New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has seen it all. Since landing his first NFL coaching gig in 1975, Belichick has established himself as one of the greatest coaches of all time. A legend in the sport and a hero to the people of New England, Belichick always finds a way to win. Today, we’ll break down his legendary career.
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The early life of a football genius
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Belichick got an early start to football. His dad was a football coach at the Naval Academy. Belichick studied Navy Football and learned the Xs and Os of the game he’d later dominate. During his early years at Annapolis, Belichick also learned about the values of discipline, hard work, commitment, and courage.
Belichick went to Annapolis High School, playing varsity football and lacrosse. He later spent one year at Phillips Academy to get his grades up so he could attend a good college.
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College days at Wesleyan University
Belichick on the New England Patriots' sideline (2015).Ronald Martinez-Staff-Getty Images
Belichick spent his college days at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. He became a two-sport athlete on the football and lacrosse teams for the Wesleyan Cardinals. In football, he was a solid center and tight end. He majored in economics.
When his time at Wesleyan was up, Belichick started his job search. He knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life: coach football. It didn’t take long before the NFL came calling.
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Passion outside of football
Belichick, far left, huddles with the team during lacrosse practice (1970s).Dave Phillips/Special to the Detroit Free Press
We all know about Belichick, the football genius. But very few people know about his passion outside of football: lacrosse.
Lacrosse was his favorite sport growing up. Lacrosse is one of the only things that make him smile, along with the Navy, Lawrence Taylor, and Bon Jovi, according to Tom Brady. The six-time Super Bowl champion with the New England Patriots is known to occasionally show off his stick stills. In the end, Belichick stuck with football. The rest is history.
A diehard fan of the sport, Belichick often attends lacrosse games and even signed former Penn State lacrosse star Chris Hogan to play wide receiver for the Patriots in 2016.
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First NFL coaching gigs
Belichick coaching at the Pro Bowl (2011).Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Belichick earned his first coaching gig with the Baltimore Colts as a special assistant in 1978. He was on the Detroit Lions coaching staff for two years before signing with the Denver Broncos. These experiences helped him work his way up the coaching ladder while earning respect around the league. The New York Giants were where Belichick really started to build his legacy.
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Landing job with the New York Giants
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Giants head coach Ray Perkins hired Belichick as a defensive assistant coach in 1979. Two years later, with the help of Belichick, the Giants earned their first playoff berth since 1963 with a 9-7 record.
When new head coach Bill Parcells replaced Perkins in 1983, he retained Belichick as linebackers coach. Determined to build a winning culture in the Big Apple, Parcells and Belichick would lead the Giants franchise into one of its most successful tenures.
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Promoted to defensive coordinator
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Impressed with his football knowledge and stellar play at the linebacker position, Parcells promoted Belichick to defensive coordinator in 1985. The Giants defense finished second in yards allowed (4,320) and fifth in points given up (283) in his first season leading the defensive.
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Helping the Giants win their first Super Bowl
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With the second-best defense in the league, the Giants marched their way to a 14-2 record. In the NFC Playoffs, the Giants outscored their opponents 66-3 en route to the franchise’s first Super Bowl berth.
The New York Giants crushed the Denver Broncos, 39-20, to win their first Super Bowl. Belichick’s defense allowed only 52 rushing yards while recording four sacks and an interception.
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As you already know, Belichick has coached his fair share of great players. It’s a given when you’ve been coaching in the league since 1975. The best defensive player he ever coached was Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor. Taylor flew around the field and made big plays when the Giants needed it most. A three-time Defensive Player of the Year selection, Taylor was used as an all-around disruptor during his legendary career. Belichick knew how to get the most out of his abilities.
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The Big Blue Wrecking Crew
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Belichick’s Giants defenses of the 1980s earned the nickname the Big Blue Wrecking Crew. Their 3-4 defense terrorized the NFL and kept offensive coordinators up at night. Going up against the Big Blue Wrecking Crew, you had to earn every single yard. The Giants ate their piece of the pie in an era filled with great defenses. They peaked when they won the Super Bowl in 1986 and 1990.
The Big Blue Wrecking Crew featured Hall of Famers Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carsons as linebackers. Several great players made their mark in the Big Apple, including beloved Giants linebackers Carl Banks and Gary Reasons, stout defensive lineman George Martin and Leonard Marshall, key starters who came and went like defensive back Mark Haynes, Yale alum Kenny Hill, and Pro Bowlers Erik Howard, Pepper Johnson, Jim Burt, and Everson Walls.
Their will to win was exemplified duringa goal-line stand against the Denver Broncos in 1989.
