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Livingston | Belichick not "just a coach"

By Bill Livingston • Feb 7, 2017 at 5:30 PM

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- "He's just a football coach."

Cleveland Browns tackle turned radio analyst Doug Dieken said that years ago when Bill Belichick, as the face of the Browns franchise, usually presented a sour, unsmiling one.

"Just a coach" means Belichick neither sought nor needed any other fulfillment. He was not involved in helping the addicted, as was Sam Rutigliano. Belichick had no interest in commercials (Bill Cowher Mike Ditka, John Madden), commentary (Jimmy Johnson, Tony Dungy and a host of others), or, certainly, small talk.

Dead air

Belichick had a weekly radio show, the proceeds from which he donated to his assistant coaches. He knew that their salaries, whether as an NFL newbie or a valued member of a service academy staff, did not make for an easy life.

When a caller in mid-December said one night, "Before I ask my question, I want to wish Bill and his assistant coaches a very merry Christmas," Belichick waited a half-minute before thinking of a reply.

Questions about defending Houston's run-and-shoot or about the Pittsburgh Steelers he could handle. Holiday greetings, not so much.

Burgers

Belichick broke into the NFL as a $25 a week "go-fer" with the Detroit Lions, where he scouted film -- as his father, Steve, a Navy assistant coach, had taught him to do from age 9 -- and fetched hamburgers for the staff.

It is not what you were in life, though, it is what you become.

Defense and offense

Belichick became the Browns' coach in 1991, carrying a reputation as a defensive mastermind. It was, however, belied by the Super Bowl he had won as a defensive coordinator when he was aided by the New York Giants' ball-control offense.

The Giants had the ball for more than 40 1/2 minutes, but Buffalo scored 19 points in its 19 1/2 minutes in a one-point loss.

When Belichick won his record fifth Super Bowl with New England on Sunday, the Patriots possessed the ball for 40 1/2 minutes of the nearly 65-minute overtime game against Atlanta.

Criticized for being his own offensive coordinator st times with the Browns, Belichick knew offense was just the other side of defense. He knew better than anyone what would most stress a defense.

A meritocracy of the mind

His triumph is one of sheer ability and hard work. "Ask him to break down film, and you won't see him for a week," said his Giants' boss, Bill Parcels. In a workaholic sport, it was a great compliment.

Players here derided Belichick because he would not look them in the eye when speaking to them. Media members and fans called him "Mumbles."

After Art Modell sabotaged the contender Belichick was building here by moving the team, the faithless Modell tried to dissuade New England's Robert Kraft from hiring Belichick.

After getting a load of Belichick's taciturn (at best) and truculent (at worst) news conferences, Kraft almost changed his mind.

It changed NFL history when he did not.

Discipline and dynasty

Unlike Belichick's close friends, Nick Saban, a former Browns aide, at Alabama and Urban Meyer at Ohio State, Belichick never had an appetite for the personality-driven world of college recruiting. It was in the NFL that he would make his mark.

What Belichick brought to to the Patriots was the financial discipline of an economics major at a prestigious liberal arts school, Wesleyan University.

He would not overpay to keep core players together past their shelf life.

He would find gems at places such as West Alabama, the alma mater of past Super Bowl savior Malcolm Butler.

He would convert versatile players such as former Kent State quarterback Julian Edelman to new positions, in his case, wide receiver.

Edelman made one of the best catches in Super Bowl history Sunday.

Belichick and Brady

Belichick has benefited from what I called even before Super Bowl LI the best Super Bowl quarterback ever in sixth-round pick Tom Brady.

In a salary-cap sport, with only one cinch Hall of Famer at wide receiver, Randy Moss, and him for only three full years, Belichick has built a consistent contender, the like of which has not been seen since the Dallas Cowboys before the salary cap.

Just a coach -- who's probably the best ever.

___

(c)2017 The Plain Dealer, Cleveland

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