Pro Football Blog

By Stephen Juza

June 1st, 2020

During Bill Belichick’s career, he has established himself as the greatest coach in NFL history, and arguably the greatest coach in all major North American sports. While that pantheon could include other coaches with impeccable credentials and eye-popping statistics, such as Phil Jackson winning the NBA championship in more seasons (eleven) than not (nine), Belichick’s consistency has set him apart.

Regardless of how you want to rank coaches, Belichick’s name is toward the top. Regular season wins? Third of all time, behind Don Shula and George Halas. Best winning percentage of all time? Belichick ranks fifth of all time for coaches with more than ten seasons at the helm, with almost as many wins as the four coaches above him combined.

Coach (active head coaches in bold) Head Coaching Years Regular Season Wins Regular Season Win Percentage Playoff Wins Playoff Win Percentage
Don Shula 1963-1995 328 67.70% 19 52.80%
George Halas 1920-1967 318 68.20% 6 66.70%
Bill Belichick 1991-2019 273 68.30% 31 72.10%
Tom Landry 1960-1988 250 60.70% 20 55.60%
Curly Lambeau 1921-1953 226 63.10% 3 60.00%

Top Five Coaches in Wins, All Time

This regular season success has translated into unprecedented domination of the AFC East. Since the start of the dynasty, the Patriots have won 17 of 19 division titles, seven more than the Green Bay Packers, the next most dominating team. In fact, 17 division titles is more than all but five franchises in the history of the NFL.

If playoff success is the true mark of a great coach, Belichick has coached in the most playoff games in NFL history (41), has the most wins (31), and has the third best win percentage of a coach with more than ten playoff games under his belt. In the 100 years of the NFL, Belichick has put his team in the championship more times than any other coach (nine conference championships) while winning the most NFL championships, tied with Halas and Curly Lambeau (six each).

Throughout this continued run of success, there have been few constants on the team beyond Coach Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. Assistant coaches have come and gone, and occasionally returned, and team personnel and strategy has been fluid every few years. Most dynasties are defined by a single strategy or core group of players.

The Patriots can’t be defined by one side of the ball, or any group of players. The San Francisco 49ers were defined by the West Coast offense during their dynasty. The Dallas Cowboys of the 90s won three Super Bowls in four seasons behind the offense of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin. The Patriots have won championships led by both sides of the ball.

In fact, what may be the most impressive aspect of the Patriots’ success is the era they have achieved it in. Free agency began in 1993 and completely changed how teams are created and maintained. It is far more difficult now for a team to consistently be at the top, year after year, than it was before this change. The other coaches at the top of the winning chart all began coaching decades before Belichick.

Prior to Free Agency, multiple championship appearances by a coach were commonplace. George Halas had seven championship appearances with the Chicago Bears between 1933 and 1946. Paul Brown made eleven championship game appearances in thirteen years in the 1940s and 1950s. Chuck Noll had four Super Bowl appearances in the 1970s. However, since 1993, no coach has made more than two Super Bowl appearances. No coach, that is, other than Belichick, who has made an astonishing nine appearances.

Across the 500 coaches who have ever coached an NFL game, Belichick has few peers in each metric of success. When taken together, he has no equal in NFL history. Over the next few weeks, this series will look more in depth at each of these metrics, highlighting Belichick’s body of work in NFL history.

Part 1: Bill Belichick: Greatest NFL Coach

Part 2: Regular season: Consistent Success for Two Decades

Part 3: Playoff Success, When the Competition is the Strongest

Part 4: Succeeding in the Most Challenging Era

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By Stephen Juza

May 24th, 2020

Throughout NFL history, future coaches have learned how to succeed from current coaches. By learning their strategies, what works well and what can be improved, they hone their skills as an NFL coach. Rising through the ranks until they get their own opportunity to lead a team.

Some head coaches have a better track record of turning their assistants into head coaches to continue their core strategies. Bill Walsh is the best example of this. During his years as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers in the 1980s and 1990s, the team reshaped the league with the west coast offense. During these years, many assistants became head coaches carrying on a similar offensive philosophy.

