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Rationality, Justice prevail: Bill Belichick named AP 2007 NFL Coach of the Year

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Belichick Wins, Justice Served
It May Be the Best Coaching Job Ever

"Practice makes perfect," says the old saw. "Perfect practices makes perfect," says the extreme perfectionist. "Perfection is unattainable," say others.

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has long sought the elusive perfect game. Indeed, the 2007 season was far from "perfect." But what Belichick and the Patriots proved was that constantly seeking perfection has its merits and its rewards.

Today's announcement verified what most rational people knew four months ago: the videotaping "scandal" was much ado about nothing. Belichick received 29 of 50 votes after coaching New England to the only 16-0 regular season in NFL history.

Voters "sent a message" that 7 minutes of meaningless video compares not to 960 minutes of winning football. "Breaking a rule" and "cheating" are not synonymous or every player and coach in the league would be guilty. Belichick and the Patriots were punished accordingly -- maybe too harshly -- and nothing done in those 7 minutes had any impact on the season. Thus, a complete non-issue.

What is relevant is that Belichick's coaching job was masterful. None have ever kept a team -- players and coaches included -- so sharp for 16 games, never looking back, never looking ahead, always focused on the moment.

Do they -- Belichick, his coaches or his players -- really never look ahead?

It's a myth, in a way.

Say you're a college student (a good one). You go to class. You do homework. You study. Repeat. You take exams. You continue going to class, doing homework, studying. You take your final exam. After two weeks of classes, are you thinking about taking the final? Of course not. But every day, whether or not you're consciously thinking about taking the final, but you're preparing for it.

Say you're a salesperson in the private sector (a good one). You design your presentation. Maybe you rehearse it. You plan answers for questions you expect. You meet your client. Repeat. Every month or every quarter, you have a quota. You continue refining your presentation and learning from previous clients what questions and concerns others will have. If you've been doing your job and doing it well, are you worrying about meeting your third-quarter quota in the middle of March? No way. But every day, you're putting in your best effort and you're preparing for future success.

So are Belichick, the coaches or the players thinking about playing the Giants in Week 17 before playing the Redskins in Week 8? Not a chance. But everything they're doing is preparation.

Taking the starters out after the third quarter of the Washington game would not have prepared New England mounting a comeback in the fourth quarter in the RCA Dome in Week 9, or overcoming a generally lackluster performance with a last-minute onslaught in Baltimore in Week 13, or covering an onside kick with 63 seconds left in the season in New Jersey in Week 17.

San Diego came to Foxboro in September planning revenge for a 2006 playoff loss. Belichick, in the midst of the overreaction to the video fiasco, had his team prepared. The Patriots traveled to Dallas where they had never won and they faced a 5-0 team. Belichick had his team prepared. Half a dozen (at least) teams brought their best game, trying to alter the one constant in the 2007 season -- a zero in the loss column next to New England's record.

The Patriots have already beaten more than half of this year's playoff teams (not counting themselves -- kind of part of the whole "the only team who could beat the Patriots was the Patriots" theme).

No team has ever gone 16-0. No team has every beaten a 5-0 team and and 8-0 team, both of which ended up tied for the second best record in the league -- and both games were on the road. Few teams, if any, have ever beaten half the playoff field during the regular season.

Only once all season, Week 12 against Philadelphia, did Belichick appear to be out-coached, but in that case, as in 15 others, the result proved the method. Not sitting starters in Week 6, 7 or 8 prepared them for winning in Week 12.

Playing 60 minutes every week, a strategy scoffed by those who hoped key Patriots players would be injured, who rooted openly against New England during national broadcasts.

From February right through Week 16, no team in the NFL was better prepared week to week. Not this year, not ever.

It was the best season ever. How could Belichick not be coach of the year?

Belichick was not interested in destroying teams, embarrassing people, exacting revenge or any of the other insanity alleged by jealous and uninformed parties. He was interested in his team playing the best football it could for 60 minutes in every game they played. If the Patriots destroyed teams, embarrassed people, exacted revenge or anything else, those were just side effects to the main goal.

Belichick was interested in winning games.

Against all odds, his team won 16 out of 16.

Despite the mountain of evidence that there was only one logical choice, not everyone voted for Belichick. Fifteen cast votes for Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy, who coached the Packers, a team with very moderate preseason expectations, to the second-best record in the league at 13-3, a first-round playoff bye and the NFC North title.

If a second-place award existed, McCarthy would be a worthy candidate. I can understand him receiving some votes.

But anyone else?

Wade Philips (two votes)? He went 13-3 with a Dallas Cowboys team built by coaching great Bill Parcells. In the NFC. A good job. A real outside shot it was a great job. But not nearly the best job.

Jack Del Rio (two votes)? He did an excellent job coaching Jacksonville to an 11-5 record with what was considered a backup quarterback in a tough division. But a better job than taking a team to 16-0 against some of the best teams in the league? Besides, Belichick won a Super Bowl with a 6th-round draft pick after his superstar quarterback was injured two weeks into the season. Do you remember who won coach of the year in 2001? Dick Jauron.

Tony Dungy (one vote)? Are you kidding? He coached the defending Super Bowl champion to a 13-3 record. That's an accomplishment? Sure, the Colts had injuries. Big deal. If that meant so much, Belichick would have been coach of the year in 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006. Besides, can you call someone "coach of the year" when he fields a team in a game he has no intention of trying to win? Must have been a writer from the Indianapolis Star.

And Jon Gruden (one vote)? WHAT? Sure, Tampa Bay exceeded expectations, but they're 9-7. Nine and seven. In one of the worst divisions in the league. The only teams with winning records Tampa beat were 10-6 Tennessee (13-10) and 9-7 Washington (16-10). Coach of the year?

Don't be ridiculous.