Want to know exactly what made Tom Brady the greatest player in NFL history? Just take a listen to Bill Belichick’s appearance on the newly retired quarterback’s podcast.
In a series of in-depth, fascinatingly detailed responses to questions from co-host Jim Gray, Belichick paid tribute to Brady while explaining what allowed him to achieve the unprecedented level of success he maintained over 23 NFL seasons.
The Patriots head coach said it was “always impressive” to see Brady perform despite having a “bullseye on his back every week,” with every New England opponent focusing its game plan on stopping him. The coach compared him to Lawrence Taylor in that regard, which, coming from Belichick, is the highest of high praise.
He also marveled at Brady’s elite football IQ and ability to instantly decipher and recall exactly what he was seeing on the field, which Belichick called “incredible” and “remarkable” and said influenced the way he coached during Brady’s tenure.
But in Belichick’s opinion, Brady’s greatest asset — his “top quality” — was his ability to maximize the talents of the teammates around him, regardless of who those players were. He likened this trait to Bill Russell’s penchant for getting the most out of his fellow Boston Celtics.
“Tom always found a way to make his players productive,” Belichick said. “So it didn’t matter who the receiver, who the tight end was. He could understand what would make Rob (Gronkowski) more successful, what would make Troy Brown more successful, what could Wes Welker do. Not ‘what did I do with Troy that I want to do with Wes Welker?’ but ‘how do I make Wes Welker successful?’ How do I make Randy Moss successful?
“Those players were all great players, but they were all very different, and they had different skills, and Tom could always bring out the best of their skills. So, it was James White, the running backs — whatever the position was — Kevin Faulk. He made all those players great by understanding what their strengths were, and he understood how to use their strengths. Very similar to what Bill Russell talked about in terms of using the other teammates on the Celtics — how to get those guys shots, how to get those guys points.
“I think of all the things that Tom was great at — which is a long, long list — his ability to make players around him better and more productive was ultimately his greatest skill.”
This didn’t just apply to his offensive weapons, either. Brady’s quick trigger also allowed him to mask injuries or deficiencies on New England’s O-line.
“There were times where we didn’t have great tackles or where we might have had a guy hurt on the offensive line,” Belichick said. “Well, then he got the ball out quicker, and that matchup never really affected the game very much.
“I mean, all the years we went against Dwight Freeney, a lot of blocking Dwight Freeney was getting rid of the ball before Dwight Freeney could get there. He was a hard guy to block, and they had (Robert) Mathis on the other side. And there were games where we’d play, like the Carolina Super Bowl (after the 2003 season) — honest to God, that’s as good of a defensive line as we’ve ever faced. And Tom got hit a lot, but he got the ball out.
“So it didn’t matter if it was the line, the receivers, the tight ends, the running backs. When it was Corey Dillon or LeGarrette Blount, he helped them be more productive in their roles. Ultimately, of all the things that Tom was great at, I think that was really his top quality. He made everybody around him better and utilized the skills that those players had and avoided the ones that maybe they weren’t as good at.”
Brady reciprocated Belichick’s praise, fighting back tears as he expressed how much his longtime coach meant to him and his career. Brady and Belichick won six Super Bowls together — the latter three with an almost entirely different supporting cast than the first three.
The future Hall of Famer went on to win a seventh title with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after leaving the Patriots in 2020, giving him three more than any other NFL QB.