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One man's coach of the year

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff January 1, 2009 05:58 AM

With all due respect, Bill Belichick didn't exactly do his best coaching job this season. What he did, however, was his second best. And so here we are, on the brink of the NFL playoff season and just a few days before the 2008 NFL Coach of the Year is announced, and here is the peculiar truth: Belichick may be more worthy of the honor this year than at any other time during his Patriots tenure. The one obvious exception may be 2001, when Belichick led the Pats to an 11-5 record and improbable division championship. Even then, the brilliance of his work was not appreciated until over a month later, in February 2002, after the Patriots had completed their historic run to the Super Bowl with what might have been the greatest NFL coaching job of all time.

That year, because the NFL Coach of the Year award was announced before the playoffs, the honor went to then-Chicago Bears coach Dick Jauron. Had the voting taken place several weeks later, Belichick would have won in a landslide.

The irony, of course, is that Belichick probably will not win the Coach of the Year award this season, either, but only because the competition is intense. Like Belichick, Miami’s Tony Sparano and Atlanta’s Mike Smith led their teams to 11-5 records. The Dolphins were coming off a 1-15 campaign; the 2007 Falcons went 4-12. The Patriots, as we all know, finished the 2007 regular season with a perfect record of 16-0.

The Coach of the Year last season?

Belichick.

Let’s be honest here for a moment, folks. Belichick deserves the Coach of the Year honor more this year than he did last, no matter where we put the hash marks. The 2007 Patriots were absurdly deep and talented, and Belichick merely put them over the top during the regular season. There is the very real possibility that anyone from Wade Phillips to Norv Turner could have led the Patriots to a 13-3 record in 2007, and none of that is meant to detract from what the New England coach did.

But this year? A lesser coach than Belichick might have led the Pats to 9-7, 8-8, or worse. With or without the easy schedule, the Pats went 11-5. Anyone who harps on the Patriots missing the playoffs is ignoring the aberrational nature of that fact, because we all know that 11-5 should absolutely, positively qualify you for postseason play.

In this case, it just didn’t.

Don’t let Belichick fool you. Given the issues, he knows this team maxed out in 2008. Whether the Pats would have done any damage in the playoffs is entirely irrelevant to this argument because, as was the case when the Pats rumbled to their first Super Bowl championship, the playoffs have no bearing on Coach of the Year balloting.

“I think that everybody that participated in this season, in the 11-5 season, has a lot to be proud of,” Belichick said on Monday, the day after the Pats officially were eliminated from playoff contention. “That includes all of the above: the players, the coaches, the organization, the scouts, everybody. We feel good about a lot of the things that we accomplished this year. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough for us to keep playing next week and so we’re disappointed with that. But what we did accomplish this year, I think it goes to the hard work of all of those people that are involved.

“We had some things to deal with,” Belichick continued. “We had four West Coast games. We had some weather games. Our last five games of the year were all played in difficult weather situations. I understand the teams on the other side of the field played in those same situations — I’m not looking for any sympathy there. I’m just saying those are challenges for our team to meet, whether it is rain, wind, snow, or a combination. You can go right down the list.

“There were a number of things that we dealt with this year and I think that — organizationally, including the operations people setting up the trips on the West Coast, to the players, to the coaches, to our medical staff, to everybody — they worked hard and there were a lot of positive things this year. I wish it could have been a little bit more. I think there are a lot of things that we did that I’m proud of the way we did them.’’

He should be.

Here in New England, we all know the standards went out of whack a long time ago. Three championships in four years will do that. All things considered, the 2007-08 Patriots’ season ended in far more disappointing fashion than this one did, because these Patriots had a great deal more to overcome. They lost Tom Brady in the first quarter of the first game. At times, they played without any combination of Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris, LaMont Jordan, Ty Warren, Adalius Thomas, Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi, and Richard Seymour, among others. Their defense was a mess at times, and their secondary was an absolute sieve.

If you want to criticize Belichick for personnel decisions — Deltha O’Neal over Asante Samuel? — that’s fine. But what he did with the talent he possessed (and isn’t that what coaching is all about?) bordered on being a New York City sidewalk con game.

