Stratus Falangus always knew he could rely on one person for guidance at Phillips Academy in Andover. At least when he was on the football field.
All too often, the big left tackle did not know his assignment when he left the huddle and took his position facing the opposing team. So he’d ask a skinny center named Bill Belichick what to do next.
“I’d never know who to hit,” Falangus recalls of those crisp, fall Saturday afternoons back in 1970 when he lined up two spots down from Belichick to do battle with the likes of Lawrenceville Academy or Exeter. “I’d always ask Bill, and he’d say, `Hit that guy over there.’ He always knew what every one of us was supposed to do.”
Belichick didn’t mind imparting his wisdom to an absentminded teammate—up to a point. But the 18-year-old player, who 30 years later would return to Massachusetts to become the 14th head coach of the New England Patriots, eventually tired then, as he does now, of a colleague who approached his job in a lackadaisical fashion.
“One time he got so frustrated he yelled, `That guy over there!’ and pointed to the guy I was supposed to block as we got to the line,” Falangus says with a laugh. “The guy knew I was coming, and he killed me. But Bill was right. He was upset that I didn’t know my assignment. He looked at football differently from most of us. He looked at football like another subject.
It was a science as much as a sport. We were undefeated that season,’‘ Falangus continues, ``and Bill was far from our best player. In fact, he was our smallest starting lineman, but he was a very able center because he didn’t make mistakes. He helped me out in a lot of situations. Until he got me decked that one time. I learned my assignments after that.’‘
Falangus, who lives in Wakefield and works in his father’s food business, saw two sides of Bill Belichick: the football scientist and the angry perfectionist. He saw what the Patriots will see this year many times. He saw the professor and the principal.
But he didn’t see all the sides of Bill Belichick, because nobody does. Not his teammates, his players, his friends, or the media. People see only what he lets them see, and nothing more.
The man on whom Patriots owner Robert Kraft is resting his hopes this season is the most unlikely of football coaches. Not just because of how Belichick views the sport, not just because of his legendary penchant for privacy, and not just because he is an enigma of a man.
Belichick, 48, was raised in the conservative, middle-class confines of the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, spent a year at Andover, and went on to a small liberal arts college—hardly a typical upbringing for a pro football coach. His father, Steve, was a coach and scout for the Midshipmen for 33 years, a career that left an indelible impression on his only child.
As a 10-year-old, Belichick was a constant companion of his dad’s, sitting in on meetings of a coaching staff that included several future National Football League coaches plus the legendary Navy head coach Wayne Hardin.
Rick Forzano was part of that staff and saw then something in this kid who would watch game film in silence for hours with men who were 20 to 30 years older. What he saw was not a coach in the making but a mind different from the rest.
“He could break down film at 10 or 11 and understood what he was looking at,” recalls Forzano, who in 1976 gave the 25-year-old Belichick his first paying job in the NFL, as an as sist ant special teams coach in Detroit. “He had a great mind even then. He could see things others didn’t. His father was a great scout. That was part of it. He learned from a great coach, like Tiger Woods did as a boy. But he also has a gift like Tiger Woods has.”
It was not just his father’s influence that molded him. His high school also gave him experiences that proved invaluable during his later years in the racial mix of the NFL, where minorities are the majority.
“Back when I was growing up in Annapolis, there was a black high school, Bates, and a white high school, Annapolis High,” Belichick recalls. “When I was a freshman, integration began, and I got sent to Bates for two years. The schools were only a few blocks apart, but they fit the neighborhoods. When integration began, it was rough. I was sent there for the ninth and 10th grades, and because the neighborhoods were so different, there was a lot of beating up of kids and that kind of thing. I was young. It was all over my head.
“You kind of knew the way it was when the two schools played each other in sports, though. There were always problems, but I didn’t realize what was behind it all then. I’d spent most of my time at the academy, so I walked into this situation with all this tension and thought, `What’s the problem here?’Continued...