Unique relationship makes Belichick, Brady best coach-QB combo
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady celebrates with coach Bill Belichick after clinching the AFC East title with a 41-13 win over the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium. (Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports)
Once a week, for 15 seasons, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady meet over coffee just to catch up, touch base with how the other is doing, and work on taking the next step forward.
It sounds rather simple, really, this easy communication, but it doesn’t happen anywhere else in football — or in professional sports, for that matter — that the head coach and the star player get together on schedule and just talk.
“It’s pretty amazing watching them,” said Josh McDaniels, the offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots. “They have a unique relationship. They meet, talk about different things, about things that can make us better as a team.
“They never look backwards, only look forward. What can we do better next week? How can we do it better?”
For 15 football seasons, no one has done it better than Belichick, the ultra-serious and sometimes stoic coach, and Brady, the model-like quarterback who is married to a model.
Together the two men are the most prolific winning combination in football history. You can debate best coach in and best quarterback fairly and openly — that kind of talk is endless — but never has there been a duo so successful that their history is so grand it trumps and swallows all of the cheating allegations, real and imagined, that forever surround the Patriots.
“No one,” said McDaniels, “has ever done what they’ve done. Probably no one will ever do it again.”
This is the sixth Super Bowl for Belichick and Brady. No coach or quarterback has ever done this before. Brady has played for only one coach in his career. In the games he has started, the Patriots have a 180-55 won-loss record. They have shared in three Super Bowl celebrations and probably would have one or two more had David Tyree not made an catch that defies physics and Wes Welker not dropped a catchable one.
This is Super Bowl six for Brady, who is now 37. Terry Bradshaw played his entire career with Chuck Noll in Pittsburgh and won four times. But it’s highly unusual by sporting standards to stay in one place with one coach.
Joe Montana played for two teams and won four Super Bowls but played for three different coaches in his career. John Elway won two Super Bowls and played for three coaches on the same team.
The continued excellence of the Patriots with Brady and Belichick has come at a salary-cap time, with rosters forever changing, with free agency prominent, where sustained success is challenged in a way it has never been challenged before.
Brady grew up a huge fan of the 49ers and talks about it now with a smile. Long before he had any idea he’d ever play an NFL game, his heroes were named Montana and Steve Young. Like Belichick, he doesn’t much care to talk about the history of the moment or the circumstances that link their greatness, but he will go back to his younger days.
“I never imagined in my wildest dreams doing this,” said Brady. “As a kid, I just loved to go out and play with my friends. You don’t think about where you’re going or about your future. To get a chance to play in the Super Bowl, I never thought I’d play in one. So it’s pretty unbelievable to be able to play in six.
“It’s amazing just sitting here, thinking this is the sixth time I’ll be doing this. It’s really a privilege. I’ve been lucky. When it first happened, I was so young that I didn’t really understand what this was all about and how challenging this is because everything happens so fast.”
And all the time he never stopped being the sports fan he was a kid.
“I’ve always been a fan of sports,” he said. “ I’ve never lost that. I (admire) a lot of athletes. Derek Jeter. LeBron (James). Kobe (Bryant). There’s a lot of great football players that I look up to. Peyton (Manning) for one ... I admire Aaron (Rodgers) for what he’s been able to accomplish and how he does it. Those guys, I really look up to.”
To put Brady’s playoff success into perspective, consider this: He has won 20 playoff games quarterbacking New England. Twenty-one teams in the NFL have yet to play in that many playoff games, let alone won that many.
And yet, his game is somewhat understated. He’s thrown for 16,000 fewer yards than Peyton Manning has, thrown 138 fewer touchdown passes, but the statistic that measures him best is victories.
“He doesn’t act like a big shot,” said Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots’ superb tight end. “He doesn’t walk around saying “I’m Tom Brady and I’ve done this.” He just does it, quietly, and he does it in a way that makes you want to do it that way. Because you don’t want to disappoint Tom Brady.”
Belichick grew up as something of a football nerd, the son of a coach, a somewhat obsessed consumer of football information and news who started watching film at a very young age. The game became his obsession. Belichick grew up understanding and in awe of what Vince Lombardi represented to America, who Tom Landry and Don Shula were, and now his name is alongside theirs and others.
You don’t win 76% of your games by deflating footballs. The cheat stories are the small picture, not the big picture. This is the modern-day Lombardi, in a modern world where much is known and historical figures are flawed.
“It’s not my place to talk about history,” said Belichick, when asked the obvious question. But who’s done what he’s done?
These aren’t the days of Noll and the Steelers, with set lineups and no player movement, with nine Hall of Fame players on all four Super Bowl-winning teams. The constants for the Patriots is the coach and the quarterback.
The lines, offensive and defensive, change. There is no Franco Harris; the running backs change regularly. There is no Lynn Swann or John Stallworth; the receivers are annual. The all-star cornerbacks are new this season.
This is how you play in today’s NFL — week to week, game to game. And all Belichick, forever in his uniform of hoodie and jeans, does is win.
“There’s a consistency to Bill you come to appreciate,” said Brady. “He doesn’t change in approach. Whether it’s one win or one loss, we focus on getting better. That doesn’t change. He’s incredibly consistent that way.”
Brandon Browner, who played for Pete Carroll in Seattle and now with Belichick in New England, was clear when asked the difference between the coaches: “One of them was fun,” said Browner, “a players coach.”
He didn’t have to stay what the other one was.
The relationship with Brady isn’t like the relationship with most disposable players. In a way, they have made each other great. It’s possible neither could have accomplished what they have without the other.
Brady, the unexpected superstar, the late-round draft pick.
Belichick, who had a 41-56 record before Drew Bledsoe went down with an injury. His winning percentage before Brady was .418. His winning percentage since then is .765.
“To me, to be able to sustain this level of success has been an unbelievable thing to witness and watch,” said McDaniels. “There’s never satisfaction with what they’ve accomplished, it’s always on to the next thing. How do we do this? How do we do that? Always looking forward.
“Their attitude is, if you’re satisfied for too long you’ll never advance. There is no complacency with them. The way they come to work is a really neat thing to see.”
Added defensive lineman Vince Wilfork: “Just to see him work and see what he does on a daily basis is amazing. I don’t care if it’s a bye week, the off-season, he is always working, thinking, chopping away at something. He never stops. I don’t think there’s anyone else like him.”
NFL COACHES IN CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES
Don Shula, Miami, Baltimore 7 (2-5)
Bill Belichick, New England 6 (3-2)
Vince Lombardi, Green Bay 5 (5-0)
Tom Landry, Dallas 5 (2-3)
Chuck Noll, Pittsburgh 4 (4-0)
Joe Gibbs, Washington 4 (3-1)
Dan Reeves, Denver 4 (0-4)
Marv Levy, Buffalo 4 (0-4)
Phil Jackson, NBA, 11
Scotty Bowman, NHL, 9
Red Auerbach, NBA, 9
Casey Stengel, MLB, 7
Gregg Popovich, NBA, 5
Vince Lombardi, NFL, 5
Pat Riley, NBA, 5
QB PLAYOFF RECORDS
Tom Brady 20-8
Joe Montana 16-7
Terry Bradshaw 14-5
John Elway 14-7
Brett Favre 13-11
Troy Aikman 11-4
Roger Staubach 11-6
Peyton Manning 11-12
Joe Flacco 10-5
Ben Roethlisberger 10-6
Jim Kelly 9-8
Russell Wilson 6-1
MOST PLAYOFF WINS BY COACH-QB COMBINATION
Bill Belichick-Tom Brady 20
Chuck Noll-Terry Bradshaw 14
Tom Landry-Roger Staubach 14