Is Bill Belichick REALLY the G.O.A.T.? By John Brecko
Image via Chowder of Champions
This seems like an obvious answer to most football fans out there, especially when strictly talking about coaches at the professional level. Honestly, I believe the answer to the question I am posing in this article to be unquestionably yes. I could leave this question on that note, but that would be too easy.
The question I suppose someone could ask after I pose this is, “How could you argue that any other NFL coach is the G.O.A.T.?”
Well…let’s start by looking at six people that I think someone could use in this argument. These people consist of one quarterback, one college coach (you can probably guess who the first two are) and four NFL coaches.
The quarterback is Tom Brady. The college coach is Nick Saban. The NFL coaches are Andy Reid, Mike Tomlin, Don Shula and Vince Lombardi.
In Bill Belichick’s career, he has been to the Super Bowl on nine occasions. His record is 6-3 at the nine Super Bowl’s he has been to. He also won two Super Bowls as a defensive coordinator of the New York Giants at Super Bowl’s 21 and 25,
However, all six of the Super Bowls that he won as a head coach were when Tom Brady was his quarterback.
What many people forget these days is that the New England Patriots are not the first team that Bill Belichick has been the head coach for. The first team that Bill Belichick was the head coach for was the Cleveland Browns. He was there for five seasons from 1991-1995 before being let go after his fifth year as their head coach.
Before I go into why that’s relevant, the Browns have made headlines recently for winning a playoff game for the first time since the 1994 season. I think we can guess who the head coach of the Browns was in 1994 after reading the paragraph above.
These two teams combine for 26 full seasons that Bill Belichick has been a head coach in the NFL after the 2020 season has come to a close.
Without Tom Brady, Bill Belichick has only had a winning season on two occasions and has only been to the playoffs once.
You could make the argument that it is up to the players on the field to make a Super Bowl run at the end of the day and that’s true, especially in a season like 2020 that has affected the Patriots more than any other team. However, no team can make it to the Super Bowl without a good head coach behind them.
Keep in mind, this is not me playing a devil’s advocate argument where I am saying Bill Belichick is a bad coach because anyone who knows anything about football cannot argue that, but is he really so far ahead of other coaches that no one can argue that he is the G.O.A.T.?
What many people were looking for an answer to in the 2020 season is, “Who was the biggest reason for the Patriots success, Bill Belichick or Tom Brady?” Despite the difficulties that have been factor for every team this season (admittedly the Patriots have had it worse than other teams), the Tom Brady led Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in the playoffs and the Patriots are not.
Let’s continue to look at the other people I have mentioned, starting with Nick Sabin.
In terms of the NFL, Nick Saban is irrelevant in the G.O.A.T. conversation because he only had a 15-17 record in the league as a head coach for the Miami Dolphins in the 2005 and 2006 NFL seasons.
However, in my opinion, Nick Saban is the greatest football coach at any level anyone has ever seen. Don’t @ me. He has seven national champions, nine SEC titles, he is a five-time SEC coach of the year and he has countless other honors in his collegiate coaching career to back that statement up.
The reason why those accomplishments are even more impressive than in the NFL are because players are only there for a certain amount of time. I would honestly be more concerned for the intelligence of some players if they were there in college for 20 years anyway.
Having to rotate players out matters and Nick Saban has still had success at the collegiate level regardless. I guess you could say Bill Belichick had to do that thanks to the pandemic this season, but look at how his season turned out compared to Saban’s season, who actually got covid himself this year and still won a national championship.
The reason I believe that Nick Saban is the greatest coach of all time is because of the effect he clearly has on his players. If you can coach a person on how to play a sport and they can play it well against other players, that is a good thing and both men can clearly do that. However, I believe Alabama has won as many national titles as they have because of the effect Nick Saban has as a leader on his players.
Players that have played for Nick Saban have come back to see him in his title games. Jalen Hurts is a recent example from this year because it was reported that he was there for Alabama’s game against Ohio State. Jalen Hurts did not even finish his career in Alabama. In fact, Jalen Hurts was benched in Alabama’s national championship game against Georgia for Tua Tagovailoa.
On top of this, Nick Saban and Bill Belichick actually have a past of their own. Four of the five seasons Belichick was a head coach in Cleveland, Nick Saban was the team’s defensive coordinator. Saban would later go on to describe these four years as “the worst of his life”.
Belichick can coach players into helping them perform better on the field, but may not have the effect of the field, or even more importantly, an effect as a leader or someone who can create a bond with a group of players like Nick Saban and even some of the coaches I am going to mention.
First up: Andy Reid.
Andy Reid only has one Super Bowl championship. He only has two conference championship. When you look at just this, you wonder why he was mentioned earlier in the article,
Until Super Bowl 54 concluded, Andy Reid was the greatest coach in NFL history to never win a Super Bowl. That changed after the Kansas City Chiefs won their first Super Bowl in 50 years.
Andy Reid and Bill Belichick have also had star quarterbacks that they have coached in their careers. Bill Belichick had Tom Brady. Patrick Mahomes looks like someone who can become as decorated as Tom Brady already and he is only in his third year as a starter this season.
If Patrick Mahomes wins as many Super Bowls as Tom Brady during the time he is with the Cheifs, whether he stays with them after his 10 years on his contract are up or longer, will be talking about Andy Reid as the G.O.A.T.? There have been those who questioned if Bill Belichick would be the G.O.A.T. without Tom Brady, so it is a fair question.
