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Brady or Belichick: who's more responsible for the Patriots’ success?

Who dominates the greatest coach/quarterback combination in NFL history, asks Steve O’Rourke.
Feb 2nd 2019, 7:30 AM 5,528 8

THERE’S A CHANCE that, as the best players in college football were preparing for the 2000 NFL draft, you were running around singing something along the lines of:

“Greetings, hold tight with a new jam, hold tight with the mic in the left hand. It’s me and I’m on the groove tip. Are you ready now, move to the roof!”

For those of you not stumbling towards middle age with all the grace of Robert Kraft trying to high five a fellow billionaire in his executive suite, those are the lyrics of Maniac 2000.

That the song spent 10 weeks at the top of the Irish charts is only slightly less inexplicable than Tom Brady being selected in the sixth round of the NFL draft, 199th overall.

NFL: AFC Championship Game-New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs Dream team: Belichick and Brady. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Now, as he prepares for his ninth Super Bowl — no other team has appeared in more than eight — alongside head coach Bill Belichick (taking part in his 12th) there’s a good chance that age will soon deprive us of the greatest coach/quarterback combination we’ve ever seen.

But who is more responsible for the Patriots’ success over the past two decades, Brady or Belichick?

The case for the coach

In 2000, the New England Patriots were a dumpster fire. They’d lost six of their final eight games during the 1999 season and canned head coach Pete Carroll as a result.

Having been groomed by Bill Parcells to take over as head coach of the New York Jets, Belichick lasted just one day in the top job before using his unveiling press conference to resign and take the same role with New England.

Belichick the GM
One of the reasons Belichick chose the Patriots was because Robert Kraft gave him almost complete control of football operations, allowing him to be effectively head coach and general manager — with a little help from Scott Pioli.

“When we took over the 2000 team we had a roster of 42 players and were $10.5 million over the salary cap,” Pioli once told The Dan Patrick Show. “We had to get down to 39 players to get under the cap.”

The financial mess was part of the reason why the Patriots waited until the sixth round to draft Brady. That the Patriots actually carried four quarterbacks (Drew Bledsoe, Michael Bishop, John Friesz, and Brady) on their roster throughout that 2000 season — most teams only carry three — tells you how highly Belichick and his coaching staff valued the young Michigan prospect once he came to camp.

Belichick the roster builder
It was just the first of many great player personnel decisions Belichick has taken over the years and, while we’ll get to his coaching ability, the real secret to his success has been his ability to constantly reinvent the Patriots roster over the past 19 years.

From the Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi defensive teams of the early 2000s to the Randy Moss-powered offence later that decade. Even the current version has evolved in just five years from a focus on Rob Gronkowski and deep plays, to pass-catching running backs and slot receivers leading Brady’s supporting cast.

And Belichick gets a lot for very little outlay. The team that played in last year’s Super Bowl had 18 undrafted free agents and, in general, he has built the Patriots’ roster with predominantly middle-of-the-road contracts.

Indeed, this year, they have 19 players with cap hits between $2 million and $4 million. The Rams, by comparison, have only four players in that tier.

Super Bowl LIII New England Patriots' media availability Belichick faces the media. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Belichick the coach
Having cheap players is one thing, turning fullback Patrick Pass — a seventh round pick in that infamous 2000 draft — into a three-time Super Bowl winner is quite another.

Belichick’s best attribute as a head coach is that he is a specialist in nearly every position in football. Unlike someone like Sean McVay who specialises in offence, Belichick has the ability to coach all 22 positions and special teams too.

Two time Super Bowl winner Vince Wilfork told ESPN just how hands on Belichick is as a coach:

“I had no idea what I was doing in a 3-4 defense; I had never played it before. Every day he worked with me. He made me understand it. There were times when I was pissed off. But he’s the one I credit for the career I’ve had. He never took his foot off the pedal.”

And the evidence for his success is nine Super Bowl appearances in 19 seasons which makes a pretty compelling case for Belichick being responsible for the Patriots’ success.

