Exploring the Bill Belichick Coaching Tree
Some head coaches have a special knack for finding talented assistants to work on their staffs. It is these coaches who develop what we call a "coaching tree."
As more and more assistants take over their own teams, and move up in the coaching ranks, the "tree" grows. One of the largest coaching trees in the NFL today belongs to Patriots' head coach, Bill Belichick.
Belichick began his head coaching career with the Browns in 1991; since that time many of his disciples have gone on to bigger and better things. This is a tribute to the eye for talent that Belichick has not only for players, but for coaches as well.
The following examines many of the successful hirings he has made in his 14 years as a head coach.
I have broken the list down into two different categories: his years with the Browns (1991-1995) and his years with the Patriots (2000-present). For this piece there are two ways a coach will be identified as part of Belichick's tree.
Belichick either A.) Gave the coach his first job in the NFL. or B.) Gave the coach their first "big break." This usually refers to a promotion to a higher level position for the first time in the assistant's career.
The Cleveland Years
In his five years at the helm in Cleveland, Belichick found only moderate success, compiling a record of 36-44. He is mostly remembered for his release of fan-favorite Bernie Kosar in 1993, as well as his only playoff win, a 20-13 defeat of (coincidentally) the New England Patriots in 1994.
Despite his team's mediocre performance on the field, off it, Belichick was quietly assembling a coaching staff that would greatly affect the NFL for years to come.
Belichick gave Bates his first NFL job in 1991, hiring him as the Browns defensive line coach. Since then, Bates has been the defensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, Miami Dolphins, and Denver Broncos, and currently holds the same position in Tampa Bay.
The high point of Bates' coaching career came when he was named the interim head coach of the Dolphins for seven games in 2004.
Bresnahan (making his NFL coaching debut) was added to Belichick's staff for the 1994 season. He left the following year and took similar jobs with both the Colts and Raiders before Oakland promoted him to defensive coordinator in 2000.
In his four years with the team, his defenses landed in the Top 10 for scoring defense twice. He regained a defensive coordinator position with the Bengals in 2005, where he stayed until his firing in 2007.
A name certainly familiar to college football fans, Kirk Ferentz was hired by Belichick in 1993 as the offensive line coach for the Browns. He left after the 1995 season, and in 1999 took his current position as head coach at the University of Iowa.
Ferentz has found considerable success at Iowa, winning 70 games in 10 years, including two Big Ten Championships and a trip to the Orange Bowl in 2002.
Another one on the list who got his start as a scout on Belichick's Cleveland staff, Kokinis made his name in Baltimore alongside Ozzie Newsome. He held the position of director of pro personnel from 2004-2008. In 2009, Kokinis will team up with old partner Eric Mangini as the general manager of the new-look Browns.
Patriots fans recognize the bond that Belichick shares with his former assistant Pat Hill, the current head coach at Fresno State. Belichick has drafted many of Hill's former Fresno players including starters Logan Mankins and James Sanders.
The friendship started when Hill was brought in as the tight-ends coach for Cleveland in 1992, a position he held until 1995, when Belichick lost his job.
Long before Eric Mangini was drawing the ire of the Patriot fan base, he was a ballboy for the Browns while Belichick coached the team. Mangini eventually got a job as an assistant in 1995, and later followed Belichick to New England.
After the 2006 season, he left to take the head coaching job with the Jets...and the rest is history.
Part of Belichick's original staff in Cleveland, Mitchell worked as an assistant coach with the Browns until 1994, at which time he took a job as the defensive line coach with Pittsburgh.
He's been with the team ever since and has now added "assistant head coach" to his title.
Belichick hired the former Brown as a scout in 1991, and Ozzie hasn't looked back. He's stayed with the Browns/Ravens franchise since then and is now the general manager of the team. He has a "Executive of the Year" award and a Super Bowl championship on his resume.
Recently rejoining Bill Belichick's staff in New England for the 2009 season, O'Brien and Belichick were originally paired together during Bill's tenure in Cleveland.
O'Brien's first NFL coaching experience was as the special teams coach from 1991-1995, where he won Special Teams Coach of the Year in 1994.
Since then he has held that same position in Baltimore, Carolina, Miami, and Denver, while also wearing the tag of "assistant head coach" during his time with the Dolphins and Panthers.
Belichick's longtime "right-hand man", Pioli and Belichick worked together in Cleveland beginning in 1992, when Pioli was a "pro personnel assistant."