During his time in New England, Belichick has been controversial at times, downright uncooperative and rude at others. He is who he is. But at a time like this, despite the absence of a championship in a region so spoiled and in desperate need of humility, let’s never forget something.

On any given Sunday, with or without Tom Brady, Bill Belichick can coach the socks off just about anybody.

Tony Massarotti can be reached at tmassarotti@globe.com and can be read at www.boston.com/massarotti

10 comments so far...
  1. Tony who exactly did the Patriots beat this year? I am suggesting BB is a bad coach, but they played the worst division in football (NFC WEST), had Oakland and KC on the schedule. They have maybe two quality wins. At Miami and the Jets in week 2. That's it.

    Posted by Mike January 2, 09 03:07 PM
  1. Tony,
    So does this season answer your question if belichick can win without brady ? something you could not wait to bring up in week 2 ? Mea culpa now ?

    Posted by svn January 2, 09 09:46 PM
  1. Ok then i guess the titans losing their starting quarterback and moving to a once 'washed up' quaterback, only to move onto the best record in the nfl was nothing right? Well i do see your from Boston so i can see why you suggest he should be coach of the year, but he didn't do the best job in the nfl of what he did. Jeff Fisher did, bottom line.

    Posted by Matt January 3, 09 12:01 AM
  1. I agree with Mike. Patriots for the most part had a cakewalk schedule with losses coming against the better teams. Atlanta and Miami's coaches performances speak a lot louder and deserve more recognition for Coach of the Year honors period.

    Posted by Anthony January 3, 09 01:08 AM
  1. It doesnt matter WHO they beat. That the team didnt lay down and die is all because of the coach. Interchangeable parts at a position
    second string quarterback fourth string running back retired linemen
    Hat off to my coach of the year

    Posted by peter January 3, 09 10:33 AM
  1. Read the article people, Tony doesn't say anywhere that Belichick should win it this year. He does say that he feels he did a better coaching job this year than he did last year when he actually did win it.

    Posted by Anonymous January 3, 09 11:36 AM
  1. Belichick is a cheater and should be banned from coach of the year awards as punishment. He got part of what he deserved last year by going undefeated and then losing in the Super Bowl. I thought that was perfect justice. Play the game fair and you should be able to win with your players.

    Posted by Tammy January 4, 09 10:33 AM
  1. First off the patriots had a starting qb who hadnt started since high school and as for the titans, you guys had a starting qb who had already brought one team to a superbowl, you also had one of the best d-lines in the nfl this season. The pats had a starter who had never started an nfl game, 2 rookies and a washed up veteran for cornerbacks, and a rookie and a 2nd year guy at safeties. Meanwhile they had to bring 2 guys out of retirement just so they could have decent linebackers. Belichick has done the best job he could have done with the team he had and he should win coach of the year.

    Posted by Anonymous January 4, 09 10:34 AM
  1. No one seems to be willing or able to answer this question...

    I've heard so many times that the Patriots had as weak schedule. Our schedule was not weak....only the teams in this league of "Parity" are weak.

    Outside of the Giants, Panthers and Titans, There really aren't any "good" teams

    if Brady were healthy this year an "Undefeated" season would have been a cake walk with out even trying. It just took Cassel several games to get his legs under him before we could get rolling.

    Posted by Jillian January 4, 09 11:35 AM
  1. You can't call Coach BB a cheat. We have no proof that he has cheated out side of that one game in NYC bak in 9-07. Second you can't say they;ve cheated there way through 143 games in 8 years. With a qb who studies as hard as Tom Brady and who is as quick with reflexes and defenses as he is you don't have to cheat. Any time you have a qb with as many records as #12 you don't have too. And since your saying you know that he is a cheat then can't I say the same for the Titans. They are by far not flawless, they had an easy schedule, but would it be right for me to say that Coach Fisher is a cheat because they wen't 13-3. Or maybe Tony Dungy cheats because he has made the playoffs 10 straight years. Come On don't say what your not sure about.When you get real proof to prove that and not what some media person or what you think then post a comment about proof instead of guessing.

    Posted by Trey January 8, 09 10:17 PM
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Charles P. Pierce writes for the Boston Globe Magazine. A long-time sportswriter and columnist, Pierce is a frequent guest on national TV and radio.
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