To study under Bill Belichick is to learn from arguably the greatest coach in NFL history. It is an opportunity to work with the only head coach to win five Super Bowl titles — as well as two as defensive coordinator with the Giants — and claim nine conference championships, while producing 18 straight winning seasons and capturing an unprecedented 10 consecutive division titles.
Being beside Belichick, 66, provides access to more than four decades and 750 games of experience and lessons from a coach who constructed all-time defensive masterpieces and oversaw all-time offensive juggernauts.
Because of the Patriots’ unparalleled success, several of Belichick’s assistants have been plucked away over the years by NFL teams hoping to replicate New England’s dominance. None, however, has come close to approaching the standard Belichick has set over the past two decades.
The names — Al Groh, Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Josh McDaniels, Jim Schwartz, Bill O’Brien, Matt Patricia — scream mediocrity and futility. Coaches who have worked under Belichick have combined for one NFL playoff win (O’Brien).
It is bizarre because of their time with one of the greatest football minds in history, but also because so many of the greatest coaches in football history have been groomed by legends.
Belichick famously sprouted from Bill Parcells’ coaching tree, which also produced Super Bowl-winning coaches in Tom Coughlin and Sean Payton. Groh and Crennel could arguably be branches on both trees.
Weeb Ewbank and Bill Walsh worked under Paul Brown. Walsh had assistants such as Mike Holmgren, George Seifert and Dennis Green. Marty Schottenheimer helped mold Tony Dungy and Bill Cowher. Dungy’s staff included Mike Tomlin. Andy Reid had John Harbaugh, Ron Rivera and Matt Nagy. Jon Gruden had Sean McVay.
Other sports share similar paths to success.
In basketball, Dean Smith worked under Phog Allen. Smith passed wisdom on to Larry Brown, Roy Williams and George Karl. Rick Pitino raised Billy Donovan. Mike Krzyzewski began his career under Bobby Knight. Brown shared a bench with Gregg Popovich, Bill Self and John Calipari.
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In baseball, Leo Durocher learned from Miller Huggins. Joe Maddon sat beside Mike Scioscia. Jim Leyland waved Tony La Russa’s players home.
Though Belichick’s assistants have largely struggled without him — and Tom Brady — his most successful work as a mentor came during his time as head coach in Cleveland. There, Belichick brought in Toledo head coach Nick Saban to be his defensive coordinator, and the pair led the Browns to their most recent playoff win, in 1994.
A quarter-century later, Saban is widely considered the greatest college football coach of all-time — and even he flopped in the NFL, ending his two seasons as Dolphins head coach with a losing record (15-17).
Here’s a list of coaches who worked in some capacity under Belichick before becoming a head coach (or, in one case, a soon-to-be head coach) in either the NFL or college:
Crennel won three Super Bowls — 2001, 2003 and 2004 teams — with the Patriots as Belichick’s defensive coordinator, leading to him landing a head-coaching job with the Browns and later the Chiefs. He failed to reach the playoffs in those stops, notching a 28-55 record, and is now serving as the Texans’ defensive coordinator.
The answer to the trivia question: Who replaced Belichick after Belichick infamously quit as the “HC of the NYJ” after one day? Groh served as an assistant coach alongside Belichick with the Browns in 1992 and worked under him with the Jets as a linebackers coach from 1997-99. He became the Jets’ head coach for one year after Belichick quit, going 9-7 before leaving himself and becoming the head coach of his alma mater, Virginia, from 2001-09. He never won more than nine games with the Cavaliers and has been out of coaching since 2012.
He began as a personnel assistant in 2001 and quickly rose to become Belichick’s offensive coordinator by 2005. After a failed two-year stint as the Broncos’ head coach — he was fired 12 games into his second season — McDaniels returned to New England as its offensive coordinator in 2012, the post he still maintains. All told, he’s been part of five Super Bowl champions with Belichick.
Belichick gave Mangini his start in the NFL, hiring him as an offensive assistant for the Browns in 1995. Mangini was on three Super Bowl-winning staffs with the Patriots under Belichick before leaving to become the Jets’ head coach in 2006. After reaching the playoffs his first year, he went 23-41 his next four years as a head coach, two with the Jets and two with the Browns, and has been out of football since 2015, when he was let go after three years as an assistant coach with the 49ers.
The most successful of Belichick’s protégés, Saban served as his defensive coordinator from 1991-94 with the Browns. He later became the Dolphins’ head coach, where he went 15-17 in two seasons. But Saban’s claim to fame came in college. With six national championships, five at Alabama and one at LSU, he’s considered one of the greatest college football coaches of all time.
A scout with Belichick’s Browns from 1993-95, Schwartz was given his big break by the Lions in 2009. But in five years as a head coach, he reached the postseason just once, going 29-51. He did win a Super Bowl last year, as the Eagles’ defensive coordinator, the job he currently holds.
Unlike the rest of these coaches, Vrabel never coached under Belichick, but he did play for him for seven seasons, winning three Super Bowls as a reliable linebacker.
After three years as an assistant coach, Vrabel became the Titans’ head coach this past season, going 9-7.
O’Brien reached two Super Bowls (2007, 2011 teams) while serving as an assistant coach with the Patriots under Belichick and has spent the past five seasons as the Texans’ head coach, reaching the playoffs three times.
A Patriots assistant for 13 years, Patricia helped Belichick win his fourth and fifth Super Bowls as his defensive coordinator before becoming the Lions’ head coach this past season. In his first year with Detroit, Patricia led the Lions to a 6-10 finish, though he did beat his mentor for his first career NFL victory.
Belichick’s offensive line coach with the Browns from 1993-95, Ferentz became the Iowa head coach in 1999 and hasn’t left.
He’s finished top-10 in the polls four times, led the Hawkeyes to the Rose Bowl in 2015 and has accumulated a 152-101 record.
A tight ends and offensive-line coach with the Browns under Belichick from 1992-95, Hill went on to run the Fresno State program from 1997-2011, reaching 11 bowl games and compiling a 112-80 record. He served as the Falcons’ offensive line coach in 2013 but hasn’t coached since.
Like Crennel, Weis won three Super Bowls with the Patriots — 2001, 2003 and 2004 teams — only to fail as a head coach. Unlike Crennel, Weis went the college route, first at Notre Dame (2005-09) and later at Kansas (2012-14), producing just one 10-win season and a 41-49 record.
From a scouting assistant in 2004 to linebackers coach who calls the defensive plays this year, Flores has been part of seven Super Bowl teams in New England.
Now the Brooklyn native is ready to move on, expected to be named the Dolphins’ next coach once the Patriots’ season ends in a week.