In today’s age of hot takes and being forced to choose one side or another, we can’t say that both options can be correct. Sometimes, however, that’s just simply the truth, like when you’re talking about Tom Brady versus Bill Belichick.
People have been arguing about it for years. Who is more responsible for the success of the New England Patriots, Brady or Belichick? The truth is that neither would have been able to accomplish the things they have together by themselves. Had the quarterback gone to a different head coach, he would’ve had success, maybe even won a Super Bowl or two, but he never would’ve won six. As Belichick always says, it’s a players’ game, but without great coaching, the players can only get you so far.
Another thing to consider is that, without a coach who had the guts to bench the highest-paid QB in NFL history for an unproven sixth-round draft pick, Brady might’ve never truly gotten a real chance. Yes, Drew Bledsoe got hurt, which gave Brady his first chance, but he came back healthy during the regular season. The Patriots had just given him the first $100 million contract in the league that offseason, and Belichick decided to continue to roll with the second-year player. Brady, of course, made the most of it, and it would be good enough that the Patriots would trade Bledsoe in the offseason, but if he had a different coach, he might not have been given the chance.
Brady needed Belichick, but the opposite is also true. In order for his system to have worked for so long, he needed his quarterback to have full buy-in. He needed the quarterback to take the hard coaching the same way everyone else in the organization did. Brady set the example for the rest of the team. If he could take the coaching, they had no choice but to take it. There have been other great quarterbacks in the league over the last 20 years, but are you confident that they would’ve responded the same way that Brady did? Could you see Aaron Rodgers taking that kind of coaching? Or Peyton Manning? Not only was Brady an unreal talent, but he had the work ethic and mentality that fit with Belichick’s system. It’s tough to get full buy-in from the team if the leader of the team doesn’t do the same.
I could go on for hours about why both Bill and Tom are the best at what they do. Tom has worked his way to the best football player to ever play the game. He doesn’t have the raw skills of a Rodgers or a Patrick Mahomes, but he made himself better anyway. The numbers, and fourth-quarter Super Bowl drives, speak for themselves. Belichick’s decision-making, attention to detail and fortitude are some of things that make him so great. The end of Super Bowl XLIX provides some of the best coaching in NFL history. Not calling timeout when everyone in the world expected him to and essentially forcing Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll into throwing the ball was genius, but then expecting the play call and correcting the players in practice so they knew how to stop it was legendary. That sequence alone deserves non-stop praise.
Let’s also not forget that Belichick stopped two of the best offenses in NFL history between January and February, the Buffalo Bills and the Los Angeles Rams. I also think about the Dan Connolly kick return against the Green Bay Packers in 2010. It wasn’t the fact that they blocked it up, but the fact that they had actually practiced that return earlier in the season. Belichick is prepared for a ton of different outcomes and tries to put his players in a position to be successful.
I’m not going to talk about Bill the GM, and maybe people will upset about that, but I don’t feel like I need to stand up for him in this regard. I always hear people say that the Patriots would’ve been so much better and won more championships if they had more talented players. My response to that is to simply say that they can’t play in the Super Bowl every year. In the 20 years from when Belichick took over to when Brady left, the Patriots won six Super Bowls and played in nine of them. They played in 13 AFC title games and won the AFC East 17 times. What more could they have done? Outside of the Boston Celtics in the ‘60s and the Chicago Bulls in the ‘90s, the Patriots had, by far, the greatest run in the history of team sports.
At the end of the day, both Bill and Tom are the best to ever do it at their positions. Many coaches have won before, and some have done it with less talent, but no one has done it as consistently as Belichick. Some quarterbacks have won as well, some even with different coaches, like Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Aikman and Manning, but no one has done it as consistently as Brady. They are, both of them, undoubtedly the best at their craft.
Here’s the last point that I will make. They are both very humble about what they have done. We’ve heard countless things about the ego of both Brady and Belichick, but they never publicly take credit for anything. Belichick is always the first one to tell anyone who listens that it’s about the players. That the players play and they’re the ones that make all of the plays. Just take his quote from 2019 after getting his 300th career win.
“It’s a great privilege to coach this team and to coach the guys that I’ve coached throughout my career,” Belichick said. “Fortunately, I didn’t play in any of those games. That’s a good thing for us, but I’ve had a lot of good players, a lot of great players and they’re the ones that win the games. I’ve had a lot of great assistant coaches on my staff through the wins at Cleveland and certainly here. I was a part of those but, honestly, players win games in this league and I’ve been fortunate that I’ve coached a lot of great ones.”
Brady has also always deflected praise. He consistently talks about football being a team sport and is always trying to give as many teammates as possible praise instead of him. He may not have done quite as much of this in the last few years, but the point is that both Bill and Tom know that there are many people responsible for the success of the teams they have been on, and they are happy to send the praise their way instead.
Is this going to stop you from debating who was more important with your family, friends or random strangers on the internet? No, and that’s OK, because sometimes that can be fun. Just make sure that any time someone tells you that one of them had nothing to do with it, and was just along for the ride, that you set them straight and explain to them that, without each other, they both may have never reached their full potential.
Pat is a host of The Patriot Nation Podcast. Interact with him on Twitter @plane_pats.