Since then, Pioli and Belichick had worked together every year with the exception of 1996. That streak will end this coming season, as Pioli recently accepted the position of general manager with the Chiefs.
Savage was given his first NFL job as a "defensive quality control" coach with Belichick in 1991. He quickly moved up the ranks and was the Ravens Director of Player Personnel in Baltimore, before eventually being named General Manager of the Browns in 2005, a position he held until this past season.
Belichick brought Sheppard aboard in 1993 as an assistant coach. After he left in 1995, he subsequently became the offensive coordinator with the Chargers (1997-1998), Bills (2001), and Saints (2005). He currently works as the wide receivers coach with the Bengals.
Another special teams guru; like Scott O'Brien, Spencer won a Special Teams Coach of the Year award in 2003 with the Steelers. He got his start with the Browns, coaching alongside Belichick from 1991-1994. He is currently the special teams coach with the Cardinals.
The first on the list to not get his start in the NFL from Belichick, Saban originally worked with the Houston Oilers as a defensive backs coach for two years in the 1980's.
Belichick gave him his first big break in the NFL as his defensive coordinator from 1991-1994. Since then, Saban has made his mark in the college ranks, taking jobs at Michigan State, LSU and Alabama.
Saban took a dip into the NFL head coaching waters briefly from 2005-2006, but apparently didn't like what he saw, and abruptly left.
Schwartz inked a job as a scout on Belichick's staff in Cleveland in 1993. He followed the team to Baltimore in 1996, before joining the Titans, where he stayed for nine years. After eight seasons as Tennessee's defensive coordinator, he was named the new head coach of the Lions for the upcoming 2009 season. At his introductory press conference, Schwartz "must have mentioned the New England Patriots’ coach at least a dozen times during his introductory news conference" according to an article in the Detroit Free Press, and also stated, "I’ve been very fortunate … to have seen the way that a Bill Belichick has done things". In a February interview at the scouting combine, Belichick returned the favor, calling Schwartz, "probably the smartest guy [we had]" during his Cleveland years.
Vital's career started with the Browns in 1991 as a scout, and has slowly advanced ever since. He moved up in 2001 as the assistant director of college scouting with the Patriots.
After a three-year stint with the Ravens from 2005-2007, Vital rejoined former co-worker Thomas Dimitroff as the Assistant Director of Player Personnel in Atlanta and shared in the success of the 2008 Falcons team.
The New England Years
Since taking over the reigns of the Patriots in 2000, Bill Belichick has been far more successful than his stay in Cleveland ever was.
Although his assistant coaches have yet to gain the starpower of the one's in Cleveland, it is surely only a matter of time before the current Patriot crop of Belichick-greenhorns become household names.
Recently named by Eric Mangini as his offensive coordinator for 2009 in Cleveland, Brian Daboll got his start from Bill Belichick as a coaching assistant with the Patriots.
He left the team in 2007 to follow Mangini to New York, and has stuck by his side ever since.
Although he apparently didn't learn much from Belichick during his time in New England, McDaniels began his career with the Patriots in 2001 as a personnel assistant.
He was eventually elevated to quarterbacks coach and then offensive coordinator in 2006. He left following the 2008 season to become head coach of the Broncos but left his coaching-notes behind in New England.
He got his start in the NFL as a part-time scout with the Chiefs in the mid-90's, but got his big break from Belichick in 2002 when he was named a national scout. The following year he was promoted to director of college scouting, a job he kept until 2007.
In 2008, he was hired as the general manager in Atlanta and given the daunting task of turning around the mess that was the Falcons; a test he passed with flying colors.
It seems that every time a head coaching job in the NFL opens up these days, the offensive or defensive coordinator in New England is an automatic candidate for the job.
There are a number of young position coaches on the team that surely will attract interest from around the league soon.
Nick Caserio, the team's director of player personnel flew up the ranks in the Patriots front office and in a few years will probably be a target for a general manager job elsewhere in the NFL.
Linebackers coach Matt Patricia is just 34, but has been with the team since 2004, he seems a likely contender for the defensive coordinator job when Dean Pees retires or leaves.
Pepper Johnson, Josh Boyer, and Bill O'Brien are three more "Belichick created" coaches who seemingly have bright futures ahead of them in coaching.
Who knows...maybe eventually one of these assistants will have a blossoming coaching tree of their own.