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Belichick top coach

Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick was named the AP Coach of the Year on Saturday.

The Patriots may be about team accomplishment rather than individual awards, but after the Pro Bowl voters snubbed at least one Patriot, the Coach of the Year voters looked to Foxborough and selected Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick as the NFL's top leader in 2003.

Belichick easily outdistanced the competition, receiving 351/2 votes from a panel of 50 sports writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL. Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis was second with seven votes followed by Dallas' Bill Parcells, 61/2, and Philadelphia's Andy Reid, who received one vote. It is the first time Belichick has won Coach of the Year honors.

"I am honored to accept this award as recognition of the tremendous work of our entire coaching staff, personnel department and Mr. Kraft," Belichick said. "Coaching is always a collective effort that depends on the assistant coaches' preparation and direction and the players' performance on the field. More than anything, it was the players' exceptional resiliency, toughness and execution under pressure that allowed us to have a successful regular season."

Belichick engineered a 14-2 Patriots team through a myriad of injuries this season that saw him use 42 different starters. In fact, players who started for the Patriots in 2003 missed a combined 103 games with injuries, and five opening day starters finished the year on injured reserve.

"Every year brings its own challenges and you always have to make personnel changes through the course of the year and over 16 games," Belichick said. "Things happen, some guys improve, some guys have injury issues and sometimes there are scheme issues. You always have to make changes."

He made plenty this year, but he remained consistent in his approach and was an unflappable leader, as his team fought through the injuries and won close game after close game, often in dramatic fashion.

Despite the early injury epidemic that could have dashed the Patriots chances, the team adapted a "moving on" philosophy and finished with the best regular season record in team history.

"We had a number of different people contribute," he said. "I think all of the players have been active at one time or another. They have contributed in one way or another. So it has been a lot of different mixes through the course of the year from game to game."

It was a season of firsts for New England. Besides the 14-2 mark, New England won its last 12 regular season games, the longest streak in franchise history, and became only the third team ever to accomplish that feat and the first since the 1972 Miami Dolphins. The Patriots also finished their home schedule an undefeated 8-0 for the first time ever, posted three shutouts in a season for the first time and allowed the league's fewest points (238), also for the first time. They also finished as the AFC's top seed and with the NFL's best record for the first time ever.

Belichick is in his fourth season in New England and after finishing 5-11 in his first year back in 2000, he has guided the Patriots to a 37-14 mark, including the postseason, with a Super Bowl Championship to his credit. That .725 winning percentage is the best in the NFL over the last three seasons. In his four years with the Patriots, his team has captured two AFC East Division titles and tied for a third, losing the tiebreaker in 2002.

Belichick is in his ninth NFL coaching season with his second team. He was 36-44 in five years as the Browns head coach from 1991-1995 and is 39-25 in four with the Patriots for a 75-69 overall record.

Two years ago, in 2001, he completed one of the best coaching jobs in NFL history when he guided what former Packers General Manager Ron Wolf called "a waiver wire team" to a world championship. He did not win coach of the year that season after finishing 11-5, losing out to Chicago's Dick Jauron, who guided the Bears to a 13-3 record in 2001.

The 2003 NFL Coach of the Year award is validation that Belichick has evolved into one of the top head coaches in the game today.

He will lead his AFC East Champion Patriots into the playoffs Saturday night when New England hosts a Divisional Playoff game at 8:15 p.m. at Gillette Stadium.

In a side note, Pro Bowlers Ty Law and Richard Seymour were both named AFC starters for the league's all-star game, which will be played in Hawaii on Feb. 8.

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