Bill Belichick is either the greatest NFL coach of all-time or a close second behind whomever you've painstakingly crafted a narrative around to prove a point. After five mediocre years in Cleveland that resulted in a 36-44 record and a bizarrely infamous cup of coffee with the New York Jets, he landed in New England back in 2000. Since then he's complied a 254-99 mark, 30 postseason wins and six Super Bowls alongside Tom Brady. This year will go down as one of, if not the greatest coaching campaigns of his career as he's steered a rookie quarterback into the postseason.
No sane person would ever doubt such a master craftsman emerging in mid-February with the sport's ultimate prize. No sane person would ever suggest his personal success as a head coach is anything less than legendary. But it is worth pausing to reflect on just how little fruit his coaching tree has borne when given the opportunity to grow in different pastures.
Yesterday, two of his pupils, Brian Flores and Joe Judge were dismissed from their gigs. Circumstances are wildly different. Judge was an on- and off-field clown show while Flores arguably maximized potential, falling just shy of the playoffs each of the past two seasons.
Ten Belichick-groomed coaches have been given the reins elsewhere. Only one, Bill O'Brien, has managed to eclipse .500. Five have been abject disasters. Three have simply been okay.
Fairness dictates an obvious caveat. Franchises usually don't seek out new coaching hires when things are going well and an overwhelming majority of new jobs require significant rebuilding. Below is a comprehensive look at how Belichick's branches have fared, as well as a snapshot of the situation they inherited. It is bleak.
Joe Judge with the New York Giants: 10-23, inherited a 4-12 team
Brian Flores with the Miami Dolphins: 24-25, inherited 7-9 team
Matt Patricia with the Detroit Lions: 13-29-1, inherited 9-7 team
Bill O'Brien with the Houston Texans: 52-48, inherited 2-14 team
Jim Schwartz with the Detroit Lions: 29-51, inherited 0-16 team
Josh McDaniels with the Denver Broncos: 11-17, inherited 8-8 team
Romeo Crennel with the Cleveland Browns: 24-40, inherited 4-12 team; 4-15 with the Kansas City Chiefs; 4-8 with the Houston Texans
Eric Mangini with the New York Jets: 23-25, inherited 4-12 team; 10-22 with the Cleveland Browns, inherited 4-12 team
Nick Saban with the Miami Dolphins: 15-17, inherited 4-12 team
Al Groh with the New York Jets: 9-7, inherited 8-8 team
Cumulatively, the 10 carry a 228-339 record. That's a winning percentage of .402. They inherited squads that were 54-114 (.321), so at least there's that. Still, O'Brien went 2-4 in the playoffs, never reaching the conference championship. Mangini lost his singular appearance. So did Jim Schwartz. It's kind of remarkable that the sport's most accomplished winner has not spun off a successor capable of replicating even a whiff of the magic.
Saban, of course, perhaps made up for all of this by becoming the Belichick of college football. The Alabama stalwart was just denied his eighth national title by Georgia — coached by Kirby Smart, a member of Saban's own tree.
The larger point here is not that Belichick is somehow less of a legend because those who've walked in his footsteps have struggled to find solid ground. It'd be foolhardy to think that and actual human beings who hold such belief may be a null set. To me, it proves the randomness of it all. And to some extent, how much the NFL has changed to eliminate the possibility of second chances and organizations having patience while a ship is righted.
If Belichick were 25 years younger and fresh off five years of losing football with the Browns, are we sure he'd be given another shot to win? To build something somewhere else? Not so sure about that one.
But the empirical evidence is something to behold, even if its meaning will vary person to person.