When Bill Belichick notched his 250th career win (including the postseason) in Week 5, he solidified his place among the greats of the profession -- including the man whose name is on the Super Bowl trophy Belichick has claimed four times as a head coach, Vince Lombardi.
Lombardi and Belichick were each responsible for creating a bucket-list stop on the NFL map. Lombardi's efforts led a place known for cheese and meat packing to be rechristened "Titletown," while Belichick built an NFL dynasty in a baseball-loving region that had seen just seven playoff wins from the Patriots in the 40 years prior to his arrival. Each man's success speaks for itself:
» Lombardi (10 years as head coach in Green Bay and Washington): 96-34-6 regular-season record; 9-1 playoff record; five championships and the first two Super Bowl wins.
» Belichick (22 seasons as head coach in Cleveland and New England): 229-114 regular-season record; 23-10 playoff record; four Super Bowl titles.
There is one definite thing Lombardi has over Belichick, though: the iconic championship trophy named in his honor. Originally engraved with the words "World Professional Football Championship," the hardware was dubbed the Vince Lombardi Trophy following the coach's death -- an honor to his habitual winning ways and immense influence on the game. But is Belichick making his own case for a trophy name change?
Which coach is more deserving of being the face of the Super Bowl trophy: the man in the suit and tie OR the one in the hoodie?
Where Lombardi's magic came into play was in the way he took a Packers team that was 1-10-1 the year before he arrived and immediately made mediocrity unacceptable. His team was comprised of players who had day jobs selling insurance or shoes or what-have-you, just to pay the bills. He got these players, who truly had to get into shape in training camp after spending the offseason working said day jobs, to downright outplay opponents. His core group of guys started ripping off championships in the early '60s and into the Super Bowl era. At the same time, Lombardi integrated men of different races on his team, being one of the first football coaches to do so. If someone had a problem with it or said something derogatory, he'd be kicked off the team.
Following his historic run in Green Bay and after his time as a general manager came to an end, Lombardi coached a pitiful
Redskins team to a winning record before he was diagnosed with the cancer that led to his early death. Imagine what he could've done if time had allowed. But even still, Lombardi set -- and, in my opinion, continues to set -- the standard for all who have succeeded him.
He hasn't won all of his championships the same way, either. Belichick has built his team through all avenues -- the draft, free agency or in-season trades -- and found talent to elevate his team. Though systems have constantly changed, he's found ways to win, whether by leaning on a dominant defense (See: Super Bowl XXXVI) or slot receivers and tight ends (See: Super Bowl XLIX). His teams continue to succeed even after losing franchise players. Belichick's standard isn't just the playoffs ... It's the AFC Championship Game (10 appearances since 2001). It's the Super Bowl (six appearances). It's winning the Super Bowl (four titles).
Belichick's forward thinking has challenged the league to make rulebook changes, including a renewed emphasis on calling illegal-contact penalties following the Patriots' domination of the Colts' receivers in the 2003 AFC Championship Game. And that's just one example of several rule changes that have been based on what Belichick has done to dominate his opponents. The thing is, he continues to win no matter what the league does to stop him. You're a special coach when this happens.
Lastly, Belichick has been instrumental in building New England's franchise into what it is today, playing a role in nearly every phase of the franchise, from player diets to weekly routines to training and travel schedules. With his staff, he makes sure they are prepared for every situation by cross-training his coaches. For example, current Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia was on the offensive side of the ball when I played with New England. Belichick doesn't get enough credit for coaching his coaches and making sure they understand not only their side of the ball but how the other side will exploit them. The staff regularly keeps the opponent off-balance; what we did in Super Bowl XXXIX against the Eagles is a perfect example. The Eagles prepared for our base 3-4 defense, but we came out in a completely different scheme they hadn't seen, forcing them to take an early timeout. To this day, Belichick's team-specific game plans continually challenge opponents on a weekly basis.
Belichick has enjoyed continued success because of all of these reasons. His ability to adapt funnels down to his coaches and players. He's been able to adjust for 20-plus years, and I don't see him slowing down anytime soon.