There’s an old saying oft used to describe the great strategist Coach Bill Belichick: he is playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers. Specific times come to mind that prove just how much he is on a different wavelength than all other coaches: the ineligible receiver game-plan, the fact he has successfully changed players’ positions, or even the side of the ball on which they play, his countless draft and trade steals, and his overall ability to win despite crippling injuries to star players.
However, it’s always been Tom and Bill. Their success has been forever intertwined. That is to say, there is no way to give one more credit than the other. The greatest coach in the NFL and the greatest quarterback in the NFL have teamed up to win four Super Bowls. That’s the story.
With their success so connected, the question has always loomed about what each one of them would be without the other. Would Tom Brady still have four Super Bowls with Rex Ryan as his coach? Would Belichick be considered so great if his quarterback for the past 15 years wasn’t named Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr.?
Although the question is rather pointless, the answer is a definitive no for both of them. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick complete each other.
However, Brady is 39 years old, and every year above 30 in the NFL should be counted like dog years. I’m sure his avocado ice cream does wonders, but there’s a reason you hardly see any NFL players in their forties. Even if he pulls off the impossible (which he is quite good at doing), and plays another three years until age 42, he will still retire before his coach.
Which has raised another, more realistic, question: is there life after Brady for Belichick?
There are a couple theories on this. One such theory is that Belichick will retire when Brady does; I’m sure if they do have a master plan to retire together, the first part of that plan involves winning a Super Bowl in their last season. Also involved in this plan would be Josh McDaniels, who would almost certainly take over as head coach after Belichick leaves.
This plan makes sense given how fed up both Brady and Belichick most likely are with Roger Goodell. Additionally, the plan leaves a solid foundation in place for the Patriots to keep on winning. McDaniels knows the system as well as anyone and certainly would be in a better place to succeed as head coach for the Patriots than the Browns or a college team.
It’s a rosy, storybook ending for Tom and Bill, riding off into the distance with their full hands covered in rings.
That said, I don’t think it is actually going to happen this way, and these first three games are reinforcing that point. While he would never show it, least of all in front of a camera and microphone, Bill Belichick is incredibly interested in his place in NFL greatness.
He is a student of the game and greatly reveres the coaching legends of the past. And when you’ve had as much success as Belichick has, it’s only natural to start thinking about passing your idols. That’s what the real competitors do. Coming into the NBA, Michael Jordan certainly looked up to legends like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, but when his time came, he wanted to be better than them. And he was.
Belichick’s time to be better than Vince Lombardi is coming, and Bill knows it. He won’t say it, but he’s thinking it. Trying to get to the top is an interesting process because every step of the way people are trying to prevent you from getting there, picking apart every little flaw or microscopic detail.
People are resistant to change and, thus, want who is considered “the best” to be set in stone. Think about LeBron James, and how constantly he gets picked apart for not being Michael Jordan. I’m as guilty of it as anyone. People are used to Michael Jordan being the greatest basketball player of all time. People like Michael Jordan being the greatest basketball player of all time. People don’t want that to change. Thus, the threshold to unanimously be the best is insurmountably high.
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are already considered the best in New England, among some incredibly knowledgeable and insightful others. However, people will always point to two Super Bowl losses, SpyGate, or something else, as proof that they are not the best.
In order for Brady to be unanimously considered the best, he needs to win a fifth Super Bowl. Then he will truly be in a class of his own. He will certainly need Belichick’s help for that.
On the other hand, in order for Belichick to receive unanimous support, he needs to win a Super Bowl without Tom Brady. For better or for worse, people will always say that Belichick won so much because of Brady—which is partially true.
Belichick’s chance to prove to the NFL that he can win without his star quarterback is happening now on a smaller scale. Going 3-0 with a second and third string quarterback is one of the more impressive feats in professional sports, yet Belichick has managed it with relative ease. Even with just a couple of days to prepare a third string rookie quarterback, the offense still came out firing en route to a 27-0 win.
These are just four games, though, and while they serve to reinforce Belichick’s resume, he needs a longer run of success without Brady.
At age 64, Bill has many more years left than Tom, and he’s not going to spend those years on Nantucket golfing, not with his legacy as the greatest on the line.
Belichick truly enjoys coaching and loves winning. He’s not going to let Josh McDaniels have all the fun, especially now that he knows that he can coach and win without Brady.
Belichick couldn’t have won without Tom Brady. But now that his star quarterback is out, he’s finding a way to still win. You better believe he’s up for the challenge of doing that every game in a couple seasons with his legacy on the line.
Even a few pieces down, Belichick will still be playing chess while the rest of the NFL watches his every move in awe. Check.