But he also developed a reputation as a no-nonsense coach who expects a flawless effort from his players, and those characteristics can strike fear into the weak minded.
As it turns out, the latter notion might be blown a bit out of proportion.
“I thought coach Belichick was like a tough guy, real stringent, army-like and all that,” said New England Patriots wide receiver Greg Lewis, who was acquired through an offseason trade with the Philadelphia Eagles. “But being here and being around him, really he is just passionate about football, and he wants to get the best out of his players. He really doesn’t take any nonsense, but he is willing to work with you, and is lenient and willing to get to know you once you get to know him. He is a good coach to play for.”
Even wideout Wes Welker, who is entering his third season with the Patriots, has noticed the best way to remain on Belichick’s good side. It’s a straightforward, universal belief: Just do your job.
“My [preconceived] perception was definitely a hard-[edge] type of guy, kind of on you all the time,” Welker said. “He’s definitely that, but he can be very easygoing, too. As long as you prove to him that you can handle your business, and work hard and take care of everything that you need to take care of, then he’s a lot more easygoing with you. You’ve just got to make sure you can continue to do those things and make sure that he trusts you, and things are usually a lot smoother with him.”
Go figure. Belichick is old-school and incessantly demanding, but he’s not so much like longtime NFL coach Bill Parcells — one of Belichick’s former mentors — or men’s college basketball coach Bobby Knight, both of whom relied on using fear as motivation.
Rather, Belichick can be slightly mellow during practices. He’ll typically roam through positional drills and offer insight and advice, as much of a teacher as he is a coach. Players also mention that Belichick can be humorous, even hilarious, which helps to open their lines of communication.
Belichick’s personality aside, newly signed running back Fred Taylor considered one significant fact before committing to New England: Belichick is a winner, and that wasn’t going to change.
“Before I got here, [I knew] this has been a team that has achieved championship status,” Taylor said. “Usually, your coach has to be a little off track to be those teams that are always winning. Kind of like [former Jacksonville Jaguars and current New York Giants head] coach [Tom] Coughlin. I kind of pictured them in the same mold a little bit. [Belichick] is very passionate. He is very detail oriented, but he is a little bit more loose than coach Coughlin was. I think he is going to be a great coach to play for. The perception before I got here was that he was just a hardball, tough, no-nonsense [coach], and every coach has their moments. But I think it will be a little bit easier to play for [Belichick] than it was to play for coach Coughlin when I first got in. It’s not as hardball as I initially thought. It’s hard [though].”
Have no misconceptions. Belichick hasn’t gone soft, and he’s certainly no Pete Carroll. But Belichick, who turned 57 years old in April, has adjusted his style through the years. While his philosophies in game planning and the like have remained similar, Belichick’s delivery has transformed since he arrived in Foxborough in 2000. When asked how he has changed over the last decade, Belichick smiled widely and responded, “I’d say I’m a lot friendlier.”
Surely, Belichick knew he’d draw a laugh with his answer, but there’s a lot of truth to it. Things weren’t tremendously positive around Foxborough Stadium when the Patriots lost 13 of their first 18 games under Belichick, but his message started to click in September 2001, when the Patriots kicked off a stretch in which they closed the regular season with 11 victories in 14 games and eventually won the Super Bowl.
That message has never been clearer than it is now. Each winning season pads Belichick’s resume and adds to his credibility, which ensures the open ears of his players. And it can be sure that everyone in the Gillette Stadium locker room appreciates playing for a guy who has won more games and Super Bowls over the last decade than any coach in the NFL.
“The first year he got here, it was just about letting the guys know where he was, what he stood for and what type of football team that was,” said running back Kevin Faulk, who is one of just two current Patriots who predate Belichick in New England. “Being here at that time, that meant he had to make a lot of people unhappy. But at the same time, as you went through that process, you understood what he was doing. Being here as long as I have and being with him, you understand exactly where he is and what he’s doing right now, and that’s just to build a team each and every training camp. That is what he wants.”