(Photo courtesy of New England Patriots)
Talk of Fame Network
GLENDALE, Ariz.--Let the discussion begin.
With his fourth Super Bowl ring, matching the 1980s feat of Joe Montana, where does Tom Brady now rank in the pantheon of NFL quarterbacks?
No, not that discussion.
The other discussion.
The Bill Belichick discussion.
Can Belichick now be considered the greatest coach in NFL history?
Belichick has now been to six Super Bowls as a head coach. The only other coach to take teams to that many Super Bowls was Don Shula, a Hall of Famer. With an electrifying 28-24 victory over the NFC champion Seattle Seahawks Sunday night, Belichick has now won four Super Bowls. That matches the record of Chuck Noll, another Hall of Famer.
Belichick ranks sixth all-time with 211 career victories. He also has won a greater percentage of his career games (65.9) than all but six coaches. Five of them are in the Hall of Fame (John Madden, Vince Lombardi, George Allen, George Halas and Shula) and the sixth has been a two-time Hall of Fame finalist (Tony Dungy).
But there’s a difference between the achievements of Belichick and those of Lombardi, Shula and Noll. Belichick has mastered his coaching craft competing in an era of the salary cap. With a limit on what you can spend, a team cannot keep all of its star players. Lombardi, Noll and Walsh could keep their best players forever. Belichick can’t.
So great players have departed New England because of salary-cap concerns, taking their Pro Bowl skills elsewhere: Lawyer Milloy, Ty Law, Richard Seymour, Deion Branch, Willie McGinest, Asante Samuel, Adam Vinatieri, Logan Mankins…
Yet the winning continues. Belichick plugs in a draft pick here, a free agent there or a trade acquisition and forges ahead. The Patriots have strung together 14 consecutive winning seasons, capturing 12 AFC East titles, including the last seven in a row. Belichick also has taken his team to nine AFC title games.
Sure, Belichick has never been to a Super Bowl without Brady. But Lombardi never won a championship without Bart Starr, Noll never won one without Terry Bradshaw and Walsh never won one without Joe Montana. Yet there are no asterisks on their careers.
But the Belichick discussion gets muddied under a microscope.
Lombardi was never accused of taping a walkthrough practice of a Super Bowl opponent like Belichick and the Patriots were in 2001. Nothing ever came of that accusation.
Shula never had a Spygate. The Dolphins coach never felt compelled to videotape the sideline signals of the New York Jets as the Patriots had in 2007. Belichick was fined $500,000 by the league and the Patriots were stripped of a first-round draft pick for that antic.
Noll never had a Deflategate. His Steelers were never accused of letting air out of the footballs on a cold and rainy day so Terry Bradshaw could get a better grip in an AFC title game. But those are the charges that hang over the Patriots from the AFC title game last month. That matter is still under investigation by the league.
But the footballs were fully inflated Sunday night. And the cameras were focused on the field, not the sideline. What the nation saw was a Super Bowl classic and another Belichick victory, the 22nd of his post-season career. His 70.9 post-season winning percentages ranks behind only Lombardi, Tom Flores and Walsh.
Is Belichick the greatest ever?
You can make a powerful case for Lombardi. You can make powerful cases for Joe Gibbs and Bill Walsh as well. But you can now present as sterling a case for Belichick because of what he's been able to accomplish in the salary-cap era.
And he’s not done yet. Not at 62. He strengthens his case with each game he wins, with each Lombardi Trophy he grasps. He’ll survive Deflategate, just as he survived Spygate. And he’ll continue to win.
I can’t say that he’s the best ever. But I also can’t say there’s another coach I’d rather have on my sideline in a Super Bowl.
Follow Rick Gosselin on Twitter at @RickGosselinDMN