JEFF HAYNES, Baltimore Sun
February 1, 2004
This is the year Belichick either cements himself in this spot, or he starts to slide down the list. No one can deny his brilliance over the last 12 seasons. He's won at least 10 games for nine consecutive seasons, which is just remarkable. He makes rational decisions, not emotional ones, and he's basically immune to criticism. He took a sixth round draft pick and molded him into one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. He's not afraid to adapt his schemes depending on what personnel he has, and every time an assistant goes somewhere else and fails, it only makes him look more brilliant. But a few cracks in the armor have become noticeable in recent years, and even though it's a ridiculous standard to hold him to, we have to judge Belichick for the coach he is right now, not on his body of work. (He clearly has the best resume on this list, and it's not even close.) The Patriots haven't won a playoff game since 2007, and even that season ended with Tom Coughlin outfoxing Belichick in the Super Bowl. (I still contend that loss was primarily on Josh McDaniels' shoulders, since he didn't figure out until late in the game that his play calling was getting Tom Brady killed.) The Spygate scandal has also raised a few questions about just how easy it was to call plays on defense if you knew what was coming. Rex Ryan clearly out-coached him in the playoffs last year as well. Does Brady deserve a lot of credit for Belichick's success? After all, how can a defensive guru field one of the worst defenses in football this year? Those are two questions that don't have easy answers. Belichick's legacy certainly isn't at stake in these playoffs -- it's already secure -- but the Patriots set such a high standard for themselves, the last few seasons have finished in pretty disappointing fashion. One more Super Bowl run would only reaffirm what was once considered NFL gospel: No one in football is a better coach than Bill Bellchick.