When Bill Belichick retires from his role as head coach, general manager and presiding overlord of the New England Patriots, the debate should not be whether he is the greatest coach in NFL history but whether he was the greatest sports coach on the planet.
To cement that as his parting debate, however, he will likely need his Patriots to bury the upstart Atlanta Falcons in Sunday’s Super Bowl.
By many measures, Belichick is already the greatest. In his 16 years at the helm of this organisation they have won the AFC East 14 times – including a record-breaking run of seven in a row - and advanced to the AFC Championship game 11 times. On seven occasions they won the AFC Championship and advanced to the Super Bowl. Four times they have won it – and a fifth on Sunday would take him clear of Chuck Noll as the most successful Super Bowl coach of all time.
His style is similar to that of Sir Alex Ferguson, an all-powerful, often cantankerous, CEO who is both astute when it comes to details but skilled at delegation. Most head coaches have general managers above them to help with recruitment, scouting and salary cap issues. Not Bill. He is his own general manager.
Belichick pushes the limits and bends the rules, some would say he breaks them – as with ‘Spygate’ or ‘Deflategate’ – but ultimately he is a hard-wired winner. To the chagrin of many, he even backed Donald Trump, the unlikely outsider, to triumph in the American election with small-handed Donny reading out a letter sent to him by the Patriots coach at a rally late in the campaign.
Belichick is the coach you’d want if there was, to borrow loosely from cult favourite Space Jam, an NFL game against aliens to save the world. His strength is not in just targeting the opposition’s weakness, but to eliminate their greatest asset with game-planning.
"With the Giants, we were trying to take away an opponent's best players and not let them beat us. Bill has followed suit on that pretty much his whole career," says Bill Parcells, the Hall of Fame coach under whom Belichick learned his trade at the New York Giants.
Against Atlanta, Belichick faces the not insignificant task of subduing the league’s most high-powered offence, coordinated by one of the rising stars of NFL coaching in Kyle Shanahan and executed through the right arm of likely MVP Matt Ryan.
Julio Jones, the Falcons’ star receiver, will be the player that Belichick looks to erase from the history books on Sunday, though the mystery will be how he chooses to shackle a man of Usain Bolt’s physique, whose speed would still have the Jamaican dipping at the finish line, and incredible hands.
This is the challenge of Shanahan, the young pretender taking on a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer in the brain stakes. Will Jones simply end up being an über-talented diversion as Ryan uses his impressive running-back tandem to test the Patriots’ linebackers’ ability to cover ground? Or will the scheming take an unexpected turn and find way to cut Julio loose?
Blessed with an explosive offence, the Falcons know they must outgun their opponents as their defence, however speedy and athletic, has been exposed.
Tom Brady – who it should be a criminal offence not to have mentioned until now – will have little problem doing his usual shtick of picking apart the opposition as he’s done for nearly 20 years. This season was one of his best ever, but the Patriots may rely on him more in handing it off to steam-train running back LaGarette Blount to take advantage of the Falcons’ lack of size and strength in their front seven.
Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who has beaten the Patriots recently as a Miami Dolphin, told The Independent that there’s only one way to beat New England and, in particular, Tom Brady.
“Hit him. Hit him repeatedly… the best game to watch recently that rattled him was the Houston Texans but they didn’t have the offense to take advantage.”
The Falcons undoubtedly do.
“Atlanta have the NFL sack leader in Vic Beasley and they have to be able to find a way to get back there and hit Brady while their secondary covers up to give the defensive line some time to apply pressure.”
And that, it must be said, is easier said than done up against arguably the best quarterback to ever play the game.
While there is much to admire about the Falcons and everyone is keen to conjure up reasons why they can do the unthinkable and upset one of sport’s most dominant-ever dynasties, the most significant factor is being overlooked.
A grumpy, frowning old-timer will be stood in a hooded sweatshirt on the sideline calling plays for the Patriots on Sunday night. And he might just be the greatest coach of all time.
Another Super Bowl on Sunday will probably put that beyond all reasonable doubt.Reuse content