Belichick no stranger to 33rd St. Browns coach: The Annapolis High grad grew up cheering Unitas before helping Marchibtoda direct Colts.

November 12, 1995|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND - One of Bill Belichick's first highlights in the NFL was a miracle on 33rd Street.

"The year was 1975 and I was a graduate assistant working under Ted Marchibroda with the Colts," said Belichick, 43, the Cleveland Browns' fifth-year coach. "We started out 1-4, and there wasn't much interest from fans. Then, we started winning some games.

"Then, we played Miami in that fog game, where Toni Linhart kicked a 31-yard field goal to give us an overtime win," Belichick said. "I lost the kick in the fog, never saw it go over. But I remember the emotional players and fans running out on the field. It was a great way to start off a coaching career."

Belichick's career may have come full circle. Barring an improbable vote from league owners in late January to keep the Browns in Cleveland, Belichick will be celebrating a homecoming of sorts when the Browns move to Baltimore.

Not only did Belichick begin his career as a Colts assistant, but he also is a graduate of Annapolis High. His father, Steve, coached at the Naval Academy for 33 years.

Belichick grew up on Mike Curtis, Bubba Smith and John Unitas. He played lacrosse and sailed on the Chesapeake Bay. He ate crab cakes.

He has special feelings for Bawlamer.

"Those were some turbulent times when I was growing up - the Vietnam War, the protests - but Annapolis was different because of the Naval Academy," Belichick said. "I got a chance to meet some wonderful people, like Roger Staubach and Joe Bellino. It was a great experience. But right now is not the time to really talk about Baltimore...."

His father's military background seems to have been a major influence on Belichick. He preaches leadership and discipline, and almost every question leads back to football. He seldom talks about his personal life and can come across as a colorless, heartless football drone.

But he has another side, a devoted family man and former rock 'n' roller who once had long hair and drove a Volkswagen and still listens to Bon Jovi.

His wife, Debby, met him while they were students at Annapolis High. She wants him to be more of himself in public. She gave him "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus," a book about how men and women communicate.

"I think Bill has been misread in Cleveland," said Browns offensive tackle Tony Jones, now in his eighth year with the club. "Bill isn't going to tell you a lot about himself. He's almost an introvert. He also had the responsibility of getting rid of a lot of veteran players here. It wasn't pretty.

"He's loosened up a little since his first year. He's even smiling more," Jones said. "Is he a players' coach? It depends on the kind of player you are. If you want to be the best, he's the kind that will bring your talents out, that's for sure."

Belichick has the makings of a drill sergeant. The close-cropped haircut. The deep, rhythmic monotone that can be mistaken for mumbling. The 2 1/2 -hour practices and long film sessions.

Belichick sleeps in his office, especially the night before the Browns implement a game plan. He prefers smash-mouth football, with a physical defense, and emphasizes special teams.

And, oh, is he intense. Belichick constantly twists his neck as if to rid himself of tension.

"He'll get right in your face, and it doesn't matter who you are," said Browns cornerback Antonio Langham. "If you mess up, then he's going to tell you in very blunt terms. The man can put together some phrases. Before a game, he's just as intense as the players. Scratch that. He's even more intense."

XTC Cleveland owner Art Modell apparently wanted a no-nonsense guy when he hired Belichick on Feb. 5, 1991. Cleveland had gone 3-13 the season before.

"I had told Mr. Modell before I was hired that I thought the Browns had gotten old," Belichick said. "I knew it was going to take at least five years to rebuild."

Belichick got rid of some popular veterans, including Webster Slaughter, Kevin Mack, Clay Matthews and Frank Minnifield. When he released quarterback Bernie Kosar in 1993, that was the unpardonable sin. Also, three losing seasons in his first three years created an iron curtain separating Belichick from his players, the media and the public.

"It was the atmosphere, the environment. Players never felt comfortable with him," said Denver Broncos defensive lineman Michael Dean Perry, a former Brown and one of Belichick's toughest critics. "Sometimes he felt threatened because of the dynamic personalities, or that he had to be in authority."

Belichick never was the type to ask for sympathy.

"I had a commitment to what was right," Belichick said. "And sometimes you have to be aggressive to make the right move.

"What I went through strengthened me," Belichick said, "and if you look around, you will see that few of the players that I had to get rid of are still in the league."

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