- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 31, 2004

HOUSTON — He’s dry, he’s dull, he’s less interesting than an all-day seminar on the economics of nonproprietary mutual funds.

He paces up and down the sideline in a ratty, hooded sweatshirt and beat-up sneakers.

Yet he’s become close friends with Jon Bon Jovi and Charles Barkley.

Who exactly is this Bill Belichick guy?

As much as everyone would like to figure that out, there’s really only one thing you need to know about the leader of the New England Patriots: Right now, he’s the best football coach on the planet.

Even if he’s not the best interview.

Belichick’s wit can best be summed up with an example from yesterday’s Super Bowl media session: Reporter asks Belichick to look at the Lombardi Trophy sitting to his left and describe what it means to him. Belichick responds, “I think what that stands for is the team that played the most consistent, toughest, smartest football for that season.”

Cue sound of crickets chirping.

Belichick knows how he comes across to the public. He doesn’t care. He’s simply being himself, and if sportswriters or fans don’t like it, too bad. His players have bought into his philosophy, and they’ve parlayed that into a 14-game winning streak heading into tomorrow’s Super Bowl XXXVIII against the Carolina Panthers.

The Patriots may be boring, but day in and day out they get the job done.

“That’s what our mentality is. That’s the way we’re thinking,” Belichick said. “I don’t think it’s any put-on, anything that we’re trying to do for somebody else or for show. That’s the way it is.”

What you see is what you get. There’s no better description of both Belichick and his team. They are focused on the here and now, not what’s happened in the past or what might in the future.

“The only thing that matters is this game and this week and today’s practice,” Belichick said. “So I think that our short-term approach is, in my experience, the most successful one.”

It’s hard to argue. Belichick is the new model for the NFL head coach: smart, detail-oriented, tireless. Former Washington Redskins coach Steve Spurrier was known for leaving work early enough to get in a quick nine at the pitch-and-putt. Belichick wouldn’t know what the sun looks like setting behind the Patriots’ complex in Foxboro, Mass., because he rarely sees the light of day.

Consider the twinkle in his eye when he reminisces about his typical workday during his first year as an NFL coach (he was a special assistant for Ted Marchibroda’s Baltimore Colts in 1975, making $25 a week).

“We rode back and forth to work every day, left at 7 in the morning and usually got back around 11 or 12 at night,” Belichick said. “It was pretty much 17, 18 hours of football on a daily basis. It was awesome.”

Belichick, 51, has devoted his entire life to football. He grew up in Annapolis, the son of longtime Navy assistant coach Steve Belichick. After graduating from Wesleyan University with a degree in economics, he hooked up with Marchibroda and hasn’t left the NFL since.

A trusted defensive assistant to Bill Parcells with the New York Giants in the 1980s, Belichick got his first chance to be a head coach when the Cleveland Browns came calling in 1991. He wasn’t much of a success: In five seasons, he went 37-45, leading to his eventual firing.

Belichick resurfaced with Parcells, for one year with the Patriots and three more with the Jets and was expected to succeed Parcells in New York when the former retired in 2000, only to bail out at the 11th hour and take the open job in New England.

That Belichick emerged from the chaos and his poor record in Cleveland to twice lead the Patriots to the Super Bowl speaks volumes about his maturation as a coach and his never-ending pursuit of perfection.

“I hope I’ve learned a few things since [my Cleveland tenure],” he said. “I’ve coached a lot of different players and been through different situations. I’ve tried to observe those and learn from either the mistakes I have made — and there have been plenty — or the things that have gone well.”

That brief moment of self-deprecation reveals that Belichick isn’t all X’s and O’s. Those who know him best see a far different man than his public image suggests — one, believe it or not, with a sense of humor.

“He says so many funny things every day in meetings,” linebacker Willie McGinest said. “I don’t understand why everybody thinks Bill is just quiet and unapproachable. He is human. He might not be doing cartwheels and doing backflips on the podium, but he is personable. He talks to us, we joke around, we have a good time. But when it’s time for business, it’s all business.”

The business at hand right now is tomorrow’s game. A New England victory would put Belichick in the elite company of two-time Super Bowl-winning coaches.

Just don’t ask him to wax poetic on the subject.

“My thoughts are on Carolina,” he said yesterday when it was suggested he is on the verge of greatness. “I think there’s always a point later on to reflect on things that have happened in the past, and that’s great. But right now I don’t think this is any time for reflection on anything. I think this is time for performance. This is the biggest game of the year. It’s what we’ve worked for from the end of the last day of the season in 2002.”

Belichick paused, then perhaps sensing his robot-like persona was coming out again, tried to add a human touch to his answer.

“I appreciate the compliment, don’t get me wrong.”

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