in this postseason.
Cleveland drafted Spergon Wynn in the sixth round ahead of Brady. Pittsburgh selected Tee Martin a round earlier. In the third round, San Francisco made Giovanni Carmazzi only the second quarterback selected in the 2000 draft.
Yeah, the 2000 quarterback class was considered so weak that only one guy – Chad Pennington – went in the first two rounds. Tom Coughlin, who was then the Jaguars' head coach, complained loudly about the lack of quarterback prospects. "Where are the quarterbacks?" Coughlin asked.
Well, I guess the answer is "in the sixth round," where Brady was taken at the end and Marc Bulger was selected at the top.
What were the scouts doing that winter? Were they on an all-week vacation at the scouting combine?
Belichick and the Patriots, of course, being the geniuses they are, were on the ball. Four rounds ahead of selecting Brady, the Patriots made with their first pick of that draft Hawaii offensive tackle Adrian Klemm. Yes, sir, there's nothing like a road-grader from Hawaii.
Genius? I'm stickin' with lucky.
But here's where Belichick's football smarts – smarts, mind you, not genius – come into play: He knew what to do with Brady once he got him.
Give any football coach enough time to evaluate a player and he'll get him right. If he works with a guy long enough and observes him in practice often enough a coach will know whether the kid can play or not. That goes for all coaches.
All coaches, however, don't have Belichick's conviction. They try to ignore the obvious. They lack the courage to do what needs to be done. Belichick doesn't.
Even when he was a coach on his way to being fired in Cleveland, he knew a "dog" when he saw one and he had the guts to make his feelings known. In this case, it was one of the most gutsy coaching decisions since Lombardi had Starr "sneak" for a touchdown in the "Ice Bowl."
It was 1993 and Bernie Kosar was the most popular sports figure in Cleveland. Browns fans were counting on a Kosar comeback to put them back into AFC Central title contention. Belichick saw it differently.
He cut Kosar early in the season. Belichick cited "declining skills." Browns fans thought Belichick was out of his mind, but he was right on. The problem was he made the mistake of replacing Kosar with Testaverde. That's where the genius ended.
Eight years later, in New England, Belichick saw the same thing happening again. Drew Bledsoe, around whom Patriots fans hoped the team would rebuild, was suffering from declining skills and Belichick saw it. When the opportunity allowed for a shift at the position, Belichick seized it. In came Brady and four seasons later the Patriots are on the verge of winning their third Super Bowl title.
Genius? You bet. That's where the genius is. It's in knowing that great coaches have great quarterbacks, and if you don't have one, you better find one.