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Point-Counterpoint: Bill Belichick is the Greatest NFL Coach of all Time

point counterpoint sbm

Point (or Lack Thereof): Bill Belichick Is The Greatest Coach Of All-Time

A couple of weeks ago, the New England Patriots won their fifth Super Bowl under head coach Bill Belichick. But for some even before that, there has been a discussion here at Dubsism World Headquarters about Belichick’s status amongst the great coaches of all time. I’ll bet nobody reading this would be shocked to hear the Patriots fans here at all said Belichick is the greatest of all- time.

That’s when I tossed out the challenge to do this installment of Point-Counterpoint. Mind you, this was a solid two months before Belichick collected his fifth Super Bowl ring. That’s important as a common refrain on this piece from the Belichick “G.O.A.T.-ers” was waiting to see if that fifth title came about.

At that point, I made it known to all three potential partners in this exercise that the number of championships won by Belichick were completely irrelevant to the main thrust of my anti-“G.O.A.T.” argument, and I’d be willing to stipulate to Belichick being the best coach in the NFL over the last 25 years, with the understanding that I had an argument I considered to be “iron-clad” reason why he can’t be the greatest of all-time.  After that declaration, it only took a couple of days after that for the excuses to start rolling in. All of a sudden, the people doing the loudest table-pounding for “Belichick G.O.A.T.” case were the ones who couldn’t make a case for it.

That’s where you, our loyal Dubsists come in. Here’s you shot to write the “Point” section. If you think Bill Belichick is the greatest NFL coach of all-time, send us your case. Be advised, you will need to do better than our three aspirants did, which means your argument has to be better than “because I think so.”

I’ll even give you an advantage the original three didn’t…you get to see the entire “Counter-Point” argument before you sharpen your crayon.

card-declined-meme

Counter-Point: Belichick Cannot Be the Greatest NFL Coach of All-Time

As established, three different people accepted the challenge to take the “Point” portion, and all three of them blanched when it came time to deliver.  The reason is they all realized once they really started thinking about it, they understood the “Belichick as greatest coach of all time” has problems.  The problem is they all were starting to buy the argument based on the number of Super Bowl championships.  Despite the fact I’ve already made it known that wasn’t my point, that’s the crux of what I will get in response.

It’s matters little as but anybody wishing to buy that argument…like the meme says…your card has been declined. There will be no buying of that argument today.  If I understand this deluded bit of homer-ism correctly, the idea is Bill Belichick is the greatest coach of all time because he won five championships and served as his own general manager.

I’ve already said I’m willing to give you that Belichick could be the greatest coach in the last 25 years, and I’ll even stipulate to Belichick as one of the better general managers in our time, but if the time-frame is all-time, then Belichick doesn’t even make the proverbial “Mt. Rushmore.” There’s two main reasons for that.

The first is there are simply too many guys ahead of him with more impressive curriculum vitae. The second is that he’s simply the wrong kind of coach for “Greatest of all Time” consideration.

Let’s take that last one first. There are three types of coaches who aren’t failures. There’s the guy who takes a team from terrible to borderline good. Then, there’s the guy who gets a team over the “hump;” the guy who takes you a franchise from borderline good to the top of the football mountain. The third kind is “all of the above;” the rarest of all…the the guy who can take a team all the way from the outhouse to the penthouse. There have been precious few of those types of coach.

Here’s the list of guys I would put on that third list (in alphabetical order).

Paul Brown:

  • Teams: Cleveland Browns (AAFC) 1946-49; Cleveland Browns (NFL) 1950-62; Cincinnati Bengals 1968-75
  • Record: 213-104-9 (25 years), 9-8 in playoffs
  • Accomplishments: 14 division titles, 4 AAFC championships (1946, 1947, 1948, 1949), 3 NFL championships (1950, 1954, 1955), Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1967. Served as owner, general manager, and head coach
  • Narrative: One of the game’s greatest innovators and was the first coach of both the Browns and the Bengals.  Despite the fact that the first four were in the the All-America Football Conference, taking the Browns to ten consecutive title game appearances is a record that will never be broken.

Mike Ditka:

  • Teams: Chicago Bears (1982-1992), New Orleans Saints (1997-1999)
  • Record: 121-95-0 (14 years), 6-6 in playoffs
  • Accomplishments: 6 division titles, Super Bowl XX Champion
  • Narrative: Ditka is the flukiest and least accomplished guy on this list, and he’s the only guy who had a really bad relationship with his star quarterback, but he still meets the criteria.  He took a seriously crap team to the top of the football mountain.