The case for the quarterback

However, Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. may have something to say about that. As would Belichick himself, who once said of his coaching record:

“Players win games. They’re the ones that go out there and make the blocks, the tackles, the runs, the throws, the catches, the kicks… They’re the ones who go out and win.”

But quarterback wins are not a real statistic, so if we’re going to judge Brady, it can’t just be on his 236 victories in 306 starts.

Brady the finisher
Few players are as clutch as Brady. In his career, he has engineered 44 fourth quarter comebacks and 56 game-winning drives. While Peyton Manning leads both statistics, the two-time Super Bowl winner has just two game winning drives in the postseason, Brady has nine, including four in the Super Bowl.

After he led the Patriots to an overtime win against the Chiefs in the AFC championship game — a drive in which he completed three crucial third downs — Skip Bayless (I know, I know) described Brady as “more clutch” than NBA legend Michael Jordan.

Given that Brady has lost four Super Bowls and Jordan won a ring every time he reached the NBA finals, that’s a difficult comparison to stand over. However, in terms of quarterback play in the postseason, we’ve never seen anyone pull victory from the jaws of defeat like Brady.

Brady the leader
Throughout his high school and collegiate career, Brady was good, but never the best. Indeed, in his senior season with Michigan he wasn’t even a guaranteed starter, but this only fueled his determination to work harder.

During practice, Brady might get just two reps out of 50. Instead of focusing on the number of reps, he turned his focus on making every rep as good as it could be. This came in particularly useful during his rookie season when he was one of four Patriots quarterbacks vying for snaps and helped forge the leadership he is known for today.

Earlier this season, Brady told Westwood One Radio: “The strongest teams I’ve been on are teams that care about one another, that care about aspects of their life, and ultimately they care about the team and the team goals.”

And he has put his money where his mouth is throughout his career. Had he taken his market value at each extension, Brady would likely have made $258 million in his career to date. However, according to Business Insider, he has actually sacrificed over $60 million to help the Patriots build a better team around him.

NFL: JAN 20 AFC Championship Game - Patriots at Chiefs TB: Tom Brady. Source: Scott Winters

Brady the quarterback
There can be little doubt that the 41-year-old is the greatest quarterback we’ve ever seen. It’s not just the Super Bowl rings, or the game winning drives, or the longevity of his career, or his ability to constantly evolve his approach to the position. Instead it’s a combination of everything.

And there’s an argument to be made that, as well as sacrificing money over the course of his career, Brady has adapted his game to the benefit of his team, but at the expense of some of the stat padding that other quarterbacks engage in.

He has the third-lowest interception rate in NFL history and admits he has become even more conservative over the years telling WEEI’s Mut and Callahan earlier this season that:

“Maybe part of my problem as I’ve gotten older is I want to make so few mistakes. Maybe there’s not as much aggressiveness as I would like because with aggressiveness comes a little more risk. We have like a 95% chance of winning when we don’t turn the ball over and I think that’s always in the back of my mind.”

Putting his team first has certainly proven successful and adds weight to the argument that Brady is the one we can credit for New England’s era of dominance.

So, Brady or Belichick?

After his acrimonious departure from the New England Patriots in 1997, Bill Parcells famously said: “If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.”

That’s exactly what the Pats allowed Belichick to do and his first, and finest, purchase was Brady.

To continue the analogy for another paragraph, deciding whether the chef or the ingredients are responsible for how much you enjoyed a meal is basically impossible, as is assigning the crown of responsibility for the Patriots’ success to either Belichick or Brady.

We can, however, say with some certainty that Bill Belichick is not winning five Super Bowls with Michael Bishop at quarterback. Nor is Tom Brady winning four Super Bowl MVPs with Pete Carroll as his head coach.

Because of that, we can surmise that the greatness of the Patriots since 2000 is only because the best quarterback to ever play the game was a firm believer in putting the team before his own success, and he happened to be drafted by a person who simultaneously might be the best general manager and coach to ever grace a sideline.

Good luck trying to replicate that when building your franchise of the future.

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Steve O'Rourke

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