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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Tue Feb 27 - 02:00 PM | Thu Feb 29 - 11:55 AM

End of an Era

Bill Belichick’s 24-year coaching run in New England is the greatest in NFL history.

While the final word came relatively quickly, the reality is the end had been coming for quite some time.

The greatest head coaching run in NFL history came to a close when Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick mutually agreed to part ways. By the time official word came, the news seemed all but inevitable, but that didn't make it any less jarring.

Belichick won more Super Bowls than any coach who ever twirled a whistle, and he did it in a more dominating fashion than any of his peers. The numbers are almost impossible to believe: 333 wins, 31 postseason wins, six Super Bowl titles. No one did it better, and his legacy will remain in New England forever.

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But the accomplishments only tell part of his story, one that is far more complicated than it appears on the surface.

Belichick was a man who was born to coach. The son of longtime college coaching legend Steve Belichick, the youngster would often accompany his father while breaking down tape when scouting opponents. It became his passion, and throughout his early years it was clear he was destined to coach.

Photo by David Silverman

As Belichick worked his way up the NFL coaching ladder with stops in Baltimore, Detroit, Denver and New York, he soon became head coach in Cleveland at the age of 38. But it would be five years after his tenure with the Browns ended that Belichick would become synonymous with winning.

Kraft named him head coach of the Patriots in February of 2000, and thus kicked off the greatest dynasty in professional sports. Nobody won more often than Belichick during his 24 seasons at the Patriots helm, and alongside Tom Brady they emerged as the greatest coach-quarterback duo in history.

Strange as it may seem today, not everybody was convinced Kraft made a great move to send a first-round pick to the Jets to get Belichick's services. Shortly after his introductory press conference that evening, I appeared on Boston SportsRadio WEEI with Ted Sarandis, who had spent the previous hour lambasting the new coach. Some were put off by the way he left the Jets and others were scarred by his less-than-successful stint in Cleveland.

Photo by David Silverman

I spent my segment with Sarandis explaining how Kraft got his man – the one he wanted from the start – and how a return to discipline, which was lacking after the Pete Carroll days, would lead the team back. He wasn't buying it, and truth be told, I'm not sure I believed it either. I felt he was a solid coach but wondered if he was more suited to be a coordinator than the top guy.

Then I got to interact with him a bit. Some offseason interviews with Bryan Morry (my former co-worker) and I allowed us to get an idea of just how thoughtful and insightful he could be. His level of detail, even while answering some pretty innocuous questions from the team newspaper, just blew us away.

A year or two later he invited us to watch some film during the offseason. He eventually invited the entire media corps for some of these sessions, and again we were all left amazed at his level of dissection even during what he called "Film 101-level" stuff.

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While the wins were incredibly impressive to watch, it was the manner in which so many of them came that truly separated Belichick from the rest. He won with defense. He won with offense. He won throwing three passes. He won throwing 50-plus passes. He won with offensive players on defense. He won with defensive players on offense. He won with linemen as eligible receivers. He won with running backs as ineligible receivers. He won when the rules dictated the way the game was played. He won after those rules were altered to change things entirely.

In short, it didn't matter how the game unfolded, only that the Patriots generally wound up on top. I thought about those chats many times whenever he did something unconventional, and I would always think – it's not unconventional to him. That's the way he always thought, and it was simply his way of being prepared for anything.

Nobody understood the game and its history quite like Belichick, and he often used it to his advantage. One example came in the 2014 divisional playoffs against Baltimore. The Ravens were in control with a 14-point lead when Belichick changed the tenor of the game by using odd formations that called for normally eligible receivers to line up in a way that would make them ineligible. The Ravens were confused, the Patriots scored easily and suddenly the tide had turned in an eventual win on the way to Super Bowl XLIX.

A look back at the magnificent and unparalleled career of Bill Belichick, who led New England to six Super Bowl wins during his 24 years as head coach of the Patriots.

Using the likes of Troy Brown and Julian Edelman as defensive backs or Mike Vrabel and Richard Seymour on offense may have seemed crazy to some, but to Belichick it was simply what he felt was best for the team. These moves didn't always work – Seymour injured his knee playing goal line fullback in 2005 – but more often than not they did, and it showed how his imagination gave the Patriots an edge in virtually every game they played.

I've had the pleasure of being a small part of Belichick's entire run during my time with the team. By far the question I am asked most often is some variation of: "What's it like to cover Bill Belichick?" I always answer the same way – it's easy because he is very consistent. He's very private and doesn't generally stray from the idea of keeping as much information to himself as possible.

I don't pretend to know Bill any better than any of the dozens of others who have been along for the ride the past 24 years. With Bill, everyone was treated pretty much the same, and if you were part of the media that usually meant not very well.

But when it came to preparing his team, nobody did it better. From offseason team building to installing his system to preparing for any and all situations to game planning each week, Belichick relished it all.

You will no doubt be hearing from a lot of his former players in the days and weeks ahead, and while not all of them will offer verbal bouquets, every one of them will agree on one thing: Bill Belichick was born to be a football coach.

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