Walsh’s former assistants carried the torch of the west coast offense far from San Francisco as they were hired as head coaches throughout the league: Sam Wyche to the Bengals, Mike Holmgren to the Packers, Dennis Green to the Vikings, and many others.

From there, the Bill Walsh coaching tree continued to grow. Among the new branches were Andy Reid, assistant coach under Mike Holmgren, who was hired as the head coach of the Eagles and Lovie Smith, assistant coach under Dennis Green, who was hired by the Bears. Pretty soon, most teams had some connection to the Walsh coaching tree.

Current organizations are no different, often poaching assistant coaches from successful teams to lead their own organization. This has led to several teams around the league with ties to Reid, head coach of the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.

During Reid’s coaching career, ten coaches spent seasons on Reid’s staff before becoming head coaches. The most tenured coach under Reid’s tutelage was Sean McDermott, veteran of twelve seasons under Reid and current head coach of the Buffalo Bills. On the other end of the spectrum is Todd Bowles, who spent a single season as the Eagles secondary coach, filling in as interim defensive coordinator for the final ten games of the season.

Reid’s coaching tree consists of these ten coaches, combining for 77 seasons under his leadership. They have led teams for 49 seasons and counting. The most successful among his coaching tree is John Harbaugh, current head coach of the Baltimore Ravens. Harbaugh’s team won the Super Bowl in 2012, and he makes up more than half of the group’s playoff wins. Doug Pederson is another notable name, current head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, and winner of the 2017 Super Bowl.

Coach (active head coaches in bold) Regular Season Record Playoff Record
John Harbaugh 118-74 10-7
Ron Rivera 76-63-1 3-4
Brad Childress 39-35 1-2
Doug Pederson 38-26 4-2
Todd Bowles 26-41 0-0
Sean McDermott 25-23 0-2
Leslie Frazier 21-32 0-1
Matt Nagy 20-12 0-1
Steve Spagnuolo 11-41 0-0
Pat Shurmur 19-46 0-0
Total 393-393-1 18-19

Simply because an assistant has worked under a successful head coach does not guarantee their success. While Reid’s coaching tree has had success, the same cannot be said for Bill Belichick’s tree. Despite Belichick’s accomplishments as arguably the greatest NFL coach of all time, his coaching tree legacy leaves much to be desired.

Belichick has had nine assistants become head coaches, with little success at the NFL level. While there are several coaches still getting started in their head coaching careers, such as Joe Judge and Brian Flores, many coaches that had their chance failed to achieve even modest success.

Belichick’s coaching tree consists of nine coaches who have combined for only twenty-five seasons as head coach, combining for a win percentage of 42% with only two playoff wins among the group.

Coach (active head coaches in bold) Regular Season Record Playoff Record
Bill O'Brien 52-44 2-4
Eric Mangini 33-47 0-1
Romeo Crennel 28-55 0-0
Nick Saban 15-17 0-0
Josh McDaniels 11-17 0-0
Matt Patricia 9-22-1 0-0
Al Groh 9-7 0-0
Brian Flores 5-11 0-0
Joe Judge 0-0 0-0
Total 162-220-1 2-5

The notable exception in this group is Nick Saban--while he struggled in his two seasons as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins, he has become one of the most successful coaches in college football history with his tenure at Alabama.

Between Reid and Belichick, a third of the league’s head coaches have spent time on their coaching staffs. However, their success with their opportunities could not be more different. Coaches coming from Reid’s coaching tree have had success throughout the league. Despite Belichick’s personal success throughout the league, his coaching staff has not prospered beyond the Patriots, a fact that does not bode well for the Giants and new head coach Judge.

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By Stephen Juza

May 1st, 2020

On March 17th, 2020, Tom Brady shocked the sports world by announcing he would be leaving the New England Patriots, the team he played his entire career for thus far. A few days later, he signed a two-year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, replacing Jameis Winston as the team’s starting quarterback.