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Beating the Bills in Super Bowl XXV
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The Giants were off and running in 1990. A 10-0 start placed them among the NFL’s finest, finishing 13-3. Featuring the best defense in the league, the Giants played hard for backup quarterback Jeff Hostetler after franchise guy Phil Simms went down with an injury.
In the playoffs, they blew out the Chicago Bears, 31-3, and ended Joe Montana’s career with the 49ers thanks to George Martin’s hitin a defensive-oriented NFC Championship Game.
The Giants faced the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV. Belichick drew up a masterful game plan, holding the highest-scoring offense in the league to just 19 points. The Giants won this Super Bowl classic thanks to Scott Norwood’s last-second missed field goal.
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Belichick becomes a head coach
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Belichick’s dominance in the Big Apple merited the attention of teams around the league. He interviewed for the Cleveland Browns head coaching job and walked out of the building with the job. Belichick was finally going to be a head coach in the NFL.
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Hard times in Cleveland
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At first, Belichick struggled to emulate his success in New York. The Cleveland Browns amassed a 20-28 record in his first three years as head coach. Eventually, Belichick turned things around.
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A winning season at last
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The rebuild in Cleveland came to fruition in 1994. The Browns got off to a 9-3 start and finished 11-5. They ironically beat the New England Patriots in the Wild Card and lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers the following week. The Cleveland Browns didn’t have another playoff victory until 2020.
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The Cleveland Browns fire Belichick
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In 1995, Browns owner Art Modell announced he was relocating the team to Baltimore as an expansion team, the Baltimore Ravens. Under the challenging circumstances, Belichick’s Browns went 5-11 in the franchise’s last year in Cleveland. Belichick was fired as head coach.
The Browns came back to Cleveland as an expansion team in 1999. They’ve gone to the playoffs twice since then.
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Reuniting with Bill Parcells
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Looking for NFL work, Belichick phoned a friend. New England Patriots head coach Bill Parcells answered the call and hired Belichick as assistant head coach and defensive backs coach. In his lone year on Parcells’ coaching staff, the Patriots lost Super Bowl XXXI to the Green Bay Packers.
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A turnaround in New York
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Parcells left the Patriots shortly after helping to guide them to a Super Bowl. After that, he was hired as the New York Jets head coach and brought Belichick with him as his handpicked defensive coordinator. Taking over a team that was just 1-15 a year ago was a tough undertaking. Parcells and Belichick led the hapless Jets to a 9-7 record in 1997, one of the best team turnarounds in NFL history. The Jets took off in 1998 by going 12-4 and losing in the AFC Championship Game. Unfortunately, they disappointed New York by going 8-8 the following year.
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Leaving for New England
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Jets head coach Bill Parcells retired after the 1998 season, selecting Belichick as the heir apparent to take over. A member of one of the best three-year stretches in franchise history, Belichick accepted the role as head coach. A day later, he resigned and packed his bags for New England to be the Patriots head coach. Belichick’s decision to leave the Jets for the Patriots changed the course of NFL history and is one of many reasons why these two AFC East rivals hate each other.
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The injury that changed everything
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Patriots owner Robert Kraft gave Belichick full control of team decision-making. Belichick was the Patriots head coach and general manager, a role he’d thrive in. Although, there were some initial growing pains.
The Belichick era had a disappointing 5-11 start in 2000. They were looking to play better in 2001. When franchise quarterback Drew Bledsoe went down with an injury aftera bone-chilling hit by Jets linebacker Mo Lewis , an unknown quarterback named Tom Brady took over the starting job. No one knew this then, but this injury forever changed NFL history.
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Winning three Super Bowls in four years
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The Tom Brady-Bill Belichick Patriots answered the critics by winning three Super Bowls in four years. They beat the St. Louis Rams and The Greatest Show on Turf in Super Bowl XXXVI. They went back-to-back by defeating the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII and the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX. The early 2000s Patriots were some of the best teams ever assembled .
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The Spygate scandal
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In 2007, New York Jets head coach Eric Mangini accused the Patriots of filming his team's defensive signals. Possessing this information would give the Patriots a seismic advantage in games. Mangini, a former Patriots coach during their title run who turned the Jets into a playoff team during his tenure with the organization, was viewed as a credible source. The Spygate scandal questioned the Patriots' Super Bowl victories and gave the Patriots a label as a team of cheaters.
As a consequence of Spygate, the Patriots organization was fined and had to forfeit their first-round pick in 2008.
