Even Superhero-Like Bill Belichick Has Sidekicks (A Coaching Staff)

Michael BonnerContributor IMay 27, 2009

ORCHARD PARK, NY - DECEMBER 28:  Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots walks toward the field before the game against the Buffalo Bills on December 28, 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

There's no such thing as a one-man army. Scooby Doo couldn't solve mysteries without his gang of meddling kids. Master Splinter mentored the Ninja Turtles in order to defeat Shedder and his foot clan. And even Superman relied on the justice league from time to time.

It's no different in the NFL. Greatness is not achieved by one man—even for Bill Belichick, whose five Super Bowl rings is tied for second all time in the league's history, needs a strong supporting cast.

Like Scooby, Splinter and Superman, Belichick has assembled a battle tested collection of sidekicks who have helped lead New England to a decade of success.

Entering the 10th season of the Belichick Era in New England there are four coaches that have been in Foxboro from day one—Dante Scarnecchia, Pepper Johnson, Ivan Fears, and Mike Woicik.

Together the four accomplices bring 112 years of coaching experience, 75 of which have come in the NFL. Not to mention their Super Bowl bling that covers nearly three and half hands (17).

But even with the longevity in the league and a laundry list of accomplishments, Belichick's associates never seem to emerge from the shadows of Gillette Stadium as the head coach doesn't allow assistant coaches to speak to the media.

So who are these guys?

No Patriot coach is more tenured that Scarnecchia. He's called New England his home for quarter century. When Belichick became the Patriots' head coach in 2000, Scarnecchia immediately became his Robin, as he was named assistant head coach in addition to manning the offensive line.

There isn't a man that has been a part of more Patriots history than Scarnecchia. He is the only Patriot to be a member of all six of the team's Super Bowl appearances. Scarnecchia was a part of the Patriots coaching staff in 13 of the 16 seasons the Pats have made the playoffs and has been involved in 30 of the franchises 34 postseason wins.

Entering his 40th year in coaching, Scarnecchia started his career as the offensive line coach at California Western. He made numerous pit stops at the collegiate level before becoming the special team/tight ends coach for the Patriots in 1982.

 After seven years he left New England for a two year hiatus and directed the O-line for the Colts. In '91 he returned to Foxboro and has been all over the field piloting the tight ends, special teams, linebackers, and offensive line.

While manning the special teams in '97 he coached the league's second best punter in Tom Tupa. Under Scarnecchia, Tupa set a franchise record for yards per punt (45.8).  

Tracking down the returner, Larry Wigham earned a trip to Hawaii as the AFC's special teams representative in the Pro Bowl.

Last season Scarnecchia's offensive line broke a string of four consecutive years of allowing 30 sacks or less. The run included the 2007 season in which the line allowed a NFL record 21 sacks, the lowest since the league adopted at 16 game season.

That success led to three of his O-linemen getting named to the Pro Bowl and SI.com naming him Assistant Coach of the Year.

Working closely with Scarnechia is Ivan Fears, the Pats' running back coach entering his 19th season in the league and 13th in New England. Fears, is the MacGyver of the coaching staff. Give him nothing and he can make something out of it.

During his tenure he's had Hall of Fame caliber running backs like Cory Dillon and rookie free agents like BenJarvus Green-Ellis and has succeeded with both.

Dillon set the franchise record for rushing yards in a season with 1,635 in 2004 by leading the NFL with an average of 109 yards per game.

When he was dealt with a bad hand, he still won the pot. Last season with four backs and quarterback Matt Cassel attempting at least 73 rushes, the squad had the sixth best rushing attack in the league racking up 2,278 yards.

The 4.4 yards per carry was the best the franchise saw since 1983. All this was with starter Laurence Maroney playing just four games. 

The defense  has the coach that has been teamed with Belichick the longest, Pepper Johnson. Ten of this 13 years as a player were spent under Belichick's guide. Johnson followed him from the Giants to the Browns and ended his playing career with Bill as a Jet.

When Bill came to New England Johnson followed, coaching the linebackers from 2000-2003, then moved to the defensive line in '04. He's got a lot of Wolverine in him, minus the metal claws.

For any fan who has been to training camp it's easy to notice Johnson still brings the intensity that made him an All Pro linebacker to the practice field.

He's one of the only coaches that can be heard barking at his players while noticeably jumping up and down in efforts to make them work harder. Something must be clicking as this intensity brought him two championships as a player and three more as a coach.

Not to mention under his tutelage Vince Wilfork morphed himself into a Pro Bowl caliber tackler, anchoring one of the deepest lines in the league.

The last cog in Belichick's machine is also the most unknown. Mike Woicik has been the Patriots' strength and condition coach since 2000. But his resume is much richer. His offseason programs have kept postseason regulars fresh season after season.

Woicik began his NFL career at Dallas winning three Super Bowls under Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer. Then was baited to New Orleans by Hall of Famer Mike Ditka. His three more rings with the Pats made him the first player or coach to win three Super Bowls.

He held the honor from 2004 until last year when Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney won his sixth.

There have been many sidekicks for Belichick throughout his dominance of the AFC East. Charlie Weiss, Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, and most recently Josh McDaniel and Scott Pioli have all been seen as members of Belichick's league of Justice, but few remain.

As he enters his tenth year in New England just four remain each with different superhero like quality. Maybe they should just be called the Fantastic Four.