As we reach the top of our top NFL personalities countdown we have a crossroads. Some would argue our number four entry doesn’t belong on this list at all due to lack of personality. Others would argue our number four pick is tragically low on this list. Perhaps the only inarguable thing about Bill Belichick is that he may be the most polarizing figure the NFL has ever seen.
The son of a football coach, Belichick never had NFL talent as a player. Hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps Belichick worked as a journeyman assistant with several teams from 1975 to 1978. In 1979 he joined the New York Giants, with would prove to be his first real opportunity in the league. Belichick was retained as an assistant when Head Coach Bill Parcells took over the team in 1983. By 1985 Belichick had been promoted to defensive coordinator. Belichick led the Giants defense that won two Super Bowls in 1986 and 1990.
In 1991 Belichick was hired for his first head-coaching with the Cleveland Browns. His tenure would be a bit snakebitten. After a couple of sluggish seasons, Belichick decided to move on from fan-favorite quarterback Bernie Kosar, causing considerable fan backlash. Belichick redeemed himself in 1994 by surprising the critics, even winning a playoff game against his mentor Parcells’ New England Patriots. In 1995 the Browns were favored by many to be among the top teams in the AFC. Several weeks into that season it was announced that it would be the final season in Cleveland as the team was resuming operations in Baltimore beginning the following season. That news derailed a promising start as the team only managed to win two of their final twelve games. Assured that he would be joining the team in Baltimore, Belichick was then fired shortly after the season ended.
With a record of just 36-44 in Cleveland Belichick did not have head coaching options at that time. Belichick immediately returned to work for Parcells. After one season with the Patriots he moved with Parcells to coach with the New York Jets. Following the 1999 season, Parcells decided to step down as Head Coach. The Jets had a plan in place to promote Belichick from within to replace him. Meanwhile, Belichick had wanted to take the Head Coaching vacancy with the Patriots. He immediately resigned his position after the Jets announced he would be their next coach. Following a bit of controversy, the Patriots ended up with Belichick’s services at the cost of a first-round draft pick awarded to the Jets who still had Belichick under contract.
In the year 2000 Belichick’s tenure began with the team. After only posting five wins in his first season questions began being raised if Belichick was worth the trouble to sign. In 2001 he proved that he was, as long as proving that he had the tendency to be a lightning rod for controversy. After a tremendous regular season, the team won a controversial playoff game known as the “Tuck Rule Game.” The Patriots would go on to win their first Super Bowl in franchise history that year, and Belichick’s first as a Head Coach.
Since that season the Patriots have been a gold standard for excellence. While most great dynasties of NFL history have been by teams that played at a high level for three to five years, the Patriots have been perennial Super Bowl contenders for almost two full decades. In twenty season with the Patriots Belichick has one of the most impressive resumes a coach has ever achieved. His Patriots have only missed the playoffs three times in his entire tenure. Belichick has coached in a total of nine Super Bowls with six Championships. His 273 career wins only trail Don Shula and George Halas in NFL history. Factoring in his playoff victories he also joins those two coaches as the only in history to win 300 total games.
While he is certainly highly respected for his accomplishments, Belichick has consistently been a bit of an enigma. Not exactly known as a media darling, or even a much of player’s coach Belichick has always marched to his own beat as it has pertains to his public persona. This also hasn’t always served him well. The typically private Belichick was presented with a fair share of questions after a 2007 incident where the Patriots were accused of video recording the Jets sidelines with the intentions of stealing their defensive signals. The league found compelling enough evidence to fine Belichick a half-million dollars and stripped the Patriots of a draft pick. In 2019 Cincinnatti Bengals employees accused the Patriots of doing the same thing to them a week before the teams were scheduled to meet. In addition, a scandal involving longtime quarterback Tom Brady where he was ordering deflated footballs to improve grip has made some fans skeptical if the Patriots have been playing fairly throughout their improbable dynasty.
Despite the negative press, Belichick has never wavered from who he is. As a currently active coach, there is an opportunity for more chapters of this story to be written before it is over. As of the end of the 2019 season Belichick’s future seems a little uncertain for the first time. If the Patriots dynasty is truly over it is highly unlikely a run like theirs will ever be duplicated. Love him or hate him there may never be another figure quite like Bill Belichick. Nobody’s legacy will be as complicated.