By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub
“They got the ball outside, they hurt us with some outside runs, a variety of them. It was a challenge the whole game. But we played them a little better as the game went on. Steve made a couple good calls that put us in the right defense against a couple of those, as well. That was good, too.”
– Bill Belichick after the Patriots’ 20-17 win on Sunday
In this case, Steve was Steve Belichick, son of the head coach, officially listed as the outside linebackers coach of the Patriots. And the story here is not whether Steve Belichick is a good coach, a bad coach or something in between. The story is, in part, that we just don’t know.
And the story is that Bill Belichick is now introducing the topic into discussion.
Nepotism is as old the world itself, of course, particularly in the NFL, where football is a family business as much as junkyards and funeral homes, from the Shulas to the Shanahans to, now, the Belichicks. But the question today doesn’t concern the particular pitfalls or benefits so much as it does Belichick’s intentions – and we’re talking about Bill now – because, after all, Robert Kraft employs his own children, as do many NFL owners.
And so, is Steve Belichick qualified? Sure. Maybe. Even probably. Who the heck knows? And that is the story. Coaching candidates in the NFL are made, not necessarily, born, because we’re all at the mercy of those who are in uniform or blowing whistles inside the organizations of 32 NFL franchises when it comes to identifying the next generation of pigskin masterminds.
Example: Joe Judge, the head coach of the New York Giants, who is becoming a trendy Coach of the Year candidate now that his team has won three straight in the housing project known as the NFC East. But you know why Judge is the coach of the Giants today? Because Bill Belichick recommended him to Giants ownership according to reports last spring, much to the surprise, presumably, of Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Judge was head coaching material because Belichick said he was, and Belichick’s word in football is worth a million times its weight in gold – and rightfully so.
But when Belichick voluntarily cites his son – something he does not typically do – there is an obvious question: What’s the motive? Was it a simple fact? And is this Belichick the coach talking or Belichick the father? Does Bill believe Steve is ready to become his defensive coordinator? Or is he just putting Bill on the radar of other coaches because he believes his son is ready to ascend a new position in an other organization, perhaps as soon as this offseason? (And if Bill does believe the latter, couldn’t he have so privately without letting the rest of the world know?)
Or, is Bill aware that, over the weekend, the Houston Chronicle profiled Patriots inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, touting him as a “rising star” on the NFL landscape? Houston needs a head coach, after all. In fact, the Texans are amidst an entire overhaul, having fired another Belichick disciple (Bill O’Brien) earlier this season.
Before anyone views this all as some indictment on Steve Belichick, let’s be very clear about this: it isn’t. It’s about Bill and his motives or intentions, which are as questionable as anyone else’s even if his football acumen is not. Widely regarded by many (including me) as the greatest coach in football history, Belichick is as plotting as anyone who has ever existed. He rarely does anything purely by happenstance, and it’s impossible to believe that deviated from that course while speaking about, of all people, his son.
And so, again, make of it what you will.
Maybe Bill mentioned Steve on Sunday because his son simply did his job – and did it well. Maybe he did it because his son is ready to grow into his next role in Foxboro. Or maybe he did it because he is letting the football world know that Steve is ready to move somewhere else, out of his father’s shadow, which would ultimately be in the best interest of both of them.
All I’m telling you is that, unequivocally, Bill Belichick did not introduce his son into the conversation by accident.
Like everything else with the coach, there was a reason for it.