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Going 18-0, losing to Giants in Super Bowl
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The Patriots were locked and loaded in 2007. Already boasting a great defense, the Patriots gave Tom Brady new weapons in wide receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker. The Patriots were unstoppable all year, finishing 16-0. They marched into Super Bowl XLII undefeated. Their hopes of becoming the second team in NFL history to have a perfect season were dashed when the New York Giants pulled off the biggest upset in sports history, winning 17-14.
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Winning coach of the year
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The Patriots went 14-2 in 2010. When it was all said and done, Belichick won Coach of the Year. He won the award three times over his career (2003, '07, '10). You could argue that Belichick deserved to win the award yearly.
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Losing second Super Bowl to the Giants
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The Patriots played lights out in 2011. They went 13-3 and earned the right to represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLVI, where they’d rematch the New York Giants. In a crazy sequence of events, the Giants pulled off another upset against the Patriots. This time, 21-17.
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A fourth Super Bowl ring
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At the start of the 2014 season, it had been 10 years since the Patriots' last Super Bowl win. This fact, paired with a 2-2 start, led several football analysts to believe the Brady-Belichick dynasty was over. They couldn't have been more wrong. After Belichick’s iconic “We’re onto Cincinnati” press conference, the Patriots rallied and finished the year 12-4. The team embodied New England's famous "do your job" slogan.
Fate was on their side in the playoffs. The Patriots won Super Bowl XLIX over the Seattle Seahawks and the Legion of Boom, thanks to a late-game interception of Russell Wilson by Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler.
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The Deflategate scandal
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When the confetti was swept up after New England's Super Bowl celebration, rumors swirled about the pounder per square inch (PSI) of the Patriots' game balls. In particular, the Indianapolis Colts thought the Patriots’ game footballs felt lighter than the league average during the 2014 AFC Championship Game. By deflating their footballs, the Patriots had an easier time slinging the ball across the field, especially in the cold Massachusetts air. An investigation ensued.
The Patriots were penalized for Deflategate. They were fined, lost their 2016 first-round pick, and Tom Brady was suspended for four games.
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Going to three Super Bowls in a row
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The Patriots went to three Super Bowls in a row from 2016-18.
In 2016, the Patriots went on a revenge tour and came back from a 28-3 deficit in Super Bowl LI against the Atlanta Falcons to win in overtime. It’s the greatest comeback in NFL history.
The Patriots continued their winning ways by marching to Super Bowl LII for a Super Bowl rematch against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles shocked the Patriots in a 41-33 upset victory, led by backup quarterback Nick Foles. This game broke the record for yards gained by both teams, among other offensive records.
Determined to rebound from the previous year's loss, the Patriots fought hard and won a defensive battle over the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII, 13-3.
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The Patriot Way
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The Patriot Way became a mantra describing the Patriots' winning ways. Basically, The Patriot Way is all about playing as one team, for the team. It’s about giving 110% and playing as one. During their 20-year dynasty, the Patriots often drafted or signed unknown talents and turned them into stars. Think of guys like James Devlin, Wes Welker, and Malcolm Butler. Players would often take pay cuts or finish their careers in New England for a chance to win a Super Bowl.
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The end of an era
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What was the constant of these successful Patriots teams? It was quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick. The most successful quarterback-coach duo in NFL history, they went to nine Super Bowls together, won six of them, and won 17 division titles as the kings of the AFC.
When Tom Brady left New England for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (and warmer weather) in March 2020, it signaled the end of an era. The greatest dynasty in North American sports history had come to a close.
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Belichick is doing well for himself in the absence of Brady. After a slow season in 2020, Belichick led the Patriots back to the playoffs in 2021, winning PFWA Executive of the Year honors for his hard work in the front office. Belichick overhauled a depleted roster and rebuilt them to contend without Brady.
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The most successful coach in NFL history
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How can we sum up Belichick's greatness? Not many people get to say they did what they loved as long as he has done it at such a high level. When we think of NFL coaches, Belichick is on Mount Rushmore. In October 2022, Belichick surpassed George Halas for the second-most all-time wins at 325. He's now only behind Don Shula (347).
As one season blends into another, the only guarantee in the football world is Belichick drawing up solid game plans for the Pats. The first-ballot Hall of Famer shows no signs of slowing down.
David J. Hunt is a freelance writer based out of Philadelphia. He ran cross country at Penn State, became a volunteer firefighter during COVID-19, and is a self taught journalist. He's a diehard Philly sports fan. When he isn't watching sports, he enjoys working out, fishing, and traveling. You can find more of his writing at The Chestnut Hill Local and The Temple News. You can follow him on Twitter at @dave_hunt44.