Browns' Belichick is just a chip off the old coaching block

John Steadman

February 08, 1991|By John Steadman

ANNAPOLIS RELIVING THE glory of his own football days through son Bill isn't the kind of vicarious game Steve Belichick likes to play. He's elated over the appointment and realizes the Cleveland Browns wouldn't have entrusted head coaching responsibilities to his little boy of yesteryear unless they believed he was totally qualified.

The Belichicks, ages 72 and 38, have an ideal relationship. "The only advice I gave him when he went into coaching," says his father, "was never to talk about how you used to do it with the team you just left. Nothing annoys another coach or player any more than that."

Football was a calling for Steve and he gave it 44 years, coaching at Southwest Louisiana, Hiram, North Carolina, Vanderbilt and Navy. He thought so highly of his college and pro coach, a magnificent man named Bill Edwards, that he named his son after him.

Steve played a year in the National Football League with the Detroit Lions. He opened the 1941 season as equipment manager for $35 a week but Edwards, who also had recruited him for Western Reserve University, made him the fullback in an unprecedented job change.

In the same backfield was Byron "Whizzer" White, now a Supreme Court justice, and such other teammates as Augie Lio, Alexander Wojciehowicz, Bob Nelson, Bill Radovich and Maurice Footsie" Britt, who lost an arm in World War II while winning the Medal of Honor. Belichick was promised a postseason bonus for a good performance and, although he averaged 4.2 yards per carry, best on the Lions, the ownership reneged on the agreement.

Now young Bill is coaching in Cleveland, where Steve played as a collegian, and is to be paid $2.5 million over the next five years. "At Western Reserve, I must have had my nose broken six times in football," Steve recalls. "Then when I went to Detroit to take care of the equipment, I had it straightened in an operation. But in one of my early pro games, Dick Plasman hit me across the face and put my nose back where it used to be."

Belichick is originally from Struthers, Ohio (home to the first blast furnace west of the Allegheny Mountains). It was a smokestack town where men carried lunch pails and put in long, fatiguing hours. The chance to get a college education at Western Reserve was a cherished reward for being able to play football. Then came World War II, service in the Navy as head of a gun crew on a merchant vessel and, finally, initiating his own career as a coach.

Young Bill was born in Nashville, when his dad was coaching for Edwards at Vanderbilt, but grew up in Annapolis after Steve became an assistant coach, scout and recruiter at Navy in 1956. At Annapolis High School, Bill was a center on the football team and went to Phillips-Andover Academy on the recommendation of Dick Duden, a former All-America end at Navy.

Later, at Wesleyan University, where he tired of football and gave it up as a sophomore, he thought of the possibility of coaching. A friend at Andover, Ernie Adams, had volunteered to help the New England Patriots coaches and Bill decided he might like the same thing.

He had an opportunity to work for Lou Holtz at North Carolina State but the staff was reduced, according to an NCAA directive, and Bill found the opening was closed. That's when Steve made a call to a Baltimore Colts assistant coach named George Boutselis in 1976.

It was Boutselis who provided entree to the head coach, Ted Marchibroda, recommending Bill Belichick. There was no pay involved -- only two tickets to each Colts home game. But Bill made such an impression Marchibroda paid him $25 a week and later doubled the salary.

"Ted was like a saint," said Steve. "He helped Bill in a lot of ways. So did the assistants, Whitey Dovell, Frank Lauterbur and Boutselis. As a kid, Bill had been at a football camp I ran near Harrisburg and Dovell and Boutselis knew him from there. They made him welcome and Bill, in turn, relieved them of a lot of routine work, which they liked."

So in Super Bowl XXV, fate created its own personal matchup: Marchibroda, offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills and, across the field, Bill Belichick, the kid he befriended with his first job in football, directing the New York Giants' defense. Steve Belichick is profoundly proud but doesn't go around inflicting stories on the world about "my boy, Bill," who may have been born to be a coach.

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