Weeb Ewbank:

  • Teams: Baltimore Colts (1954-1962), New York Jets (1963-1973)
  • Record: 130-129-7 (20 years), 4-1 in playoffs
  • Accomplishments: 2 NFL Championships (1958, 1959), AFL and Super Bowl III Champion (1968), Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 1978.  Served as head coach and general manager (Jets).
  • Narrative: The only coach on this list to win championships with two different teams, and built the New York Jets team which forced the NFL to accept the legitimacy of the AFL.

Joe Gibbs:

  • Teams: Washington Redskins (1981-92, 2004-07)
  • Record: 154-94 (16 years), 17-7 in playoffs
  • Accomplishments: 5 division titles, 4 Super Bowl appearances (XVII, XVIII, XXII, XXVI), Super Bowl XVII, XXII, XXVI champion, Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1996
  • Narrative: Here’s the complete list of NFL coaches who won titles with three different quarterbacks: Joe Gibbs.

George Halas:

  • Teams: Decatur/Chicago Staleys 1920-21; Chicago Bears 1922-29, 1933-42,  1946-1955, 1958-67
  • Record: 318-148-31 (40 years), 6-3 in playoffs
  • Accomplishments: 10 division titles, 6 NFL championships (1921, 1933, 1940, 1941, 1946, 1963), Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1963. Co-Founder of the National Football League – Served as owner, general manager, and head coach
  • Narrative: Professional football does not exist without George Halas. Case closed.

Jimmy Johnson:

  • Teams: Dallas Cowboys (1989-1993), Miami Dolphins (1996-1999)
  • Record: 80-64 (9 years), 9-4 in playoffs
  • Accomplishments: 2 division titles, Super Bowl XXVII, XXVIII Champion
  • Narrative: Johnson has the smallest body of work of anybody on this list, and the Miami experiment was barely more than an abject failure, but Johnson built the worst team in the league into a two-time Super Bowl champ in under four years. In doing so, he wrote the book on how to use trades and draft picks to do so and built a team so good even Barry F. Switzer could win with it, which put both of them on the list of coaches who won both an NCAA and NFL championship (Paul Brown and Pete Carroll being the other two).

Curly Lambeau:

  • Teams: Green Bay Packers 1921-49; Chicago Cardinals 1950-51; Washington Redskins 1952-53
  • Record: 226-132-22 (33 years), 3-2 in playoffs
  • Accomplishments: 8 division titles, 6 NFL championships (1929, 1930, 1931, 1936, 1939, 1944) Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1963. Co-Founder of the National Football League – Served as owner, general manager, and head coach
  • Narrative: Instrumental to the founding of the NFL, built the first incarnation of the Packer dynasty with six championships.

Tom Landry:

  • Teams: Dallas Cowboys 1960-1989
  • Record: 250-162-6 (29 years), 20-16 in playoffs
  • Accomplishments: 13 division titles, 5 Super Bowl appearances (V, VI, X, XII, XIII), Super Bowl VI, XII champion. Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1990
  • Narrative: Built the Cowboys from expansion into “America’s Team.”  Bill Belichick needs five more consecutive seasons with a winning record to break Landry’s record of 20.

Vince Lombardi:

  • Teams: Green Bay Packers 1959-67; Washington Redskins 1969
  • Record: 96-34-6 (10 years), 9-1 in playoffs
  • Accomplishments: 6 division titles, 3 NFL championships (1961, 1962, 1965-67), Super Bowl I, II Champion. Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1971
  • Narrative: Lombardi won 5 championships in 9 seasons with the Packers. Nobody knows what he would have done with the Redskins had his time not been cut short by colon cancer.

Chuck Noll:

  • Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers (1969-91)
  • Record: 193-148-1 (23 years), 16-8 in playoffs
  • Accomplishments: 9 division titles, Super Bowl IX, X, XIII, XIV Champion.  Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1993
  • Narrative: The Steelers were arguably the sorriest franchise in the league since their founding in 1933.  Noll took the reins in 1969 and built the team which dominated the 1970’s with four championships in six seasons.

Bill Parcells:

  • Teams: New York Giants 1983-90; New England 1993-96; New York Jets 1997-99; Dallas Cowboys 2003-06
  • Record: 172-130-1 (19 years), 11-8 in playoffs
  • Accomplishments: 5 division titles, 3 Super Bowl appearances (XXI, XXV, XXXI), Super Bowl XXI, XXV Champion.  Pro Football of Fame, Class of 2013
  • Narrative:  Parcells took one team which had two winning seasons in as many decades and won two Super Bowls with it within five years.  He also took another team to a Super Bowl which had a total of seven playoff appearances in nearly forty years of prior existence.  One can also make the argument he”s responsible for a great deal of Bill Belichick’s success. More on that later….

