Steve Belichick has, for the last several seasons, been one of the primary leaders of a perennially successful Patriots defense.
But in his first year as a New England position coach, he was woefully unprepared for that role.
During an appearance this week on Chris Long’s “Green Light” podcast, recently retired Patriots safety Devin McCourty revealed that head coach Bill Belichick informed the younger Belichick shortly before the start of offseason workouts in 2016 that he was being installed as the team’s new safeties coach.
Steve Belichick had been a defensive assistant for the previous four seasons but had never led a position group. And New England’s safety room at the time was stocked with experienced, Super Bowl-winning veterans.
McCourty recalled the then-30-year-old Belichick’s first positional meeting following his promotion.
“The one thing that I’ve loved about Steve is his honesty,” McCourty said. “I remember Steve takes over (after) Pat Graham left, (former safeties coach Brian Flores) is moving to linebackers coach, and Steve said Bill tells him two weeks before the offseason program starts that he’s going to be the safeties coach.
“Now he’s walking in the room, it’s me, Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner. We’ve got all these veterans — I’m older than Steve, Pat’s older than Steve, he played with Duron (at Rutgers) and he’s probably the same age as Nate — and he walks in and goes, ‘Yo, I’m going to be honest with y’all. I don’t know what the F I’m doing right now. My dad told me two weeks ago that I was even going to have this job.’ And now I’m just sitting here like, ‘I don’t know, what’s next?’ And that first year, we all just worked together.”
That story won’t sit well with critics who accuse Bill Belichick of nepotism for giving both of his sons jobs on New England’s coaching staff. (Steve now is the linebackers coach and de facto co-defensive coordinator, and younger brother Brian has coached safeties since 2020.)
But McCourty said Steve Belichick’s humility and acknowledgment of his own shortcomings helped him earn the respect of his players and improve as a coach. His inexperience also wasn’t a detriment to the team that season, as the 2016 Patriots allowed the fewest points in the NFL and lost just twice en route to a Super Bowl title.
“Now when I look at him, I think his growth has come because of the honesty, not coming in saying, ‘My dad is Bill Belichick. I was born to coach. I’m going to do this,’ ” McCourty said. “No, he came in and was like, I’m going to learn from some veterans that I’ve got in this room, take advantage of that opportunity that I get, and I’m going to grow as a coach.
“And I think now, you look at him and the games he’s coached in — like, the game we played against Tampa back in 2021, that’s one of the biggest games. You’ve got Tom Brady coming back (to Foxboro), and that’s one of our better performances of the year. We fell short, but we went out there and played tough with Brady. And I think that has come from Steve just continuing to build year in and year out.”
McCourty and Long, who also played for the Patriots in 2016, both spoke highly of Steve Belichick. After Jerod Mayo, McCourty mentioned Belichick as a current Patriots assistant that he could see becoming a head coach one day, though he, unlike Mayo, has yet to be linked to any openings in his career.
“A wild card (head-coaching candidate) that probably shouldn’t be a wild card would be Stevie B — Steve Belichick,” McCourty said. “He’s a Belichick. He’s now been the coordinator — I know it’s not on paper — but he’s been the coordinator for the last three or four years, and his defenses have all performed well.
“And it’s a combination between him and Mayo running it, but I think obviously, if you hire him, you still get Bill. You still get everything that he’s done. You get his knowledge, because he’s not just going to leave his son. But I think both of those guys will have the chance to be head coaches someday.”