Andy Reid did also have Donovan McNabb as his quarterback and Michael Vick after that, but as great as those two were, they are not Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes.
In all of Reid’s seasons before the Chiefs drafted Patrick Mahomes, he only had a losing season three times.
He had a losing season in his rookie year as head coach at 5-11, which was also McNabb’s rookie year. He had a losing season in 2005 when the Eagles were mauled by injuries up and down their roster, finishing 6-10. His only season that was a truly bad year was when the Eagles went 4-12 and even then, Michael Vick got and his backup was a rookie Nick Foles, who has had great moments, but has shown in his career he is an average quarterback at best.
You may be able to make an argument for Andy Reid as the G.O.A.T in ten years. Just maybe.
The other modern coach that one could possibly make an argument for, if they actually believe this, is Mike Tomlin.
Mike Tomlin has been the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers since 2007 and has never had a losing season. He is a Super Bowl Champion winning coach, winning Super Bowl 43 with the Pittsburgh Steelers, becoming the youngest head coach to win a Super Bowl. He was just 36 years old when he won a Lombardi trophy.
Avoiding a losing season and winning a Lombardi trophy that young are two things that Bill Belichick has never pulled off.
The man who held the record before Tomlin was Jon Gruden, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won Super Bowl 37. Gruden was just 39 years old and Tomlin was an assistant coach for the Buccaneers the year they won the Lombardi Trophy.
The Steelers would also go to Super Bowl 45, but would lose that game to the Green Bay Packers by a score of 31-25.
Mike Tomlin has had Ben Roethlisberger for his entire career except for last year. He showed he can have at least a .500 season with backup and third string quarterbacks even with injuries elsewhere when quarterbacks like Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges were playing in games with Roethlisberger getting injured early in the season. They started off their 2019 season 1-4 to add to their difficulties that year.
Unlike Andy Reid, I do not see Mike Tomlin having a chance at ever becoming the G.O.A.T down the road. However, if Tomlin somehow comes across a Mahomes or Brady level talent at quarterback, hires a great offensive coordinator, like Reid with Eric Bieniemy, it is not out of the realm of possibility.
Next to talk about is Don Shula, the winningest coach in NFL history and the man on this list who has had a longer head coaching career than any other (even counting Belichick’s 1991-1995 run with the Browns. He also played in the NFL for seven seasons before becoming a coach in 1958 (if that is something you care about).
Don Shula led the Miami Dolphins to back-to-back Super Bowl wins in Super Bowls 7 and 8 and even led the Baltimore Colts to a Super Bowl appearance in Super Bowl 3, even if they lost 16-7. Before taking the team to back-to-back Super Bowl victories, he led the team to Super Bowl 6, even if they lost that one to the Dallas Cowboys. He also led the Colts to the 1964 NFL Championship game in the pre-Super Bowl era.
In the season where the Dolphins won Super Bowl 7 (the 1972 season), the Dolphins went 14-0 in the regular season and then won every game that postseason to go 17-0 and win a Super Bowl. No other team has ever equaled that feat, not even Belichick, who went 16-0 in the regular season in 2007 and then lost Super Bowl 42. It took 35 years to even see another undefeated season in the NFL.
What makes Don Shula’s feat even more incredible is that he lost his starting quarterback in only the team’s fifth game of the season that year.
While many head coaches have coached only one NFL Hall of Fame quarterback, Shula has coached three of them. Those quarterbacks are Dan Marino and Bob Greise with the Dolphins and Johnny Unitas with the Colts, along with many other Hall of Fame players.
Also, along with the four previous Super Bowls and NFL Championship Game mentioned, he appeared in Super Bowls 17 and 19 with the Dolphins, totaling seven championship game appearances (8 appearances and 3 wins if you count the 1968 NFL Championship Game, since it was before the AFL-NFL merger).
We still have yet to see what Belichick can do without Brady, we already found out with Don Shula, even if he did not win as many championships.
Finally, we have the man who the Lombardi trophy is named after in Vince Lombardi himself. He’s a man who compiled one of the best winning percentages in NFL history, winning over 70% of his games. He won five championships in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls.
He won three NFL Championships in a row, which is a feat that has only been accomplished one other time in the NFL’s 100 year history. The only other man to do it was Curly Lambeau also with the Green Bay Packers in the 1929, 1930 and 1931 NFL seasons.
What makes Vince Lombardi’s feat even more impressive is that when he took over the position as head coach of the Packers, they had just come off their worst season in NFL history at 1-10-1 while they had six future Hall of Famers on the team.
Despite how dismal the team looked in 1958, Vince Lombardi never had a losing season, even in his rookie year as the head coach (he finished 7-5 that year and won Coach of the Year).
He would get his team to the NFL Championship game six of the next eight years, only missing it in 1963 and 1964, which were two years his team would make the Playoff Bowl (a game to determine third place that was around back then). The Packers would win in 1963 and lose in 1964.
Vince Lombardi’s Packers were in the championship picture every year he was their head coach. Lombardi was so instrumental to that, the team had losing seasons before and after he was their head coach.
In response to his efforts, Packers fans have sold out every single game since 1960, preseason, regular season and postseason.
To this day, he pulled off feats that were mentioned above that Bill Belichick still has yet to pull off in his coaching career. There is a reason that the Super Bowl trophy is named in his honor.
When someone is called the G.O.A.T., it should be met with debate. Every sport has different eras and every sport has different players who put their mark in history and we wonder what would happen if certain players and coaches crossed paths and we wonder how great they would be. That is how it should be.