Brady leaves behind a legacy with the Patriots unmatched throughout NFL history: 20 seasons, six Super Bowl rings, four Super Bowl MVP awards, five All-Pro nominations, second all-time in passing yards, and the list continues.

It is rare that a proven starting quarterback changes teams—even rarer for them to be former All-Pros like Brady. The most apt comparison may be Joe Montana, who was traded from the San Francisco 49ers to the Kansas City Chiefs for the final two years of his career. This move paid dividends for both teams, as the 49ers dynasty continued under Steve Young for many more years, while the Chiefs made the AFC Championship game in 1992 for their best season since 1969.

Bringing in Brady brings instant championship aspirations for the Buccaneers. There is a steep hill to climb for the team as they try to dethrone the New Orleans Saints for the NFC South title. So what impact should the Buccaneers expect by adding Brady to the team? If history provides an answer, they should expect to be in the playoffs for the first time since 2007.

Looking at the top 20 most prolific quarterbacks to be signed or traded as the team’s starting quarterbacks, each new team averaged an improvement of three wins; four, if the quarterback was a former All-Pro. This hypothetically puts the Bucs at 11-5, firmly in place for a Wild Card bid, but maybe not enough to overcome the Saints for the divisional lead.

What should the Patriots expect? Statistically, while the QB’s new team improves, their former team typically takes a step back. When teams lost an All-Pro quarterback, they won about two fewer games the following year. This puts the Patriots in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008 with the up-and-coming Buffalo Bills looking to take a step forward from their wild card berth in 2019.

Brady’s departure pushes the Patriots move into unknown territory. They currently only have one quarterback, Jarrett Stidham, on the roster who has thrown a total of four passes in his entire NFL career.

Meanwhile, the Buccaneers are hoping that Brady can be the missing piece that facilitates their return to the playoffs and further. However, their championship window is now tied to Brady, who is at the tail end of his career when most quarterbacks have already hung up their cleats.

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By Wyatt Taylor

Stories about a possible Kyler Murray - Arizona Cardinals marriage began circulating as soon as the team hired Kliff Kingsbury to be its next head coach. With the selection of Murray on Thursday night, the team created another entry in a long line of teams who decided to pair a first round quarterback with their brand new head coach. 50 quarterbacks have been drafted in the first round between 2001 and 2018. Excluding David Carr, drafted to the expansion Houston Texans, 23 (47%) of those first round quarterbacks have been drafted by teams employing a new head coach.

There is no question that quarterback is the most important position to determine a team’s success. A star quarterback can mask his team’s weaknesses elsewhere in either scheme or talent, and a franchise quarterback signed to a team-friendly contract allows for a team to use the additional cap space to shore up other parts of the roster. With the importance quarterback play on team performance, it should be no surprise that a team’s win percentage is a strong predictor of whether or not that team decides to draft a quarterback in the first round.

Our analyses indicate that this decision to draft a first round QB is based on more than purely on-field matters. The positive correlation between a team having a new head coach and drafting a first round quarterback exists even when controlling for winning percentage. New head coaches are more likely to draft a quarterback in the first round, regardless of his team’s prior performance. This may be explainable by the idea of wanting to give the new head coach “his guy,” or starting the new head coach’s tenure with a similarly fresh face of the team.

This means that we can better understand the thought processes behind the Arizona Cardinals when deciding who to draft on Thursday. The team’s poor performance this past season increases their likelihood of drafting a QB. This likelihood is also and independently increased due to new head coach Kliff Kingsbury.

There are almost infinite numbers of factors which influence a team’s decision about who to draft in the first round. Yet through this study we can confidently state that the decision to spend a first round draft pick on a quarterback is affected by more than purely on-field factors.

