For Pats, out with the old, in with the new Belichick

February 01, 2002|By Mike Preston

THE OLD Bill Belichick would have become irritated by the questions about quarterbacks Tom Brady and Drew Bledsoe.

The new one has patience, and delivers one-liners to the media.

The old Belichick often practiced his players in full gear, sometimes for three hours.

The new one goes in half pads a lot so he doesn't wear his players down.

The old Belichick never listened to his players. The new one asks for suggestions.

Nearly six years after his previous head coaching job in Cleveland, which resulted in four losing seasons, termination and vilification as Public Enemy No. 1, Belichick has matured in his second stint and will lead the New England Patriots into Super Bowl XXXVI against the St. Louis Rams.

There are some things that haven't changed.

He is still the little mad scientist with a playbook, adding, subtracting and finding the perfect defenses. It will be a great chess match Sunday with Belichick, 49, against St. Louis head coach Mike Martz, another little mad scientist with an offensive playbook.

If there is one coach who can blow up the Rams' offense Sunday, it's Belichick, who won two Super Bowls as defensive coordinator of the New York Giants in 1986 and 1990.

Now, he seems to have found the right chemistry as a head coach.

"I think he delegates a lot more because he is comfortable with the people around him," said Scott Pioli, the Patriots' director of player personnel, who was an assistant under Belichick in Cleveland.

"He hasn't backed off the intensity in which he works, but he has different methods in his approach. In handling situations in New England, he has done a better job of revealing how he feels.

"Back in Cleveland, people thought he was cold and callous."

Who could blame them?

Back then, Belichick was gruff. Cranky. Mean-spirited. Unhappy. His morning greetings had as many expletives as a Brian Billick tirade on game day. The media despised him.

He put the media in a separate location from the team at the Browns' headquarters in Berea, Ohio, and basically shunned them and the fans with curt answers when he cut quarterback Bernie Kosar in 1993.

Belichick treated Browns employees just as badly. Ask some of the former Ravens staff that worked in Cleveland. Belichick was a control freak, but he couldn't control his own temper.

It was worse on the field.

Listen to this story:

"I like Bill, he taught me about the league, but he was a little crazy," said New Orleans Saints guard Wally Williams, who started his career in the league under Belichick in Cleveland. "I remember he used to tell Zeus [offensive tackle Orlando Brown] that his locker was dirty and to clean it up. One day, he got so mad at Zeus about the locker that he took his clothes and threw them in the trash. Zeus retaliated by going into his office and throwing his stationary bike in the whirlpool."

Belichick's constant ridicule and long practices wore on the team after five seasons. Players were close to a mutiny even before owner Art Modell announced his team was moving to Baltimore near the midway point of the 1995 season, Belichick's last year in Cleveland.

"Whoa, in Cleveland, he was more negative than anything," said Patriots defensive end Anthony Pleasant, who also played for Belichick in Cleveland. "He was always on you. Guys would sometimes hate to come to work because of the negative atmosphere. Even when I joined him here, I had reservations because of the experience I had in Cleveland. I got banged up, beat up, and I didn't want to go through that again.

"I talked to some guys who said he had changed, but I had my doubts. But his attitude is different, more upbeat. There are times when he jumps on you, but there is more balance. He ain't wearing us down physically or mentally. Actually, he's a lot more fun to play for."

A change of attitude was all Belichick needed. No one ever questioned his strategies or passion. He built some great defenses in New York, and learned his trade as a youngster in Annapolis hanging around Navy stars such as Roger Staubach, Joe Bellino and Pat Donnelly in the 1960s.

Belichick's father, Steve, worked at Navy for 33 years. He was an advance scout.

"It was a real art, a real skill then, because they didn't have the film exchange like you have now," said Belichick, who would accompany his father on the road. "It required the scout to go back after the game and be able to tell the rest of the coaches what is going on. It was a tremendous experience for me.

"I learned from the press box what the other 11 guys were doing; not only get the substitutions, but also diagram the play and get ready for the next play. He gave me little jobs: watch this receiver or that receiver. It was great being around great football players who had integrity, character and were hard workers."

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