There is no common theme that binds the diverse spectrum of coaches to have worked under Bill Belichick. Yet it is impossible not to notice that most of the men who have served apprenticeships under the Patriots’ coach haven’t come anywhere close to his Pro Football Hall of Fame credentials.
Belichick has set an impossibly high bar with five Super Bowl wins — and perhaps another in five weeks — but his coaching tree is strikingly barren when compared with other great NFL coaches such as Bill Parcells and Bill Walsh. In fact, the most successful coaches to have worked for Belichick — Nick Saban and Kirk Ferentz — have made their reps in college football.
Saban — Belichick’s defensive coordinator in Cleveland — is undeniably the greatest coach to have worked for Belichick. If Alabama beats Georgia on Monday in Atlanta, the Crimson Tide coach will tie Bear Bryant with a sixth national championship.
Ferentz hasn’t won national titles at Iowa, but Belichick’s former offensive line coach with the Browns has seven bowl victories on his resume.
The rest of Belichick’s coaching disciples haven’t fared nearly as well. And with Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia likely to get head-coaching jobs in the coming weeks, it is worth remembering that both likely will be under more scrutiny than most of the would-be coaches in the current hiring cycle. That’s because of their connections to Belichick and the past failures of his former assistants.
McDaniels already has failed once as a head coach; despite winning his first six games as a first-year coach in 2009, he was fired after 12 games in Year 2. He lost eight of his last 10 to finish 8-8 in 2009 and was fired after going 3-9 the following year.
McDaniels’ abrasive personality, which led to the trade of incumbent quarterback Jay Cutler, ultimately convinced Broncos owner Pat Bowlen that he wasn’t trustworthy enough to continue as his coach.
But now that he has re-established himself after returning to the Patriots as Belichick’s offensive coordinator, many around the league believe McDaniels’ failure in Denver will help him smooth out the edges and become a better coaching prospect this time around. McDaniels, 41, is considered a leading candidate to get the Giants’ job, and he (and Patricia) were interviewed by team officials on Friday.
Belichick himself was considered somewhat of a risk when he was hired by the Patriots in 2000; he too was deemed a failure in his first head-coaching job with the Browns from 1991-95. But he transformed himself by doing fine work as a Patriots assistant under Bill Parcells in 1996 and as Parcells’ defensive coordinator with the Jets from 1997-99.
After Parcells stepped down after the 1999 season to become general manager, he named Belichick head coach. One day later, Belichick resigned and was hired by the Patriots, where he and quarterback Tom Brady have produced the greatest coach-quarterback partnership in NFL history.
“I’ve known Belichick on a personal basis since he was at Cleveland, and I can tell you the guy knows how to pick coaches,” said Gil Brandt, the former Cowboys personnel director and architect of the Cowboys’ dynasty of the 1970s under coach Tom Landry. “The coaches that come out of his system are fully prepared to coach. They know the rules. They know what it takes.”
Yet it doesn’t always work out. The performance by Belichick’s coaching tree leaves something to be desired. Consider:
* Former Patriots defensive coordinator Eric Mangini was 23-25 with the Jets from 2006-08 before being fired by Woody Johnson. He then went 10-22 in the next two seasons with Cleveland before being fired.
* Romeo Crennel, another defensive coordinator under Belichick, was 24-40 with the Browns from 2005-08, then went 2-14 with the Chiefs in 2014 after taking over as interim coach with three games left in the 2013 season.
* Charlie Weis, who excelled as Belichick’s offensive coordinator, was 35-27 in five seasons at Notre Dame before being fired in 2009. He was 6-22 with Kansas from 2012-14.
* Texans coach Bill O’Brien also worked under Belichick, and the Patriots’ former offensive coordinator, who once had a sideline shouting match with Brady, has done a reasonably good job in Houston after a strong two-year run at Penn State. He’s 31-33 in four seasons with the Texans, but he was 9-7 the previous three years and was negatively impacted in 2017 by season-ending leg injuries suffered by rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson and defensive end J.J. Watt.
“Coaching under Belichick is like Penn State linebackers,” Brandt said. “Penn State linebackers have a great reputation, so they’re expected to do better. Same with Belichick’s coaches.”
Brandt added that there is one significant factor that has hampered Belichick’s proteges: None has had a quarterback even remotely close to Brady, who has led the Patriots to seven Super Bowls and won five.
“There might be a little more pressure for a guy who worked under Belichick because of the expectations,” Brandt said, “but it does help to have a quarterback. When you don’t have a quarterback, that makes it awfully tough.”
McDaniels and Patricia are likely to be the next test cases for the Belichick coaching tree, and one of them might end up trying to prove his value with the Giants. With the second overall draft pick and the expectation that the Giants will use it on a quarterback, if either Belichick disciple winds up with the job, there won’t be any excuses.
“There might be a little more pressure for a guy who worked under Belichick because of the expectations, but it does help to have a quarterback. When you don’t have a quarterback, that makes it awfully tough.” - GIL BRANDT, former Cowboys personnel director