Imagining the NFL Without Bill Belichick

Dan LevyNational Lead WriterJanuary 25, 2015

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"Look Billy! (Hears fizzy squeaking sound...) Commissioner says every time a ball leaks, a Patriot gets his wins."

What would be the NFL equivalent of Zuzu's Petals? TomTom's UGGs? And is the ball guy in New England named Clarence?

Moreover, what would the NFL look like if Bill Belichick wasn't around? How different would the last 15 years of football look if not for the contemptuous grouch in the cutoff sweatshirt?

What if Belichick wins the Super Bowl, looks at all the hundreds of media types from around the world asking him about football inflation percentages this week like it was some threat to national security and says, "I suppose it'd been better if I had never been born at all."

In other words, it's been a wonderful life, and I'm out.

What would the NFL be like without Bill Belichick? If New England wins the Super Bowl, will that question become a reality sooner than we thought?

It has been quite the wonderful life for Belichick to this point in his illustrious NFL coaching tenure. He's won three Super Bowls with the Patriots in five previous trips—going for his fourth win in six attempts this year—and he has two more rings he won as the defensive coordinator for Bill Parcells with the New York Giants before eventually becoming a head coach himself.

Sure, his time running the Cleveland Browns might have made anyone want to jump off a bridge, and his stint as head coach of the New York Jets—all one day of it—has always served as something of a bloody lip on his otherwise stellar career, but Belichick's time with New England has been as wonderful, in a football sense, as anyone in the history of the game.

Of course, it hasn't come without its share of controversy. Belichick is historically known as a cheater, which is the only reason Deflategate has become such an issue heading into the Super Bowl. If Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson had under-inflated balls, this would have been a one-day footnote before the biggest game of the year. With Belichick and Tom Brady, however, it's a full-fledged threat to the integrity of the sport.

Belichick has held two press conferences in a three-day span to talk about football pressure, the first of which he angrily explained that he had never spoken with anyone in his organization about the topic before invoking the Marshawn Lynch "thanks for asking" method of refusing to answer any questions during the media's inquiry.

Two days later, Belichick was talking about balls again, this time invoking scientific experiments to his advantage—or at least to his defense—when explaining just how ridiculous this Deflategate story has become.

"We had our quarterbacks look at a number of footballs," Belichick had to explain, again, to an amassed media group on Saturday, eight days before playing in the Super Bowl, "and they were unable to differentiate a one pound per square inch difference in those footballs. They were unable to do it."

"On a two-pound differential," Belichick continued with his trademark surliness and general contempt for this topic, "there was some degree of differentiation, but certainly not a consistent one. A couple of ones they could pick out, but they were also wrong in some of the other ones that they had. So, you're welcome to do that yourself."

For what it's worth, I did to see what all the fuss was about, and there is virtually no difference in feel or touch of a football when one psi is removed. Belichick is right that when the ball is two pounds lighter, there is some softness, but it's not as if we're talking about the difference between throwing a Nerf ball and a rock.

We in the media are usually not ones for nuance and context—we work best in extremes—so many of us were throwing the rocks this week, with many of those directed toward Belichick, America's favorite football villain.

This scandal—it's a full-fledged scandal when the NFL is investigating it, for sure—isn't going away because of a few press conferences, and it's not even going away after Belichick and Brady, whether you think they are lying, explained the utter lack of significance in how a football feels when taking out that amount of pressure.

None of this is going away anytime soon. Which is precisely why it might be time for Belichick to go away. 

 

Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

Previous Retirement Rumors

This quote, which I'm sorry to say is not about balls, is from Belichick's pre-Super Bowl press conference three years ago, when much of the talk going into the game against the New York Giants was whether a victory would lead to his retirement (via The New York Times):

I enjoy the competition on a weekly basis. Not just on Sundays, but the preparation leading up into the game. I enjoy all of it.”

He added, “It beats working.

It's not so much that Belichick was actually contemplating retirement after the Super Bowl following the 2011 season, it's that everyone was talking about it, asking him about it and debating the rumor's veracity that the retirement conversation in the lead-up to that Super Bowl was plausible enough for people to ask him.

It seems even more plausible now, and it's a bit surprising that the very idea hasn't become more intense.

Or maybe we're all a bit too distracted by balls.

Well, maybe not. Ron Borges of the Boston Herald penned a column on Thursday—after the first set of ball-related pressers—wondering how long Bob Kraft would "let Richard Nixon run his team?"

