Even though some are trying to come up with arguments against it, Bill Belichick is widely considered as the best head coach in the NFL and one of the greatest, if not the greatest of all time. However, Belichick has been suspiciously absent from the Coach of the Year winners list as of late.
Despite leading the New England Patriots to six Super Bowls since taking over in 2000 and establishing the league’s only dynasty of the salary cap era, Belichick has only won the award three times — the last more than a decade ago. He was named Coach of the Year in 2003, 2007 and 2010 even though he has a strong case as the league’s top head coach in other seasons as well.
Just look at it from the following perspective. Between the 2011 and 2020 seasons, Belichick’s teams have combined to win three championships, nine division titles, and 73.6 percent of their games. No other coach has come close to reaching the same success, and yet, the trophy went to the following coaches during that time:
- 2011: Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers
- 2012: Bruce Arians, Indianapolis Colts
- 2013: Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers
- 2014: Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals
- 2015: Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers
- 2016: Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys
- 2017: Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams
- 2018: Matt Nagy, Chicago Bears
- 2019: John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens
- 2020: Kevin Stefanski, Cleveland Browns
While arguments can be made for most of these coaches in the respective seasons, they themselves would probably name Belichick as the best coach in football each of those years. And yet, he won the award recognizing the NFL’s top head coach a grand total of zero times between 2011 and 2020.
Why is that? There are two basic reasons closely connected to one another.
The first is that Belichick has set the bar so high for himself that it is near impossible for him to clear it. He essentially had to do something historic to even be considered for the award. In the eyes of the voters, he has done so only thrice.
In 2003, the Patriots were the undisputed best team in the NFL despite having missed the playoffs the previous year. In 2007, they accomplished the only 16-0 season in league history. In 2010, New England cruised to a 14-2 record. For Belichick to enter the Coach of the Year discussion again, he would have to have similar success — and not just that: he also would have to fend off challengers with more compelling stories.
Over the last few years, after all, the Coach of the Year award has not recognized the best coach in football but rather the one who seemingly improved his team the most.
Sean McVay’s victory in 2017 is a good example of that: he led the Rams to an 11-5 record, tied for fifth best in the NFL. Conventional wisdom would suggest that one of the other four head coaches with better records would have superior cases to be named Coach of the Year. McVay leading his team from 4-12 to 11-5, however, led to him being picked the winner.
This combination of narratives and Belichick’s own standard has hurt his chances over the last decade. It is also why 2021 might be his best chance in years to win the award.
Coming off a disappointing 7-9 season in Year 1 after quarterback Tom Brady’s departure, Belichick has rebuilt his team. He invested considerable resources to improve the offensive skill position talent and defensive front seven, and also will be able to work with his team — including starting QB Cam Newton — in a more favorable setting than last year.
While it remains to be seen whether or not the Patriots will indeed take advantage, a successful season would give Belichick a strong argument to be named Coach of the Year. If his club goes 12-5 or 13-4 under the new 17-game format, for example, he should be considered a strong candidate: New England would have successfully bounced back, with Belichick proving that he can still coach a winning football team even after having lost Brady.
Those are some strong narratives for voters to consider, and could very well end up winning him the title for a record-tying fourth time.
Of course, not everyone seems to be convinced that this might happen. The oddsmakers, for example, have Belichick listed in 10th place at the moment (via DraftKings Sportsbook):
- Brandon Staley, Los Angeles Chargers: +1300
- Brian Flores, Miami Dolphins: +1400
- Ron Rivera, Washington Football Team: +1400
- Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers: +1400
- Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams: +1500
- Kevin Stefanski, Cleveland Browns: +1500
- Frank Reich, Indianapolis Colts: +1600
- Arthur Smith, Atlanta Falcons: +1600
- Sean McDermott, Buffalo Bills: +1700
- Bill Belichick, New England Patriots: +1800
At the end of the day, Belichick will not be concerned about his Coach of the Year outlook. As he has shown time and again, his focus is on the here and now and on putting his club in the best position to win. Him adding to his individual trophy case would be a nice byproduct, but probably nothing he really ever worries about.