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Belichick: The Making of the Greatest Football Coach of All Time

Review

Belichick: The Making of the Greatest Football Coach of All Time

Ian O’Connor’s BELICHICK is a deep and substantive dive into the life of a man many recognize as one of professional football’s greatest coaches. It is a football junkie’s delight, providing generous detail about a man whose football destiny was declared almost at birth. O’Connor accomplished this meticulous chronicle without any assistance from his subject or many in Belichick’s inner circle. He makes it quite clear that Belichick, in addition to declining interviews for the book, asked friends and colleagues not to speak with him. Some did, but many were simply afraid to do so. They were even reluctant to share the warmest stories about Belichick that the public may not know about.

As O’Connor points out, many of the greatest coaches in the history of sports carried some baggage acquired during their exemplary careers. In basketball, John Wooden, Bobby Knight and Rick Pitino are cheered for their NCAA championships but are also remembered for personal shortcomings. Many great baseball managers in the steroid era proudly wear World Series rings along with the scar of casting a blind eye to their players’ use of performance-enhancing chemicals. Belichick’s championships with the New England Patriots will always provoke discussions that focus on illegal filming of opposing coaches’ signals and “Deflategate.” This biography is O’Connor’s attempt to unravel the mystery of the man. In 2000, he wrote a newspaper column predicting that Belichick would be a failure as coach of the Patriots based on his stint in Cleveland. The fact that O’Connor was so wrong served as inspiration to discover the hows and whys of his incredible success.

"Ian O’Connor’s BELICHICK is a deep and substantive dive into the life of a man many recognize as one of professional football’s greatest coaches. It is a football junkie’s delight, providing generous detail about a man whose football destiny was declared almost at birth."

The early years of Belichick’s coaching career followed a traditional and familiar path. Upon graduation from college, Billy, as he was called in his first job, became an unpaid assistant with the Baltimore Colts. Steve Belichick, Bill’s father, had many friends in football coaching, which helped land him a spot with Ted Marchibroda in his first year coaching the Colts. While connections are helpful in any job, Belichick took advantage of this opportunity to immerse himself in every aspect of coaching. It was soon obvious to everyone that once he was put in a room to do a job, you would not see him until the job was done. Perhaps most important, as one veteran player observed, “I don’t remember him spending a lot of time or energy going out of his way to attach himself with the players. He didn’t find any pressure to be liked.”

Moving smoothly up the coaching ladder and having outgrown the despised “Billy” moniker, Belichick was the defensive coordinator for the New York Giants with two Super Bowl victories to his credit when he was named the head coach of the Cleveland Browns in 1985. Browns owner Art Modell was sold on the 38-year-old after recommendations from many coaches and from Bob Knight, who met Belichick through his coaching friends at West Point. Belichick had a plan, the Modell family believed, “not like the other guys in the past.”

While an argument regarding his Cleveland tenure can be an exhausting fan debate, it was there where some of Belichick’s most questionable coaching practices were honed. He believed in frequent and physical practices, and constructed a wall of secrecy around himself and his players. To this day, his truncated monosyllabic repeated answers at press conferences are a great source of material for ESPN, YouTube and Twitter.

Belichick’s tremendous success in New England is already well-known to both fans and detractors. I will let them debate his qualities elsewhere, but they are well-detailed in O’Connor’s book. I prefer to conclude this review with mention of the final chapter titled “Human Bill.” It opens with the question “Is Belichick really as big a prick as he seems?” The answer is no. There are countless stories of kindness, charitable donations to worthy causes that go unpublicized, and generosity to players. My favorite is Belichick giving punter Josh Miller a copy of WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS, the book of children’s poetry that my wife and I also give as a baby gift. All I need now is a handful of Super Bowl rings to have something else in common with possibly professional football’s greatest coach.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on September 28, 2018

Belichick: The Making of the Greatest Football Coach of All Time
by Ian O'Connor

  • Publication Date: September 25, 2018
  • Genres: Biography, Nonfiction, Sports
  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • ISBN-10: 0544785746
  • ISBN-13: 9780544785748