So where does it end, Bob Kraft? Only Kraft can decide that, but if I were commissioner and I was sufficiently convinced the Patriots tampered with those footballs after the referee’s examination, I would tell Kraft, in 48 hours, I will suspend your coach for the Super Bowl unless you do it sooner.

Where does it end, Borges asked? It ends with an NFL without Bill Belichick.

 

KEVORK DJANSEZIAN/Associated Press

A Legacy of Success

A team that has had a nearly unparalleled run of success under one head coach—New England is 195-73, including six trips to the Super Bowl, in the last 15 years—could be on the market for a new head coach sooner than most people expect. Belichick won't have anything left to gain by staying in the NFL after this season if the Patriots win the Super Bowl.

Unless the NFL suddenly suspends him for Deflategate, Belichick will be one of just two coaches in NFL history to lead a team to the Super Bowl six times. (The other was Don Shula, who is no fan of Belichick even to this day.)

Only one coach in NFL history has won more Super Bowls than Belichick. Chuck Noll won four in as many trips with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the late 1970s.

Bill Walsh and Joe Gibbs are the only two head coaches in NFL history with as many Super Bowl rings as Belichick. And of those four legends, only Shula has a higher career winning percentage than Belichick.

In fact, the head coach of the New England Patriots has the 14th-best winning percentage in NFL history, and the ninth-best for any coach with a decade or more experience under his belt. (His Patriots winning percentage, for what that's worth, would be fourth of all time, and his playoff winning percentage—separate from the ranking above—is fifth of all time for those who have coached in 10 or more postseason games. He will pass Joe Gibbs in that category with a win on Sunday.)

Belichick probably doesn't care about any of that crap, though. His legacy has been secure for a long time, and the last five or six years has just added to his Hall of Fame coaching brilliance.

It's that last Super Bowl that's eluded him over the last decade, and that—more than any other victory in his career—would feel like that giant basket full of cash that would give this old movie its happy ending.

 

JOHN T. GREILICK/Associated Press

What If It Wasn't…

It has been wonderful with Belichick in the NFL, but what if it had never happened? What if in 2000, Belichick stayed with the Jets and never went to New England? What if he never got a head-coaching job again after Cleveland?

What would the last 15 years in the NFL have been like without Belichick? Would every hoodie in New England still have sleeves? Would Tom Brady have ever become the star he is? Would hundreds of players Belichick helped become stars in this league ever have gotten even one Super Bowl ring without him?

Here is the list of head coaches who were hired in 2000, the same year Belichick spurned the Jets to join the Patriots. This is essentially whom New England would have had to choose from if Belichick were not an option. It is quite the motley crew of candidates.

Al Groh was tabbed to replace Belichick, and he lasted one year with the Jets before going back to college.

Mike Martz got the St. Louis job in 2000 and took the Rams to the Super Bowl a year later. He stayed three-and-a-half more seasons in St. Louis, making the playoffs twice before getting fired after five weeks in 2005.

Mike Sherman returned to Green Bay in 2000 after the team fired Ray Rhodes and coached for six years, never winning a conference title with the Packers.

Jim Haslett was hired by the New Orleans Saints in 2000 to replace Mike Ditka and took the Saints to the playoffs in his first season, the only time in six years New Orleans made the postseason.

Dave Campo was hired in Dallas that year to replace Chan Gailey. He lasted three seasons, never winning more than five games.

DAVID ADAME/Associated Press

Dave Wannstedt went to the Miami Dolphins that year as well, and he took Miami to the playoffs in back-to-back years before missing out the next two seasons. He was fired halfway through the 2004 year after just one win in nine games that year.

That is the list of head coaches appointed the same year as Belichick was hired in New England. And for good measure, you can add Dave McGinnis, who came to Arizona midseason and lasted three more years, and Dick LeBeau, who took over in Week 5 for Cincinnati that season and led the Bengals for two additional seasons before getting fired in 2002.

What if Belichick had never taken the New England job? That's the list of what-if candidates from 2000 the Patriots would have had to choose from had they not gone with Belichick.

Imagine, if you will, Wannstedt patrolling the sidelines in Foxborough all these years and realize that—whether you love him or hate him—Belichick has been great for the NFL.

 

Julio Cortez/Associated Press

The League Villain

"I'm embarrassed to talk about the amount of time that I've put into this relative to the other important challenge in front of us," Belichick angrily said this Saturday while reacting to more questions about Deflategate. "I'm not a scientist. I'm not an expert in footballs. I'm not an expert in football measurements. I'm just telling you what I know."

