How does the Belichick coaching tree stack up?
By: Jake Rajala (Twitter: @rajala_jake)
The NFL stands for “Not For Long”, as the NFL community apprehends all too well. We’ve often heard old school coaches reiterate this saying throughout post-game interviews & mini-camp speeches.
This particular phrase relates all too well to the common NFL player & head coach. For productive players and successful coaches, their careers tend to be fruitful and full of longevity. On the other hand, lackluster performances from professionals in the NFL correlates with a short NFL lifespan.
When thinking of the top players and coaching profiles in the NFL over the last decade, the first connection that comes to mind is Tom Brady & Bill Belichick. The once Patriot duo harvested in riches of six Super bowl victories together. The marriage between Belichick and Brady lasted for two decades until Brady departed to Tampa Bay in the 2020 off-season.
Belichick is undoubtedly a statue of glory and a handful of Super Bowl rings. Yet, not everybody affiliated with the emperor of New England benefited from the same methodology that was preached. The Belichick disciples often sink when they leave the Pats. It’s safe to say, they came to terms with the brute meaning of not for long.
The NFL is perceived as a highly competitive game of habits. We may see an assistant coach learn lessons, tactics, and a more robust work ethic from Bill Belichick. Yet, just because one person has a deep belonging to Belichick, it doesn’t mean they’re the same coach that adopts a rigorous schedule from the top, reacts the same way in arising situations, nor the same football mind that came from a background of $25 a week as an intern to adopting stronger routines under Bill Parcells. There is simply no Belichick 2.0.
At this near finish to the 2020 regular season and closure of the 2020 calendar year, we have witnessed another season of new segments, particularly from the pool of Belichick & his coaching tree. With that being cemented, I’m going to unveil and aim to stack up the coaching resumes of the Belichick coaching neophytes. Some of these apprentices to the Patriots head coach have actually thrived, while many have perished. Let’s take sail & dissect these notorious profiles.
(Ranked from Best to Worst)
- 1) Nick Saban
- NFL coaching record: 15-17
- CFB coaching record: 249-65-1
The most prosperous student of Bill Belichick may have found his coaching success in the coaching ranks, but Nick Saban has unraveled to be one of the greatest “football” coaches of all time–perhaps the top CFB coach of this century.
Saban’s career tally merely ties for 27th, amidst the ageless coaching wonders in the college ranks. Although, it’s important to note that only three coaches with more career victories have a higher winning percentage (Mike Kelly, Tom Osborne, Ron Schipper, Larry Kehres).
Saban was a former defensive coordinator under Belichick’s Cleveland Browns in the vintage 1990s. Those were the days when Belichick struggled to take himself off the gas pedal, in terms of conditioning the team. Belichick didn’t lighten up with the coaching staff either, as Nick Saban has often referred to it as the “worst four years of his life”.
We know Belichick is tough as nails, but it seems evident that some of the motra really wore off on Saban. Saban has been relentless with his team’s conditioning, very detail-oriented, and he’s maintained a successful group when his starting QB has gone down “in the season”.
Saban would lose a National Championship in 2022 against Georiga. He still expressed his utmost confidence in Bryce Love as a QB.
2) Bill O’Brien
- NFL coaching record: 52-48
Bill O’Brien has been neck and neck with Adam Gase as the least popular head coach in 2020. Yet, Bill is the only one of two “NFL” disciples under Belichick to have a winning career coaching record.
The former Texans head coach took a lot of heat for shipping out his best player DeAndre Hopkins prior to the 2020 regular season (Traded for a fourth-round draft pick and David Johnson). I believe that this move wasn’t compared enough to the decision that Belichick made with trading away Chandler Jones for a third-rounder. Ironically, I’d say that both moves backfired. Chandler Jones led the league in sacks since 2012, prior to this season (put on IR this year). And Hopkins has been nothing short of an elite profile, with hail-mary catches in the process.
It’s no coincidence that O’Brien tried to lure the Patriots Director of Player Personnel, the drone-like Nick Caserio away from New England. Although, the rumors died down & the move didn’t work out. Then O’Brien went on to become the Texans head coach and GM, as Belichick’s role lies in New England.
The former Texans coach and current Alabama offensive coordinator is a popular candidate to land in Jacksonville as the next head coach. According to NFL.com, O’Brien will interview for the vacant HC job in Jacksonville this week.
3) Brian Flores
- NFL coaching record: 15-16
The Dolphins head coach Brian Flores has taken huge strides with his squad in 2020. The improved AFC East team is 10-5 on the year, led by a Fitzmagic and Tua sandwich at QB.
It’s impressive to see Flores far exceed expectations with a team that was seen as below average not too long ago, plus they’ve gained stardom by benching their Top-5 pick at QB in the course of a vital game. It may come as a surprise that Flores comes in at three on this list, but this goes to show the growth he’s portrayed in his second year, along with the unsuccessful head coaches to learn from the New England ways.
If the Flores led Dolphins team notches a win in Week 17, they’re in the playoff gauntlet. It’s a win and in for Flores in his second year coaching.
Flores was shockingly fired from the Miami Dolphins after the AFC East team won eight of its last nine football games in 2021-2022. Flores is a prime candidate to sign with the Chicago Bears, as they recently fired Matt Nagy.
4) Jim Schwartz
- NFL coaching record: 29-51
Jim Schwartz had a tough tenure as the Lions head coach, but Schwartz has been one of the top coordinators in the league. Schwartz’s intensity and swagger were flashed with his time as the Bills defensive coordinator, where his defense led the league in sacks & went 4-0 against NFC North teams in 2015. Then we all can recall his Super Bowl win as the Eagles defensive coordinator, where his defense stumped the 2017 MVP, Tom Brady.
