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When Belichick Brainstorms, New England Reigns

By Sally Jenkins
Thursday, January 13, 2005; Page D01

FOXBORO, Mass. -- Bill Belichick was dressed, as is his habit, in garments that looked like they came from the bottom of the laundry hamper. A long-sleeve, gray T-shirt was combined with blue, pajama-like sweat pants that showed wrinkles even though they were three parts synthetic fiber. The rumpled ensemble was topped off by the only straight thing on him, his face.

The New England Patriots were about to enter the NFL playoffs, and Belichick was answering questions from a podium with a demeanor that could only be described as purposefully drab.

Patriots' Bill Belichick has built a team without superstars, one that is built on simple, solid valuations, like the coach himself. (Brian Snyder -- Reuters)

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What does he think about the AFC's dominance of the NFC?

"Not much," he said. "I don't really care about that."

Outside, the leaden New England sky showed more expression.

Will having the bye week off help?

"I dunno. We'll find out."

After a few minutes of this, you remember that all coaches, even the "geniuses," are basically gym teachers.

The funny thing is, that's what makes Belichick so likable: He comes on like exactly what he is, a guy in sweats. Listening to Belichick's aggressive dullness, you get the distinct impression that you're being invited by him to go watch paint dry. He's no more concerned with you and your opinion of him than he is with his outerwear, and he's certainly not preoccupied with whether you think him a genius or not. He's strictly a coach. He doesn't pretend to be Francis Crick, or Louis Pasteur, or the king of England, or even Walter Camp, and football is just football, it's not a concerto.

G.B. Shaw said of genius: "Let's be clear about the meaning of the terms. A genius is a person who, seeing farther and probing deeper than other people, has a different set of ethical valuations from theirs, and has energy enough to give effect to this extra vision and its valuations in whatever manner best suits his or her talents."

There is a lot of talk about geniuses in football, from Bill Walsh to Mike Martz, and we could have a lively argument about whether even the most acutely perceptive football coach qualifies for the term. But if Belichick is not strictly a genius, he certainly has some of the qualities Shaw describes, among them a certain kind of vision, ethical valuation and energy. Annette Moser-Wellman, a former ad exec who writes about business geniuses, theorizes that there are five forms: seers, observers, alchemists, fools and sages. The last type, sages, "use the power of simplification as the primary means to inspiration."

This comes closest to describing what it is Belichick does so well, why he's won two Super Bowls with the Patriots and has them poised to compete for their third in four years with a 14-2 record.

Let's leave the genius issue unsettled, if you like, and just state that Belichick is the best coach in these playoffs, which he incontrovertibly is. Belichick is 7-1 in postseason play, 2-0 in conference championship matchups and 2-0 in Super Bowl games. His postseason winning percentage is .875. The other head coaches who made the playoffs have a postseason record of 42-45. That's how much more Belichick has won than the competition.

There has been no better demonstration of Belichick's sideline adroitness than this season. Pittsburgh had the best record, and Indianapolis's offense, driven by Peyton Manning, got all the attention. But the Patriots under Belichick may have performed the greatest feat of the regular season by losing only two games despite a spate of ruinous injuries. The Patriots are starting a linebacker at free safety. They have an undrafted rookie at cornerback. And they're playing a converted wide receiver at nickel back. Nevertheless, they outscored opponents by 177 points, the most of any team in the league, while their pasted-together defense gave up the second fewest.

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