He was a precocious 8-year-old in a college film room asking questions about defensive run support. He was an NFL assistant coach at 23. Most recently, he was the New York Giants' defensive coordinator and a major factor in two Super Bowl victories.
That was yesterday morning. Yesterday afternoon, Bill Belichick was introduced as coach of the Cleveland Browns, who were 3-13 in 1990. It is the job for which he has been preparing virtually all his life.
Belichick, 38, is one of the youngest head coaches in NFL history. He signed a five-year contract estimated at $2.5 million.
"I feel I've been coaching for 30 years," Belichick said. "It's ingrained. I've done all the jobs in an organization you can do: typing, driving people to the airport, lining the fields, coaching. Everything.
"I think I'm ready to be a head coach, but it's a question that will have to be answered."
Belichick has always been considered young for the jobs he has held. He played defensive back and graduated from Wesleyan University in Middletown in 1975 and became an assistant for the Baltimore Colts before moving to Detroit and Denver for a season each. He was hired as the Giants' special teams coach in 1979. Belichick took over the defense in 1983 when Bill Parcells was elevated to coach.
Going into his initial interview in Cleveland last Thursday, Belichick was concerned about the age factor and owner Art Modell's legendary impatience with head coaches.
The Browns fired Bud Carson Nov. 5 after a 42-0 loss to Buffalo sent the team to 2-7. Carson had taken Cleveland to the AFC title game in his rookie season of 1989. Carson's predecessor, Marty Schottenheimer, coached the Browns to three consecutive playoff berths before he was fired after the 1988 season with a career record of 46-31.
Although Belichick was reluctant to discuss details of his contract, his father, Steve Belichick, a longtime Navy assistant, said, "The rap against Modell is he wants an instant winner, but [Bill] got everything he wanted. The contract, the job security, a say in personnel matters."
The Browns' assistants are among the league's best paid, so Belichick will have the resources to hire a competitive staff.
When Belichick flew to Cleveland for his second interview Monday night he brought two lawyers with him, along with his wife Debby. Belichick negotiated with Modell and his son David more than four hours, until 1 a.m. yesterday. Belichick, who made approximately $160,000 annually with the Giants, pTC apparently wouldn't have accepted a contract of less than four years.
"The thing you have to remember about Bill is that he is, first, a very smart man," said Giants offensive line coach Fred Hoaglin. "He proved he could adjust this year in the way he defended teams in those playoff games. He used an eight-man line against Chicago, then he turned around and used a two-man line against Buffalo. Adapting is something he excels at."