Don Shula:

  • Teams: Baltimore Colts (1963-69), Miami Dolphins (1970-95)
  • Record: 328-156-6 (33 years), 19-17 in playoffs
  • Accomplishments: 16 division titles, 6 Super Bowl appearances (III, VI, VII, VIII, XVII, XIX), Super Bowl VII, VIII Champion.  Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1997
  • Narrative: The fact he’s the all-time winningest coach isn’t nearly as impressive as the fact that he is one of three people on this list that built a team so good a guy who will end up as a footnote in NFL history won with it.

Bill Walsh:

  • Teams: San Francisco 49ers (1979-88)
  • Record: 92-59-1 (10 years), 10-4 in playoffs
  • Accomplishments: 6 division titles, Super Bowl XVI, XIX, XXIII champion. Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1993
  • Narrative: Bill Walsh and his “West Coast Offense” became the gold standard, and it is still in use today in various forms. Like Jimmy Johnson and Don Shula before him, he built a team so good another coach nobody will remember won a championship with it.

Now, before all you Belichick-o-philes sharpen up your crayons to take umbrage with the fact that Mike Ditka is on this list and Saint Bill isn’t, don’t forget, this isn’t a ranking.  If it were, Belichick would be rated ahead of several coaches listed here.  This was simply a listing of coaches who inherited godawful teams and won with them.  Granted, he took over a genuinely shitty team in Cleveland, and the fact that he managed to win a playoff game with the Browns is a serious accomplishment.  But he didn’t win a championship. Every coach on that list took over a train-wreck and made it into a champion. Belichick isn’t on this list because he never did that. That’s also why he isn’t on the “Mt. Rushmore.”

When it comes to the Patriots, Belichick got handed a team that was pretty damn ready to win.  You can’t look at the roster of the Patriot team Belichick inherited and tell me that it needed a complete overhaul.  He’s got a star quarterback, more than a handful of Pro Bowl talent…oh, and a future Hall-of-Famer on his bench he would have never known about if it hadn’t been for New York Jets linebacker Mo Lewis turning Drew Bledsoe’s guts into goulash.  Belichick handed the ball to a unknown back-up quarterback named Tom Brady, and the rest is history.

I understand that all successful people in every walk of life get lucky at some point, but Belichick’s career is defined by getting more than his fair share of favorable breaks.

Lucky Bounce #1: He lands a coaching job as part of the replacement cast after the New York Giants fired everybody from the head coach down to the parking lot attendants after the 1978 “Miracle at the Meadowlands.”  As the Special Teams coach, he survives the horror of the Ray Perkins era, only to hit the jackpot again upon the arrival of Bill Parcells. You guessed, this is the “more on that later…” part when it comes to the role “The Tuna” plays in the ascendancy of Belichick.

Lucky Bounce #2: Under Parcells’ tutelage, Belichick grows from the coaching backwater of Special Teams to Defensive Coordinator.  The Parcells’ Giants which won Super Bowls feature a bruising defense.  Belichick cashes in on his second Giants’ Super Bowl ring to take the head coach job in Cleveland. In five seasons, he build a defense on leftovers from the Giants’ glory days like’ Pepper Martin and Carl Banks.  The end result: the aforementioned playoff win, a 36-44 overall record, and El Fired-o.

Lucky Bounce #3: Here’s one of which I clearly know the value.  Having been in corporate America for far too long, I understand the power of “networking.” There’s a lot more to it than not burning bridges.  Not only do you have to build a useful set of contacts, they have to land in positions where they can help you.  If you’ve done your part, and you get lucky enough to have somebody in a useful spot, you still need them to be in a situation where they can both use and hire a guy like you.  So, when Belichick is sitting in the airport in Cleveland thumbing through the classified ads (snagajob.com didn’t exist yet in 1996) and sees “Defensive Coordinator Needed. Call the New England Patriots at 1-800-PARCELLS,” he knows he’s caught another lucky bounce.

Lucky Bounce #4: Belichick now gets to be part of a coaching staff who will all benefit from being part of the squad which rescues the Jets from the despair of the Rich Kotite era. He and Parcells bolt from the Patriots after the 1996 season to head for of all places the Patriots hated rival, the New York Jets (more on that in a bit).  The legend of Parcells continues in New York, builds the stock price of Charlie Weis, and resurrects Bill Belichick’s career.  Being part of this staff will ultimately give him a second shot at a head coaching job.  Think about it. How many guys have been head coaches in this league, got fired, and never got another chance? Most of them. If Saint Bill doesn’t redeem himself on another Parcells’ staff, he very likely ends up as another historical footnote, down on the list of coaches next to names like Walt Michaels, Jack Patera, and Ray Rhodes.