Schwartz enjoyed a playoff berth in 2011 as the Lions ring leader, which has happened only twice since his position in Detroit (2014, 2016). Yet, the Lions expected more out of the Lions coach that was a research assistant/scout under Belichick in 1993-1995 in Cleveland.
Personally, Schwartz is one of the coordinators that I’d love to see get a second chance with a more established, healthy roster, situation. I would put Dennis Allen in the same group (non-Belichick coaching tree), who was fired from the Raiders after a short two years with Terrelle Pryor routinely being the QB.
5) Joe Judge
- NFL coaching record: 5-10
When the Giants offered the Patriots special team’s coordinator the head coaching job, it sounded very aggressive and “almost too stereotypical”, but Judge has done a superb job of rallying his troops. I’m more impressed by Joe Judge to bring the Giants to a 4-7 record thus far, compared to the other Belichick apprentice Kliff Kingsbury’s outing in Arizona.
Judge was tasked to compete in the dominant NFC with a rough, porous roster before the season started. Early on in the year, they lost Saquon Barkley to IR (Week 2 injury occurred), Daniel Jones has missed three games, and this team is still in a position to win the NFC East.
The Giants need to beat Dallas in Week 17 and the Washington Football Team to fall to the Jalen Hurts led Eagles if they wish to garner a playoff spot.
6) Eric Mangini
- NFL coaching record: 33-47
Eric Mangini is quite the persona, but more recently a ghost in the NFL. The former Patriots defensive coordinator received head coaching stints with the Cleveland Browns and New York Jets after serving as the DC for New England in 2005.
Mangini was an ESPN analyst in 2011 after his last coaching stint with the Colt McCoy shown Browns. There were a few other notable tracks with Mangini: He accused his former boss Bill Belichick of “Spygate” during a Jets/Patriots match-up. And Mangini was said to stir some feathers with the Browns culture by alienating players & tearing down memoirs of former legendary Browns in the facility.
Candidly, he’s an oddball on & off the field.
7) Kliff Kingsbury
- NFL coaching record: 13-17-1
The Cardinals head coach is the ultimate QB whisperer. Kliff Kingsbury led Kyler Murray to win rookie of the year in 2019, which was followed after having QB success with the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Johnny Manziel in college football.
When judging Klingsbury’s playoff aimed squad as a whole, the Cardinals have had a modest 2020 season. Arizona sits at 8-7 on the season, prior to the final week kicks off. Although, his team has been weak in pivotal games within the division. Cardinals are 2-3 in the division, with a recent inexcusable loss to the 49ers. And Kliff’s pass defense has often hung it’s offense out to dry in hotly contested shootouts.
The Cardinals can garner a playoff spot with a win over the Rams in Week 17. If Kliff’s team gets edged out by Aaron Donald and company, there’s no alternative to reaching the playoffs.
8) Josh McDaniels
- NFL coaching record: 11-17
The long time Patriots offensive coordinator has enjoyed riches of Super Bowl parades, but he endured a short, losing stint as a head coach of the Denver Broncos. McDaniels went 8-8 in 2009 and 3-9 in the next season before getting yanked. It’s worth noting that the long-time Patriots OC was just 32 years old when he started his head coaching gig in Denver! It’s been stated that the longtime play-caller for New England would welcome a head coach opportunity, per Patriots Wire.
Of course, we’re talking about the Patriots offensive mind that’s been under Belichick’s wing for 12 years, including three Super Bowl victories. Although, I would say McDaniel’s inability to transpire top-end success as a head coach away from New England places him low on this list. And McDaniels has been far from efficient without Tom Brady under the helm.
9) Romeo Cornell
- NFL coaching record: 32-62
Romeo Cornell and Jeff Fisher have been a long-losing stain on the NFL when it comes to being a “head coach”. It’s undoubtedly clear that the 73-year-old Cornell doesn’t deserve a head coaching stint again.
Cornell has put together one winning season in his five full seasons as a head coach. In three of the five seasons, Cornell compiled fewer than four wins on the year. Cornell has been the defensive coordinator for three Super Bowl titles under Bill Belichick, but it’s not an equalizer to an atrocious head coaching campaign away from Patriots palace.
10) Matt Patricia
- NFL coaching record: 13-29-1
The Detroit Lions were a walking fourth-quarter avalanche under Matt Patricia. To give Patricia some benefit of the doubt, Matthew Stafford was his annual self with his injuries being showcased (eight missed games in 2019).
Even though Patricia studied rocket science at RPI, it unequivocally didn’t correlate to his ability to transform the miserable Lions outcomes. Patricia enjoyed a fine relationship with his pencil buddy Bill Belichick in their time together from 2012 to 2017, but he fell flat on his face in the Motor City away from the godfather.
Patricia returned to the Patriots empire as a senior football advisor after his departure from Detroit. The 47 year old has a pencil in one ear and a mouthful of Belichick’s opinions in the other.
11) Al Groh
- NFL coaching record: 9-7
- CFB coaching record: 85-92
The one-year wonder head coach of the New York Jets consumed a 9-7 record in 2000 for New York Jets but quickly fled to coaching Virginia in the college ranks after. Despite winning a Super Bowl under Parcells with Belichick, Al Groh has been in the shadow over the last two decades
The former assistant coach under Belichick in Cleveland is one of two head coaches in the existence of the Jets franchise to boast a winning percentage (Bill Parcells being the other). Yet, a career losing record in college and a timid appearance in the professional league places Groh at the bottom of the Belichick coaching tree hierarchy.