He paced the sideline longer and won more games than any other coach in franchise history, always with a stoic demeanor, leading his team to multiple Super Bowl titles. The former defensive coordinator for the New York Giants was considered an innovator in the NFL, both on defense, where he pioneered a flexible, shifting unit, but on offense as well, where his team used changing formations and operated out of the shotgun far more than any other. His way of building and operating a team was referred to as the "system" and players came and went in and out of it.
The players he coached did not all like him while they played for him, but almost to a man after they moved on, they spoke of him in reverential terms.
Does any of that sound familiar? I'm speaking of course, about legendary Cowboys head coach Tom Landry, who is featured in this week's episode of "A Football Life" on the NFL Network.
Did you think I meant someone else?
The similarities between Landry and Bill Belichick are numerous, but I sure hope the Belichick era does not end as unceremoniously as the Landry era ended in Dallas. New owner Jerry Jones dumped Landry without so much as a conversation with him.
Talk around these parts this week has largely consisted of whether Bill Belichick still has what it takes to be a championship football coach and personnel man. After last week's loss at Pittsburgh, the critics have come out in force this week to decry the drafting and personnel acquisitions of recent years. They're eager to jump on a defense rated worst in the NFL in passing and yardage, and make suggestions that perhaps it is time for the Kraft family to move on from the head coach.
Such talk is foolish and smacks of ignorance, as well as a total lack of context and historical perspective.
Do people realize that it is actually hard to win in the NFL? That all the other teams out there are trying to win as well? The Patriots three Super Bowl victories have created an unrealistic set of expectations for fans and media around here.
Have the Patriots missed opportunities to add to their collection of Super Bowl titles? Yes, of course they have. Losing the Colts in the AFC title game in 2006 and then to the Giants the following season in the Super Bowl were the most painful losses. 2008 comes, and the team loses Tom Brady in the first half of the first game of the season. Rather than packing it in, as the Colts have done this season, the team goes to 11-5 with Matt Cassel as quarterback.
At the end of the 2008 preseason, there was plenty of talk that Cassel should be cut. This talk originated of course, with many of the same people who are being very vocal this week.
Interestingly, that 11-5 record that season, which was not good enough for the playoffs in a crazy season, would've tied the franchise record for most wins in a season before Belichick became the head coach.
That 2008 season saw the final days in a Patriots uniform for many of the franchise stalwarts - Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison, Mike Vrabel and Richard Seymour were among those who played their final games in a New England uniform that season. 2009 was the start of a rebuilding process, in which the team still went 10-6 before losing in the first round of the playoffs. In 2010, many expected the Patriots to be a .500 team, and instead they went 14-2, before again suffering a disappointing first round loss.
Aren't wins and losses the biggest stat? They keep winning, and that includes a season without Tom Brady.
For historical perspective, great teams never win as many championships as they could. Think of the Cowboys of the early 90's. By the time they won their third Super Bowl in 1995, all of their offensive starts except tight end Jay Novacek were under the age of 30. They never won again. The 1985 Chicago Bears are considered the greatest defense of the Super Bowl era. They won one Super Bowl. Even the San Francisco 49ers, who had an incredible streak of 16 straight years in which they won 10 or more games had a three year streak when Joe Montana was the quarterback in which they lost in the first round each of those years. (1985, '86 and '87)
Like I said, it's tough to win in the NFL.
If you get a chance to view the Tom Landry biopic on NFL Network, think ahead 20 years from now when there will be a similar piece done on Bill Belichick, and his time with the Patriots. It's tough to watch that Landry documentary and not make the connection to what we have here in front of us right now. The day will come when we will be pining for the good old days of the Belichick era, and wondering why we can't get another coach like him.