Living by the motto “In Bill We Trust” used to be easy. Bill Belichick brought New England three Super Bowl rings, a playoff appearance nearly every year, and more wins than any other active NFL coach. But as Belichick’s 14th season gets underway, questions about character and failed relationships hang over the team — and it’s now been nearly a decade since the Patriots’ last championship. With all that in mind, plus the recent news that Belichick’s contract has been extended beyond the end of this season, we asked sportswriters, fans, and former players to weigh in on Coach . . .
GLENN STOUT on a Lingering Cold
In no sport are coaches worshiped so openly as in football, and perhaps no professional football coach of the last two decades has been more venerated than Bill Belichick. He is the latest in a lineage that stretches from George Halas and Paul Brown through Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry, Don Shula, Chuck Noll, and Bill Walsh. All these coaches not only won but also created dynasties and appeared to possess unique qualities that set them apart from their more mortal counterparts. Both strategic geniuses and motivational Svengalis, they seemingly forged championship crystal from common clay by force of intellect and iron will.
That is, of course, the danger in the worship business, the ease with which we assign moral supremacy to personal achievement and equate on-field success with any other kind. As long they keep winning and one doesn’t look too hard, it’s harmless fantasy. Yet it doesn’t always last very long once losing takes hold or when the outside world — where wins and losses are never as tidy as they are on the field — inevitably intrudes.
Today, Bill Belichick is at that terminus. He is a very good and successful football coach who over the past few years has been revealed to be a thoroughly average human being, one not immune to cheating on the field (see Spygate) or off it (see his divorce), and, given Aaron Hernandez’s arrest on charges of murder, one whose ability to judge or build character is apparently not all that special. He didn’t help himself by remaining on an overseas vacation when Hernandez was arrested, then delivering his only public statements on the matter through the public relations sieve of a tightly managed press conference, deflecting most substantive questions behind the excuse of the “ongoing judicial process” and never even mentioning Odin Lloyd, the murder victim, by name.
That is his problem moving forward. For all his successes, Belichick’s ties to New England are oddly emotionless and remote. He doesn’t do warm and fuzzy and has left community outreach to his owner, Robert Kraft, and players like Tom Brady. From his postgame press conferences to his investments in Nantucket real estate, Belichick’s connections to the region seem thoroughly transactional. He could be anywhere.
Yet as long as Belichick continues to win, much of that will be ignored. But if he does not, or when he retires, and the “In Bill We Trust” motto is finally withdrawn, what will remain beyond his record? Most of those aforementioned coaching legends remained beloved figures in the community long after commanding their last game.
Patriots fans may put their confidence in Bill Belichick for now, but one day there may come an accounting that goes beyond wins and losses and championships. Belichick knows he has won New England’s trust. Whether he has earned New England’s love — or if he even cares — remains to be determined.
RODNEY HARRISON on a Shared Responsibility
Everyone is asking, “Has he lost his touch?’’ He hasn’t lost his touch. It’s almost like you get to a point where people expect you to win the Super Bowl every year. But people don’t realize how difficult it is to have success, to win a division, to get to the Super Bowl, let alone win a Super Bowl.
When you lose a guy like [former Patriots vice president of player personnel] Scott Pioli, there’s a certain level of experience, communication [that’s also lost]. Scott is a very talented player evaluator. When you lose a guy like that, I think it does hurt, because now the responsibility falls more on Belichick’s shoulders. Maybe I’m off base with that, but I don’t think so. When you lose a guy like Scott Pioli, I don’t think that can help you.
But I still do believe in Beli-chick. I still believe in his ability to get talent. I still believe that he’s a tremendous coach. I believe that the players still listen to him. But it also comes down to the players making plays. I don’t know if in any of the Super Bowls if Belichick had any receptions or any fumbles lost or touchdowns thrown. It all comes down to the players making plays. That’s not to take anything away from him. But the players make plays, and he’ll tell you that.Continued...