ANNAPOLIS, FEB. 6 -- Bill Belichick can trace his football heritage to before the cradle. Bill is named for Bill Edwards, the head coach at Vanderbilt when Belichick was born in Nashville in 1952, and one of Edwards's assistants sent flowers in a football to Bill's mother at the hospital.

Steve Belichick, Bill's father, played for Edwards at Western Reserve in Cleveland and said of his four years as Edwards's assistant at Vanderbilt: "I learned to hate orange. Every time we went to Tennessee, that's all we could see."

But Steve thinks he can learn to live with his least favorite color, now that Bill has been hired by the Cleveland Browns, at 38 the youngest head coach in the National Football League.

"This is what he's wanted," Steve said today. "He's prepared himself and done a lot to get a wider range of knowledge of the game than others. He's well organized, he knows what he's doing and he has the ability to communicate."

Bill also possesses a store of football knowledge, absorbed not only from his father -- a coach for 43 years -- but from some familiar names: Roger Staubach, Joe Bellino, Ted Marchibroda, Jerry Glanville, Bill Parcells.

Steve was an assistant coach at the Naval Academy for 33 years until he retired in 1989 and, unlike the overworked coaches today, he had time for Bill while his only child was growing up.

"I didn't say, 'Hey, you want to be a football coach,' " Steve said. "But I did spend a lot of time with him.

"When he was 8 or 9, I'd give scouting reports to the team on Monday night and show films, and I brought him over. He got to know Roger Staubach and Joe Bellino and he developed friendships that still exist. I'd bring film home too, and when he was supposed to be studying, he'd be drawing up plays instead. Then when he was in high school, he'd play Friday and often go with me on a scouting trip Saturday. If I were a doctor, I don't think he'd be a football coach."

Based on birth measurements, Bill was supposed to be 6 feet 1 and 195 pounds, but instead he leveled off at 5-10, 170. He also was rather slow, so opportunities for football stardom became limited.

"I could see he couldn't run fast, so at my first football camp in Chestertown I made him into a center," Steve said. "I have a picture of Bill snapping the ball to John Unitas.

"Bill played center at Annapolis High and Phillips Andover Academy, then he was a tight end and linebacker at Wesleyan University" in Connecticut. "He wasn't much of a player, but he was smarter than most and he'd know what some of the other players were going to do before they did."

Bill majored in economics at Wesleyan and was wooed by some major corporations. He had other things in mind.

"The second semester of his senior year in college, he said he wanted to be a coach," Steve recalled. "There were two options: a graduate assistantship in college or starting at the high school level. I called Lou Holtz at N.C. State and he said he'd love to have him.

"But this was the year the NCAA cut back on the number of coaches, so assistants were bumped back to graduate assistantships and nothing was available. After graduation, Bill came home and said a friend, Ernie Adams, had talked to Chuck Fairbanks and asked if he could be a graduate assistant, in effect, in the pro game. Bill asked if I could get that kind of thing for him.

"I knew Paul Brown and Don Shula, but Bill asked me about Baltimore. I didn't know Ted Marchibroda, but three of his assistants worked at the football camp I ran with Jack Cloud. They talked to Ted and he invited Bill up to camp at Goucher College.

"He worked from 6 in the morning to 11 at night, breaking down film, making up tendency charts and serving as a chauffeur for Ted. Bill would ask a lot of questions and Ted had the patience of a saint. The Colts went from a 2-12 team {in 1974} to 10-4 and won the Eastern Division."

Obviously, Bill was not joking when he said: "I feel I've been coaching for 30 years. It's ingrained. I've done all the jobs in an organization you can do: typing, driving people to the airport, lining the fields, coaching. Everything."

That was Bill's only season in Baltimore. He moved on to Detroit -- where Steve had been a fullback in 1941 -- in part because his aging Subaru was ready for the junk heap and the Chrysler dealer who provided courtesy cars to the Colts turned him down because he was not an official coach.

Rick Forzano, the former Navy head coach, lured Bill to the Lions by offering use of a Thunderbird along with a $15,000 annual salary. Glanville was the special teams coach at Detroit and had considerable influence on Bill during his two seasons there. Bill then spent a year at Denver before joining the Giants in 1979.

"When Ray Perkins got the Giants job, the first guy he hired was Ernie Adams, that graduate assistant under Fairbanks," Steve said. "Ernie pushed for Bill and Perk hired him. He went there at 28 and being so young and coaching guys in their thirties, they tested him early. If you know what you're talking about, you're okay. And he knew what he was talking about."

When Parcells moved up to head coach in 1983, Bill took over as defensive coordinator. Then, when the secondary coach left two years ago, Bill added that job too.

"You can't learn to be a head coach by being a head coach," Steve said. "So he always did everything he could to coach different positions. He was a defensive coach, but he'd get on the phone and talk offense with offensive people. He said, 'I want to be a head coach in this league and . . . I want to be as well prepared as possible.' "

He applied for college head coaching jobs at Connecticut, Massachusetts and James Madison, but was passed over each time. Still, he continued his preparation by taking public-speaking courses and by becoming involved in community affairs.

"Bill always had a very inquisitive mind," Steve said. "I never pushed him into anything, but if he was interested in something, I'd encourage it. And we tried to teach him to make decisions."

Bill certainly was not taught that life was easy. Instead of a monetary handout, he was told to take up caddying at a local golf course. And there were no easy victories in games at home. "I never let Bill beat me at anything -- checkers or whatever," Steve said. "My wife said, 'Let him win,' but I wanted him to be competitive."

Steve is 72 and until 10 years ago, he was able to win a squash game from Bill. He says he still hits a squash ball a half-hour a day at the academy, lifts weights, stretches and walks a four-mile course at 15 minutes a mile.

Bill's football genes may just as likely have come from his mother, Jeannette. "I don't think there's a woman in the country who knows more about football," Steve said. "She can tell you the second-string quarterback with the Rams or who coaches at Texas-El Paso.

"I'd come home from a scouting trip and she'd tell me who was good or who wasn't in the Navy game that day. I'd look at the films and she was right."

Steve wrote a book, "Football Scouting Methods," in 1963 that current Washington Redskins general manager Charley Casserly calls the best on the subject he has ever seen. Jeannette typed it and frequently persuaded Steve to make corrections because, as he remembered, "she told me if she didn't understand it, there would be football coaches who wouldn't understand it."

Bill's parents have been part of his two Super Bowl triumphs with the Giants, but two weeks ago in Tampa they didn't spend as much time with Bill as they might have liked.

"We were visiting his family and about 10 o'clock the night before the Super Bowl, he said he had to leave," Steve said. "He told us he wanted to go and take another look at the tapes. That's dedication.

"The players have been very complimentary about what Bill's done. Pepper Johnson said, 'Everybody talks about me and Lawrence Taylor and Carl Banks, but the big thing is that Bill put us in the right place to do the job.' "