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For Belichick, Father Truly Knew Best

Patriots Coach Learned Football at the Knee of Longtime Navy Assistant

By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 28, 2005; Page D01

A few months before Bill Belichick was to graduate from Wesleyan University with a degree in economics, he told his father what he planned to do with the rest of his life. He had been recruited by a large company that wanted him to join its corporate training program. The money was good, the opportunity for advancement was even better. But Belichick had something else in mind. He had decided to be a football coach, just like his father, Steve.

"I had never encouraged him to be a coach, but when he told me what he wanted to do, I never discouraged him, either," Steve Belichick said this week from his home in Annapolis, where he and his wife Jeannette settled in 1957. A 33-year career as an assistant coach at Navy was just fine for Steve, whose responsibilities were scouting the next opponent, breaking down films and preparing meticulous reports every week for the coaching staff and players.

Steve Belichick, an assistant coach for 33 years at Navy, often let his son, Bill, attend meetings. (Jonathan Newton - The Washington Post)

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Little did Steve Belichick, 86, know that his work would be the foundation on which his only child would build a career -- and become the most successful NFL coach of his generation. Bill Belichick grew into a meticulous dynamo who has won two of the last three Super Bowls as head coach of the defending champion New England Patriots. The team will try to win its third title a week from Sunday in Super Bowl XXXIX against the Philadelphia Eagles.

The career path for Belichick, 52, began with a $25-a-week job as a special assistant with the Baltimore Colts in 1975. He has followed it to jobs with six franchises, was defensive coordinator for Bill Parcells on Super Bowl championship teams with the New York Giants in 1986 and 1990, was assistant head coach for Parcells on the Patriots' AFC title team in 1996, was a major disappointment as the head coach of the Cleveland Browns for five years and has been the highly successful head coach of the Patriots since 2000.

He has worked for head coaches such as Ted Marchibroda, Red Miller and Parcells and owners such as Wellington Mara, Art Modell, Leon Hess and Robert Kraft. Now Belichick is sending his own assistants out to careers as head coaches: there's Al Groh at Virginia, Kirk Ferentz at Iowa, and Nick Saban, whose LSU team shared the national title a year ago. Saban is the new coach of the Miami Dolphins. Belichick's influence extends to front offices, too, with Baltimore Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome, Browns General Manager Phil Savage and Scott Pioli, vice president of personnel in New England.

Belichick's football education, though, had a simple beginning: He just wanted to spend more time with his father.

"He wanted to be with me, and I wanted to be with him," said Steve, who, with Jeannette, will journey to the Super Bowl to be with Bill, just as they always have. "He was probably 5 or 6 years old when he started to get interested. The three of us drove down to William & Mary to scout a spring game because we were going to play them in the next year, and that's when I remember him showing his first interest. I'd take him to games with me when I could. He was always interested in what I was doing. He was never a bother."

At home, Jeannette, who taught Spanish at Hiram College in Ohio and speaks four languages, spent hours reading to her son, and listening to him read books to her at the kitchen table. He flew through the Hardy boys mysteries and has always been a voracious reader, as well as a collector of virtually every football strategy book ever written. He keeps them all at his home in the Boston suburbs, even the book on scouting Steve wrote in 1965.

The Belichicks lived within walking distance of campus, and Bill was often at practice with the team in an era when Navy was a national college football power. In 1960, running back Joe Bellino won the Heisman Trophy and little Billy Belichick was one of his pals.

"He'd sit in the back of the room listening to his father give the scouting report," Bellino told Sports Illustrated last summer. "He's a 6-, 7-, 8-year-old youngster hanging out at the Naval Academy. Midshipmen in uniform, parades, the brass, the visiting presidents, the football team with two Heisman winners [Bellino and quarterback Roger Staubach in 1963]. And he saw his father's work ethic. He saw everyone in the room soak up what his dad was telling us, believing if we did what he said, we could beat anybody."

"I always gave the scouting report to the players Monday night at the Fieldhouse," Steve Belichick said. "He'd sit in the back, watch me diagram the plays. When Roger was playing, I'd take him over to practice, and he'd catch passes from Roger, and then he'd go over and watch Tom Lynch long snap and he'd catch them, too. I never made an effort to push him into it. He just liked being around the players. Then as he got a little older, he'd get up in his room at night and he'd draw plays."

Staubach remembers a kid who was always at practice and was "a part of our team the four years I was there. He just loved being with his dad. . . . He's really special. I've always been a Bill Belichick person, even back then. He's got great roots. He's got an aura about him. He's got the fire you want to see, but he always gives other people credit and I bet that's something he got from his father, too."

A Coach From Childhood

By the time he was 9, he would sit with his father as Steve went through the film of Navy's next opponent's recent games. When he was 10, Bill had first crack at the films, breaking down each play by down and distance, the hash mark the ball was on and a diagram of the opponent's defense. Every Thursday Ernie Jorge, Navy's assistant coach in charge of the offensive game plan, sent Bill a copy of all the plays the Mids would be using in their next game. He sent it over in an envelope marked "Bill's Ready List." Even before he was a teenager, Bill Belichick was fluent in the language of schemes and formations.

"This is a guy whose father was a great football mind and who's mother was extremely well-educated and gifted and that's a great daily double to have for parents," said Rick Forzano, Navy's head coach in the early 1970s.

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