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Bill Belichick is a genius and here’s why

There's more to Bill Belichick's winning than just Xs and Os. | Photos by Getty Images

Debate all you want about who’s the greatest coach in sports history, but there’s no arguing that when Bill Belichick walks into a room, he is the smartest guy in there.

Belichick will be going for his sixth NFL championship on Sunday when his New England Patriots face the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII. He also has two titles to his credit when he worked as defensive coordinator under Bill Parcells with the New York Giants.

It’s not by mistake that Belichick usually works the last Sunday of the season. His work ethic and attention to detail are legendary.

But other coaches do that, too.

There’s something that sets Belichick apart from the all the rest, and it’s not just Tom Brady. Somewhere inside that tattered hoodie is the greatest mind this or perhaps any sport has ever seen. Don’t believe it? Consider these five examples:

Talent evaluator

When the Patriots take the field on Sunday, more than a third of their roster will be undrafted players. Think about that — Belichick is winning with players nobody else wanted.

If you believe this is by chance, try again. Belichick is the only head coach in the NFL with complete control over his roster.

Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports writes:

The 18 undrafted players is considered an anomalously high number in the NFL, as the Eagles have nine undrafted players on their 53-man Super Bowl roster. The 18 undrafted players are higher than any of New England’s past four Super Bowl champions …

Familiar names such as Danny Amendola (WR), Malcolm Butler (CB) and Chris Hogan (WR) were all rescued by Belichick.

Ruling force

A popular mantra around football, especially from the Patriots’ opponents, is that Belichick’s teams get all the calls. Well, that might be true, but there’s a reason.

The Ringer shared a wonderful anecdote about NFL officials going over a rule change with Belichick in the mid-2000s. The rule had to do with a defender’s illegal contact within five yards of the line of scrimmage. The NFL’s head of referees, Jim Daopoulos, said Belichick didn’t contest the rule, he just wanted to know how it would be implemented on the field.

From The Ringer:

According to Daopoulos, no one asked the referees at these sessions more specific questions than Belichick, and no team’s staff was more attentive and alert than New England’s. “He was asking, ‘Are you going to call illegal contact at 5 yards, 5 and a half yards? Six? Just tell me how you’re going to call it, and that’s how I’ll coach my guys.’ That’s all he wanted.”

Former Patriot Rodney Harrison told The Ringer that Belichick would begin a game week by informing players about the assigned officiating crew and statistical data on the types of penalties they liked to call.

Nothing left undone

A fascinating story came out a few weeks ago about Belichick’s affinity for left-footed punters. Again, it’s not a big secret that punt returners have a harder time catching the spin off a left-footed punter. That’s why almost a third of the punters in the NFL are lefty. (By contrast, just one kicker is.)

As always with Belichick, though, the story goes much deeper than just muff rates by returners. Jenny Ventras of Sports Ilustrated talked with former Patriots punter Zoltan Mesko who explained why EVERY regular punter Belichick’s has ever had with the Patriots has been lefty. Mesko said it had to do with the wind patterns at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, which can aid the distance for a left-footer.

But how do you explain Belichick’s calculated advantage when the team is going the other way?

Ventras writes:

If you want to really get in the weeds (we warned you) there’s also the added factor that lefties have a bigger margin for error against the catastrophe of a mishit when punting into the Gillette Stadium wind. That’s because the drop can also be affected by the wind; in this case, a right-to-left current can turn the nose of the ball to the left as it drops from the hand to the foot.

One shanked punt or miscue could be the difference between a win or a loss for Belichick. Always looking the slightest edge.

The gameplan

Some players, such as Lawrence Taylor, could see the genius of Belichick early on. LT, ranked one of, if not, the best defensive player of all-time, saw something different in Belichick when he played for him in the early 1980s.

In the book “My Giant Life,” Taylor talked about the plan Belichick devised to defeat Jim Kelly and the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV.

Jim Kelly led the Bills’ offense and they scored points like they were playing a video game. Most of the experts didn’t give us a chance to win against them. I couldn’t blame them. Hell, they’d scored 95 points in their two playoff games.

Belichick came up with a plan where we had two down linemen and the rest were linebackers and defensive backs. We’d been the NFL’s best defense against the rush that season. So part of him selling the plan to us was telling us we would win the game if Thurman Thomas gained over 100 yards. Crazy, right? He told us, “Don’t worry about Thurman Thomas. You’re not going to stop him from getting his yards. Let him get his yards. Fine; let him run. Let him run his ass off all day. We’re just going to stop everybody else.” And that’s what we did.

The Bills gained 166 yards rushing but held Kelly to just 205 in the air. The Pats hung on to win 20-19 when Scott Norwood pushed a potential game-winning field goal wide right.

Something tells me Belichick knew the win conditions that day in Tampa Stadium.

Final testament

The last word on Belichick’s genius comes from Curtis Martin, the Hall of Fame running back who crossed paths briefly with him on the New York Jets in the late 1990s.

Here’s what Martin told ESPN about his former assistant head coach: “We were at a lunch table, and Jimmy Hitchcock and Ty Law were raving about Belichick when he was an assistant under Parcells. ‘He’s on another level,’ they said. ‘He’s just a freakin’ genius, this dude. I’m telling you, he’s going to win a Super Bowl someday.’ They were in awe of his football knowledge. You could tell by the way they were communicating it, so passionately, they felt he gave them such an advantage. In their eyes, Belichick was playing a very strategic, intricate game of chess while everybody else was playing checkers.”

Martin’s teammates were partially right. On Sunday, the genius goes for No. 6.

Follow me on Twitter @DanCahill_CST