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For Belichick, Father Truly Knew Best

"I always remember Billy asking 'What if?' or 'Why did you do that?' He was always around. It was his life, and he thrived on it. We loved having him around."

Bill Belichick also played for Annapolis High School under the late, legendary coach Al Laramore, who had no assistant coaches -- other than his center . . . Bill Belichick.

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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"I made him a center because he couldn't run," Steve Belichick said. "He could get in people's way, and that was his best position. One day Bill said to me his coach didn't really have the right blocking scheme for the defense they were playing, what should he do? I told him to tell him, 'Coach, it might look like this from the sideline, but this guy is on me, that guy is on the guard and the other guy is on the tackle, and we should block it this other way.' Bill knew enough to tell him what was going on, and I think Al knew he knew what he was talking about and listened to him."

Despite his love for Navy football, Bill had no illusions about attending the academy. Though he easily could have qualified academically, both he and his father knew he wasn't talented enough to play Division I football or lacrosse, his other sporting passion. Bill also had heard Steve advise Navy recruits to spend a year after high school at a prep school, so he talked his parents into allowing him to spend a year at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass.

"I think Bill got another view of the world there," Steve Belichick said. "One of his classmates was Jeb Bush, the governor of Florida. The guy who wrote 'Friday Night Lights' [H.G. Bissinger] was a classmate. He saw a different side of things going up there. It got him to another part of the country. It was a real valuable experience for him."

One of the first people he met at Phillips was Ernie Adams, a classmate and fellow football junkie who had read Steve Belichick's book on scouting. A few weeks into his fall term at Phillips, Steve came to Boston to scout Boston College and told Bill to bring along a friend for dinner the night before the game. Ernie Adams came with him and told Steve he wanted to go to Northwestern to study philosophy and maybe work in the football program.

"I told him if he studied philosophy, he'd immediately raise the intellectual level of the profession by several notches," Steve said. "But Ernie and Bill became lifelong friends."

When he got back to Annapolis, Steve Belichick called his friend Alex Agase, head coach at Northwestern, and when Adams arrived in Evanston, Agase put him to work breaking down film. After graduating from Northwestern, Adams talked his way onto the New England Patriots staff of Chuck Fairbanks in the mid-1970s. When Belichick took the Patriots' job in 2000, he hired Adams as director of football research.

After Phillips Academy, Bill chose to attend Wesleyan in Middletown, Conn., and played tight end on the football team -- "I have no idea why," Steve said, "I'm not sure he ever caught a pass." He also played lacrosse and squash. Forzano said he knew one of the coaches at Wesleyan and "the guy always told me Bill knew what everyone else on the team was supposed to do and all the players always went to him when they had questions. Talk about a coach on the field."

Starting Salary: $25 Per Week

When Bill told his father he wanted to be a football coach, he also wondered if he could get onto a pro staff the way Ernie Adams had. Bill sent out letters to about 250 colleges, and his father called his friend, Lou Holtz, then head coach at North Carolina State, about Bill joining him as a graduate assistant. Holtz was amenable, but that same year, the NCAA cut back on the number of coaches each school was allowed to carry, and the job was no longer available.

Steve also called another friend, George Boutselis, an assistant coach under Baltimore Colts Coach Ted Marchibroda. This was 1975, and Marchibroda initially hired Bill for the price of two season tickets and room and board at the team's training camp at Goucher College. Marchibroda knew he had a major find as soon as he saw Belichick's film breakdown, and once the regular season began, he kept him on the staff and paid him $25 a week.

Marchibroda and three of his assistant coaches lived in a Howard Johnson's motel on Dorsey Road not far from BWI Airport, and they got Belichick a room there as well. They car-pooled to practice every day, usually with Belichick driving -- and soaking up the football conversation.

"Billy was very quiet," Marchibroda recalled. "We had breakfast together every day, never let him pay of course. In training camp, he was the Turk, the guy who told the players to 'bring your playbook' before they were going to get cut. Then he did the defensive breakdowns on the films and did a great job. When you gave him something to do, you didn't see him until it was done. He was with us the whole day, on the field, too.

"Right from the start, he knew what he was doing. He fit right in. He kept his distance from the players for the most part. He was only 22 years old, but a very mature 22. Billy was very observant, very professional in everything he did."

At the end of the year, Belichick asked Marchibroda for a raise. He wanted a $4,000 salary for the following year, but when Marchibroda went to General Manager Joe Thomas for approval of the hire, he was rebuffed and Belichick had to look for another job. By then, Forzano had become head coach of the Lions, and he brought Belichick to Detroit as assistant coach of special teams.

"Can you imagine that?" Marchibroda said. "It makes you wonder what might have happened if we'd paid him that $4,000, doesn't it?"

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