The seeds were planted when Bill Belichick was a child, when he’d stand by his father’s side at Navy practices and sit in the press box while Steve Belichick scouted the Midshipmen’s upcoming opponents on Saturday afternoon.
Bill mostly observed his father in those days back in the early 1960s, but the lessons were unmistakable and provided the early blueprint for a child who blossomed into arguably the greatest tactician in NFL history.
As Belichick prepares to coach in his 10th Super Bowl — his seventh as the Patriots’ head coach — thoughts of his late father’s influence are never that far away. The lessons of Steve Belichick will very much be in play during Super Bowl LI against the Falcons at NRG Stadium.
“I grew up going to Navy practices and meetings that he would have with the team,” Belichick said of his father, who was a Navy assistant coach and scout for more than 30 years. “He [analyzed game films of] Navy’s upcoming opponents on Tuesday nights, would go over to the field house, then the team would come over and watch the film. I would go over there with them, sit and listen to [Steve] talk to the team.”
Bill often would go with his father to scout opponents and was mesmerized by Steve’s meticulous note-taking. This was decades before the digital age, when information was prepared by hand and game film didn’t arrive until the Tuesday before a Saturday game. Steve’s notes essentially would serve as the game film until the actual film arrived three days later.
“To go to a game and watch him scout the game was an unforgettable experience,” Belichick said of his father, who died in 2005 at age 85. “There would be four or five other scouts in the press box scouting the game. He’d be there with his book and scout it. He would write down the substitutions and the play and would be ready to go for the next play. When it was all over, those plays were the game. He was just so good at it.”
Steve and his son would spend hours talking about the game on the drive home to Annapolis.
“He saw every play,” Belichick said. “The scheme and the defense, the pattern that they ran, the coverage they were in, who blitzed. He had a great vision. He taught me what he watched for. How he watched the guard triangle, the fullback, how to move down to the passing game if the quarterback was off the line of scrimmage. If it was a running play, see the blocking pattern.”
Belichick soaked it in, every last detail. He saw what his father saw and never forgot any of it.
“It was really impressive, but I realized that came from not just watching it but knowing where the players were and where they came from,” Belichick said.
Navy coaches would be able to get a jump on the next week’s game because Steve Belichick’s voluminous notes gave them a detailed head start on what plays and what techniques the opponent was using. Steve would meet with the coaches on Sunday and pore over his notes, giving the staff a mental picture of what he was seeing and thus preparing them for the film session that was to come two days later, when they’d meet again.
Steve was a universally respected football man, and a book he wrote in 1962, “Football Scouting Methods,” is regarded as one of the best football methodology books ever written. The elder Belichick was revered by Navy coaches, although he had no idea that those coaches one day would have nearly as profound an impact on his son as he did.
“It gave me a great opportunity to see a number of great coaches that were at the Naval Academy, coaches like Wayne Harden and good assistant coaches,” Belichick said.
He mentioned prominent Navy assistants Joe Bugel, who went on to coach with the Redskins and later became the Cardinals’ head coach, and Lee Corso, who became a head coach at Louisville and Indiana and now is a popular college football analyst at ESPN.
“I kind of learned that you could be a good coach doing it this way or doing it that way,’’ he said. “As it goes back to my dad, I would say hard work and preparation.”
There is no harder worker and no more prepared coach than Belichick, who Sunday night can become the first coach in NFL history to win five Super Bowl championships. He has six rings in all — four as the Patriots’ head coach and two more as the Giants’ defensive coordinator in 1986 and 1990 — and his strategic mastery of the game places him at or near the top of all NFL coaches.
Vince Lombardi. Bill Wash. Joe Gibbs. Don Shula. Chuck Noll.
Belichick might be better than all of them.
Steve Belichick taught his son well.