With six Super Bowl championships to his name, Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots is undoubtedly the greatest football coach of all time. It’s a certainty he’s had his fair share of luck, but no one wins that many titles without being smart.
Here are five examples of times when Bill Belichick was the smartest coach in the NFL.
Drafting Tom Brady — and sticking with him
As smart and as talented as Bill Belichick is as a strategist, a coach is only as good as his players. And it’s difficult to say how successful Belichick would have been without Tom Brady.
Belichick drafted Brady, a thoroughly average college quarterback, with a sixth-round pick in the 2000 NFL Draft. He turned to Brady out of necessity when longtime starter Drew Bledsoe was injured during the 2001 season.
Brady led the Pats to a Super Bowl that season before winning five more in the ensuing two decades. Belichick likely didn’t envision this when he drafted Brady. No one could have.
But he did see something in the player, and he surely had to feel tempted to go back to Bledsoe when he was healthy enough to return. By committing to Brady for the long haul, Belichick showed true foresight as a talent evaluator.
Submitting vague on injury reports
Bill Belichick famously doesn’t reveal much on his injury reports. It may not be in the spirit of good sportsmanship and it walks the fine line between being in and out of compliance with league rules. But he plays his cards close to his chest to maintain an information advantage over his opponents.
Bill Belichick has let the opposing team score
Belichick is willing to do anything to get ahead, including letting his team fall further behind.
In week nine of the 2003 NFL season, the Patriots took on the Denver Broncos. The Broncos led late, 24-23. With less than three minutes to go in the game, they had the Patriots pinned on their own one-yard line facing fourth and 10.
Rather than giving the Broncos favorable field position or risking a blocked punt for a touchdown, Belichick had his long snapper airmail one over the punter’s head for a safety. The Patriots then stopped the Broncos on defense before Brady led a game-winning drive for a touchdown.
By placing his confidence in his defense and quarterback, Belichick showed how to achieve long-term gains through short-term sacrifices.
Putting a wide receiver at cornerback
During the 2004 season, the Patriots’ defensive backfield was decimated by injuries. Rather than panic and make an ineffective trade, Bill Belichick got resourceful with his own roster.
He converted wide receiver Troy Brown to the team’s nickel corner. Brown played reliably (especially for someone learning a new position) and helped the Patriots win a championship that season.
Bill Belichick always gets value out of his bench players
While Brady has had a stranglehold on the quarterback position, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t had backups. He’s often had backups with talent, with some getting an opportunity to showcase that talent.
As a collector of assets, Belichick has put those players in a position to look good and then net something of value on the trade market — typically, a draft pick. Consider two backup quarterbacks in particular from the Brady era:
During the 2008 season, Brady was injured and replaced by Matt Cassel. Cassel played impressively, leading the team to a 10 win season. Belichick later acquired a second-round pick from Kansas City for him.
When he replaced the suspended Brady during the 2016 season, Jimmy Garoppolo performed admirably, winning two of his starts. Belichick traded him to the San Francisco 49ers for a second-round pick.
If he thought either player had outperformed Brady, Belichick no doubt would have dealt the star quarterback and held onto one of the other two. But as it stands, he’s been able to maximize the amount of value he gets out of players who would otherwise warm the bench.