Lucky Bounce #5: To this day, this one simply amazes me.  This guy found a way to burn bridges all the way around, and somehow survived it.  As alluded to in the previous point, The relationship between Bill Parcells and Robert Kraft went south over control of player personnel decisions…The famous quote from “The Tuna:”

“If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.”

That should tell you about the level of bad blood which existed between Parcells and Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft.  It should also tell you that guys like Belichick needed to made a decision. You can either side with the guy who made your career or the guy who signs your paycheck.  No matter which way you go, conventional wisdom dictates that your relationship with whomever you side against is beyond burnt.  Belichick sided with Parcells, and left New England with him…destination New York Jets.

Considering how long the feud  between Parcells and Kraft lasted, one would think Belichick would have been persona non grata in New England.  Call it another lucky bounce if you will, but by this time, Bob Kraft is getting a reputation for being a bit of a flake. He essentially ran Parcells out of town at the height of his success with the Patriots and after the Pete Carroll fiasco, nobody was in a big hurry to take the job in New England.  The Patriots hired Carroll because they got turned down by George Seifert.  After Carroll, there was one guy who would take the job…Bill Belichick. That brings us to what was undeniably a lucky bounce.

Lucky Bounce #6:

Kraft wanted desperately to avoid a repeat of the Seifert fiasco, a desire which drove him directly to his former employee.  One day after the end of the 1999 season, Kraft presented Belichick with an offer to be the new head coach of the Patriots. There was one small problem…Belichick was already contractually obligated to the New York Jets.  There’s lots of people who love to forget about the legal soap-opera which surrounded the Jets, the Patriots, and the man who would be coach of both.

As already addressed, at the time Belichick was an assistant coach with the Jets.  Part of the agreement he signed with New York contractually made him the head coach immediately upon the departure of Bill Parcells.  One day after the end of the 1999 season, Parcells announced his second retirement from NFL coaching, and as per the contract, Bill Belichick ascends to the throne of the New York Jets football nation.  But this is the NFL, not European monarchies in the Habsburg era; you can’t be on more than one throne at a time. Now the fiasco Bob Kraft wanted to avoid is replaced by the one he thought he’d never see again.  Just like in 1997 over Bill Parcells, in 2000 the Jets and the Patriots find themselves doing battle in a courtroom rather than a football field.

While nobody involved will admit it, the conventional wisdom (and the only one that made legal action necessary) was that Kraft made an offer to Belichick, which he accepted knowing he was already contractually obligated to the Jets.  That’s the only thing which explains the surreal scene that happened the next day, when at what supposed to be his coronation to the head of the Jets coaching nobilitasse, King Belichick offers his abdication via a note scrawled on a napkin and a 30-minute  resignation speech, despite the fact he’d worn that crown for less than a day.

In a “Baghdad Bob”-style attempt to deflect us from what was likely the truth, both Kraft and Belichick denied the former had offered the latter the Patriots’ head coaching job, with King Bill trying to sell the reason for his abdication was the Jets’ uncertain ownership situation following the death of owner Leon Hess earlier that year.  There’s so much bullshit in that you’d need a freight train to haul it.  If he had been so worried about that, he would have been on the phone with his lawyer getting a way out of that clause before Hess’ body was even cold.

Here’s why that matters. Prior to all of this, the Jets denied Belichick permission to speak with other teams as was their contractual right.  Belichick appealed this denial to the league and was rebuffed as Bill Parcells had been three years earlier.  Once the NFL upheld Belichick’s contractual obligations to the Jets, King Bill filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL.  Thjis created such a problem in the NFL that a rising young executive/attorney in the league who used to be an intern for the Jets named Roger Goodell had to deal with it (hence the genesis of the bad blood between Belichick and Goodell).

Eventually, a deal was brokered between the Jets and the Patriots which let Belichick out of his obligations. In case you weren’t counting, that makes a total of at least six lucky bounces before the one which will eternally define Belichick as “accidentally successful;” the happen-stance discovery of a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback.  Realistically, despite my postulate on the three types on on-failure coaches and the characteristics of each, most of the coaches on my “third” list actively knew how to find their quarterback. No matter what counter argument you care to make about Belichick, you can never say that.

Email Dubsism at dubsism@yahoo.com, and follow us @Dubsism on Twitter, or on our Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, and Facebook pages.

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What your view of sports would be if you had too many concussions

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