FOXBORO In less than three months, Bill Belichick turns 60.
He is 139-53 as head coach of the Patriots. Hes 175-97 overall. He is 16-6 in the playoffs overall and 15-5 in the playoffs as head coach of the Patriots. Hes won four conference championships and three Super Bowls. Hes coached the Patriots in five conference championship games and has been a head coach or assistant in the Super Bowl seven times. His coaching record in conference championship games with the Giants, Patriots, Jets and Patriots again is 7-2. Hes won 11 division championships as a head coach.
Chuck Noll, who coached 23 seasons in Pittsburgh and won four Super Bowls had a record of 109-64-1 in his first 11 years with the Steelers. His career record was 193-148-1. His career playoff record was 16-8.
Don Shula the all-time winningest head coach with a record of 328-156-6 coached six conference champions between Baltimore and Miami and won two Super Bowls.
In 10 years as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, Bill Walsh won three Super Bowls, three conference championships, won the division three times and was 10-4 in the playoffs.
In nine seasons as head coach of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi was 89-24-4 and won five championships (three NFL titles and two Super Bowls). He was 9-1 in the playoffs.
Paul Brown? He was 213-104-9 in 25 seasons as a head coach. In his 17 years in charge of his eponymously named team the Browns, he was 158-48-8, won three NFL titles and four All-American Football Conference championships.
Thats your coaching Mount Rushmore (with two extra heads for good measure).
We all enjoy the endless argument about who the greatest quarterback of all-time was or is Montana, Elway, Unitas, Brady, Manning, Bradshaw or, for contrarians, Otto Graham.
But we never seem to get around to debating whether or not Bill Belichick is the greatest head coach to ever stalk an NFL sideline.
The case is easily made that, in this era of free agency and a hard salary cap with more teams and more games its harder now than it was when Lombardi and Brown set the standard.And yet Belichick has built a dynasty in New England despite that.
Thats not to discredit either Brown a man Belichick reveres or Lombardi.Its just different now. And different from when Shula, Noll and Walsh accomplished so much as well.
The players are different. The media attention is different. The headaches are different.
On Sunday, Bill Belichick will have the chance to get to another Super Bowl. A win over the Ravens and he will once again have a chance to tie Noll with his fourth Super Bowl win.
That he coached an undefeated team in that game four seasons ago and lost in the final two minutes; that he had a chance to author a 19-0 season and saw the manuscript fall in the fire must, on some level, make his stomach churn still.
So does the fact that 2007 season was played under the dark cloud of a videotaping scandal. As offenses go, it was the football equivalent of going 95 mph in a 65 zone when you know a cop is sitting there with his radar gun out. Yet the spin turned it from aggravated speeding into coaching treason, in part because the Patriots and Belichick lost control of the narrative and let imaginations and accusations run wild.
Its a stain and its a blight and the nature of things in 2012 is that it is used to discredit Belichicks legacy while, say, Nolls record in Pittsburgh with a fleet of roided up stars never comes under the same scrutiny.
And it is about legacy now for Belichick. Hes been a coach in the league for 36 of his 59 years. Its all hes ever known professionally. Hes risen to the top and hes remained at the top even if he hasnt done it in a way thats universally embraceable.
Reading the biography of Apple founder Steve Jobs written by Walter Isaacson, I found a paragraph near the end of the book.
It reads, The nasty edge to his personality was not necessary. It hindered him more than it helped him. But it did, at times, serve a purpose. Polite and velvety leaders, who take care to avoid bruising others, are generally not as effective at forcing change. Dozens of the colleagues who Jobs abused most ended their litany of horror stories by saying that he got them to do things they never dreamed possible. And he created a corporation jammed with 'A' players.
Having worked closely as a media member with Belichick for his entire time in New England, Im not sure hes as nasty as Jobs could be. But he can be brusque and intolerant. And he is a control freak of the highest order.
But, like Jobs, it is because of his unremitting desire to perfect his product, i.e. his football team. He wants his employees in a cocoon that he can manage, because outside the cocoon is the potential (real and imagined) for distraction from the goal of winning championships.
Leading into last weeks game against the Broncos, I said to one Patriot, You guys need to relax and just play. You get too uptight in this locker room.
Relax? the player said. You know who we work for, right?
Theres been an interesting dynamic with this years team. While Belichick has always been very free with praise for his best teams and is quick to make sure the players are credited first, Belichick has for the first time I can remember given a nod publicly to the challenge of working for him.
After a win against the Eagles three days after Thanksgiving, Belichick said, "I think our players, yeah, they've given good effort. I think they're trying to do the things we tell them to do. I think sometimes weve got to do better and coach better and have things maybe a little cleaner for them, but I think they're trying to do their part in terms of physically and mentally, day after day, week after week, be consistent, be dependable and do what we ask them to do.
I know we demand a lot and this isn't an easy place to play and I'm not an easy guy to play for, but they have tried to respond. I give them a lot of credit for that, Belichick concluded.
After the win over the Broncos last week, Belichick was effusive in his praise again and added a caveat to his opening remarks.
I just can't say enough about the players today, he began. " . . . It's been a lot of hard work this year, but I'm really happy for the players. I'm really excited for them. They deserved it. They've worked hard, they've put up with me, so they deserve this.
There will be a day and it may come in the next 10 years when Belichick puts on a yellow blazer and stands in front of a crowd in Canton, Ohio as hes enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Mark my words, my players will be the first people he thanks for the honor.
But there is a self-awareness, it seems, that has made him acknowledge that hes a tough boss. That playing for him is a unique chore.
As with Jobs, Belichick got them to do things they never dreamed possible. And he created a corporation jammed with 'A' players.
And that is the legacy Bill Belichick is authoring even now.