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Former Navy coach, Bill Belichick mentor Wayne Hardin dead at 91

The Patriots head coach learned a lot from Hardin, who passed away on Wednesday.

Over the course of his 42-year coaching career, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has grown into a first ballot Hall of Famer and will go down in history as arguably the greatest his profession has ever seen. Each of his former gigs – be it special teams assistant in Detroit or defensive coordinator in New York – played an integral role in making Belichick what he is today; the NFL’s premier coach.

However, the foundation of his career was laid years before his first job in the NFL as a special assistant with Ted Marchibroda’s Baltimore Colts. It all started in Annapolis, Maryland, at the United States Naval Academy. Belichick’s father Steve worked as a scout and assistant coach on Navy’s football staff.

The head coach at the time was Wayne Hardin.

Hardin, who later coached at Temple and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2013, spent six seasons leading the Midshipmen. He was more than just one of the head coaches under whom the elder Belichick served, though. The Arkansas native also was one of the biggest influences on a young boy regularly hanging around campus: Steve’s son Bill.

"I'd say Wayne influenced me more than anybody else," said the younger Belichick in a recent article by CSNNE’s Phil Perry. "Honestly, I saw other coaches at Navy take a different approach, and looking back on it, even though I didn't know it at the time, but I would say looking back on it, I would rather be like him. I've seen these others, but I would rather do it the way he did it."

Hardin’s unconventional and aggressive approach to coaching left an everlasting mark on Bill Belichick – one that can be seen with the Patriots on a fairly regular basis. Be it bold decisions on or off the field, the roots of the method lie in Annapolis and are closely linked to how Hardin ran his organization. "I'd say I learned from him that there's nothing wrong with being aggressive," Belichick noted.

Not only was Hardin, an aggressive coach, he also was an innovative one. Unusual play designs and trick plays were a staple of how he coached the game. And of how Belichick approaches it as well. "All that is Wayne’s stuff," Belichick said about trick plays in the kicking game, New England ran in the past. "He was very innovative in the kicking game, which he continued to be at Temple. I mean, I still remember some of the things he did, that were – they were brilliant. They were just brilliant."

Yesterday, one day after suffering a stroke, the brilliant mind that was Wayne Hardin passed away. Hardin, who remained a close friend of Bill Belichick throughout the years, was 91 years old.