"And also, I hate all of you and you are all idiots."

That last line is what I thought I heard, at least, through the gritting of his teeth and contemptuous peering of his eyes.

Willing or not, Belichick has played the NFL villain role for a decade-and-a-half, and it's hard to even contemplate who would be next on that list if it weren't for him.

Sure, we as collective fans of the game have hated owners, coaches, players and entire teams over the years—Dallas Cowboys, I scowl in your general direction—but there has been no man in this generation even close to Belichick.

Who would be the NFL's villain if not for Belichick?

Roger Goodell? Daniel Snyder? Ray Lewis? Ray Rice? Jerry Jones?

Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press

We're putting Belichick on the same level as inept commissioners, racist owners, maligned Ravens and purported philanderers in terms of football villainy, and none of them have been anywhere near as fun to cover as it has been trying to hack through Belichick's gruff veneer.

Without Belichick, we'd have found someone else to hate in the NFL for his smugness—Mike Shanahan, maybe—but no one has done it with the same "leave me alone" way that has people so comically angry at Belichick for this many years.

Oh, and the success certainly adds to that hatred.

Belichick has been the perfect storm for NFL ire: a guy who skirts the rules when he may not even need to and gives the media (and therefore the NFL fans) very little to work with in terms of quotes and general affability. In the meantime, he's dominating his division and turning a historically mediocre franchise into one of the great successes in American sports history.

Belichick didn't even take the time to get the science right in his explanation of why the balls are softer than they should be because he doesn't freaking care what we think about his balls. If that makes him even more of a villain, he probably doesn't care about that either.

I'm going to miss that.

I'm going to miss a coach not giving a rat's rear about what we think. Sure, there are other coaches in the NFL who don't care what the media think about them, but none have the same hilariously deadpanned way of showing it as Belichick.

He's similar to Gregg Popovich with the San Antonio Spurs in that way. If you have something interesting to discuss, he'll open up. If you just want to come here to scream about his balls, he's not giving you anything you can use.

Who, then, would take over that place on the NFL coaching totem pole when he's gone?

Rex Ryan likes to shoot from the hip and say what he wants, but it's clear that attitude comes from a deep-rooted desire to be loved, not hated.

Bruce Arians is at a point in his life where he probably doesn't care much about the media, but he's too likable to play the villain role in Belichick's absence. Tom Coughlin is a curmudgeon, but he's not even close to Belichick in terms of profile and national interest.

Pete Carroll? Could the gum-snapping, high-fiving, Super Bowl-winning coach turn into the NFL's next villain?

Chip Kelly? Could people eventually sour on his candid nature and construe his manner as overtly smug? Could his connection to Philadelphia turn the country against him like Belichick's tie with Boston's obnoxious lot of fans has hurt him? It could happen, but Kelly will need a few Super Bowl appearances (and wins) to get close to that level of disdain.

Who else, then? The rest of the NFL is full of coaches who are downright boring. There's barely a personality between the rest of them combined, outside of maybe Sean Payton, Mike Tomlin and John Harbaugh, three Super Bowl winners themselves. Those guys are far too likable to become villains.

 

John Froschauer/Associated Press

Filling the Void

Whenever Belichick retires, the NFL will have a gaping void in one of its most cherished roles.

Sure, Josh McDaniels can step in and become the head coach in New England and Tom Brady can stay another two or three years on a restructured deal and the Patriots might be good enough to get to the Super Bowl again, but it won't be the same, for them or for us.

We need a villain. If Belichick hangs up his hoodie, we'd have nobody to blame but ourselves.

And yes, this is wild speculation. The guy said three years ago he wanted to stay in the game because loves football, and his contract extension in 2013 basically guaranteed him a job in Foxborough for as long as he wants, so the Deflategate is perhaps just a small blip on the radar, all things considered.

At some point, though, Belichick is going to lose Brady—who may also contemplate retiring if he wins a title amid this scandal—and he'll be left having to continue his coaching brilliance with an untested guy under center.

Who the hell wants to do that, especially with all of this "tarnished legacy" talk that's never going to go away?

Why not get out before you have to deal with the horrendous growing pains of Jimmy Garoppolo?

Steven Senne/Associated Press

Why not get out with a happy ending? Why not roll credits after another ring?

It has been a wonderful NFL life for Belichick, and it's hard to think that after all this nonsense he would have any reason to stay if the Patriots win the Super Bowl.

It's harder to think what the NFL might be like when he's gone.