Why Belichick’s apprentices fail

What is wrong with Belichick’s apprentices?

By: Brock Wells

In Bill Belichick’s long career as a head coach in the NFL, he’s had numerous apprentices who have not been able to live up to the standard he has set over the years. This has confused and perplexed many for years, as other “coaching trees” throughout the history of the league have fared significantly better. But contexts and situations aren’t the same across different generations, so what sense can actually be made from the relative shortcomings of Belichick’s apprentices?

Among Belichick’s apprentices are a number of coaches who have been involved with teams in the same division. Eric Mangini and Al Groh both coached for the Jets. Brian Flores and Nick Saban both coached for the Dolphins.

Head coaching records with these teams:

  • Mangini: 23-25 (0-1 postseason)
  • Groh: 9-7
  • Flores: 24-25
  • Saban: 15-17

A couple of important caveats here. Flores deserves credit for helping to develop the groundwork for the success the Miami Dolphins are having this season. Saban, although not successful in the NFL, is one of the greatest coaches in the history of college football. But Mangini’s one measly postseason game appearance and Groh’s one season as a head coach don’t bode well for Belichick’s tree.

Other coaches in this tree are Romeo Crennel, Josh McDaniels, Matt Patricia, Joe Judge, and Bill O’Brien. Of these coaches, O’Brien has had the most success. Arguably, with a case to be made for Gary Kubiak, his tenure provided the best moments in the history of the Houston Texans franchise.

  • O’Brien: 52-48 (2-4 postseason)

O’Brien taking a franchise like the Texans to the postseason on multiple occasions speaks to something, but the failures of the others to get much of anything accomplished is definitely not a good look. But how strange is it, really? Vince Lombardi, George Halas, and Hank Stram all had apprentices that weren’t nearly as successful as they were. None of Belichick’s apprentices had the infrastructure he had around him, nor did they have the revolving door of capable players at all positions he built.

What’s interesting to look at is the time O’Brien and Crennel spent together in Houston. This is perhaps the best example of Belichick’s apprentices’ success, as O’Brien and Crennel worked together to create multiple winning seasons for what has largely been a poverty franchise. With O’Brien as head coach and Crennel as defensive coordinator, the Texans made the playoffs three times in four seasons.

Belichick being a defensive-minded coach, it would make sense that this would be the greatest testament to his coaching tree. Plenty of coaches in the tree have struggled without the same environmental advantages. Plenty of them were never meant to be head coaches at all. But that isn’t necessarily unique to Belichick’s coaching tree.

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