By Wyatt Taylor and Stephen Juza

On Monday, the Miami Dolphins officially named New England Patriots defensive play caller Brian Flores as the team’s next head coach. Flores will become the fourth major defensive assistant to leave Foxborough for an NFL head coach position in the Bill Belichick era. Despite New England’s consistent success, none of the first three (Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, and Matt Patricia) have translated that success to their new teams.

In hopes of ensuring that Coach Flores avoids the same failures of his forebears, we decided to take a look back at the philosophies employed by the three prior poached Patriots. Despite their best attempts, we explain why it may be hard to replicate Belichick’s success.

The Belichick era has been marked by a set of organizational philosophies collectively known as the “Patriot Way.” The organization focuses on in-game fundamentals and a “next man up” philosophy. Belichick’s teams tend to avoid external coaching replacements, choosing instead to promote from within. This system ensures that each replacement will enter his new role understanding what is expected of him.

Crennel, Mangini, and Patricia each attempted to replicate this philosophy. Those coaches filled their first staffs using Belichickian principles - focusing on offensive and defensive line coaching and coaches with previous working experience with the Patriots and Belichick1. Yet despite their best efforts, they have not proven to be successful head coaches. The important question that Brian Flores should consider is “Why not?”

We suggest that this failure to translate comes from these coaches replicating the wrong parts of the Patriots success.

Belichick’s coaching philosophies are often rightfully compared to legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. Both men demanded much of their players - discipline, selflessness, and humility - but the two coaches are alike in another way: they build their on-field system around their players’ strengths, rather than forcing players to adapt to the existing system.

Wooden famously won his first two NCAA championships at UCLA with undersized, quick players. Despite his success with such a system, Wooden did not shy away from recruiting talented center Lew Alcindor. Realizing the potential of such a player, Wooden discarded his previous system in favor of one revolving around Alcindor’s skill set. The UCLA Bruins would go on to win seven championships in a row, and eight of the next nine titles, using a number of different playing styles.

The current Belichick/Brady era Patriots dynasty displays similar flexibility to the UCLA dynasty of the 1970s. Initial Patriot success featured a young, game-manager version of quarterback Tom Brady and a staunch defense. In 2007, the Patriots quickly morphed into an offensive juggernaut behind the signing of Donté Stallworth and trades for disgruntled Randy Moss and under-utilized Wes Welker. Next, the Patriots crafted an innovative offense featuring two talented rookie tight ends, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. This year’s team has made a star out of running back James White, who functions as a pass catcher almost as much as a traditional running back.

This systemic instability occurs because the Patriots tend to judge players based on specific skills. Rather than focus on past production, Belichick tends to collect players who can do certain roles especially well.

The takeaway for Flores, and any other incoming head coach, is that the Belichick/Patriot Way consists of both tangible and intangible aspects, and that both aspects are required for the other to be effective. Flores’ predecessors in leaving Foxborough have consistently shown that simply installing the Patriot system, and hiring coaches familiar with that system, does not necessarily lead to victory.

Rather than an immediate overhaul of existing structures, Coach Flores should consider which players and coaches that he can work with and sway towards his way of doing things. Emulating the Patriot Way is a long-term process, despite the temptation otherwise.

1Patriot Coaching Connections:

2005 Browns:

Maurice Carthon, Offensive Coordinator, previous Patriots running backs coach

Dave Atkins, running backs coach, previous Patriots offensive backs coach

Randy Melvin, defensive line coach, previous Patriots defensive line coach

Bob Trott, defensive assistant coach, former Patriots secondary coach

Jeff Davidson, offensive line coach, previous Patriots assistant offensive line coach/tight ends coach

Cory Undlin, defensive quality control coach, previous Patriots defensive assistant coach

John Lott, retained as strength & conditioning coach, former Jets assistant with Belichick

2006 Jets:

Andy Dickerson, defensive quality control coach, previous operations intern

Markus Paul, director of physical development, previous assistant strength and conditioning coach

2018 Lions:

Jeff Davidson, offensive line coach, previous Patriots and Browns offensive line coach

Harold Nash, head strength and conditioning coach, former Patriots head strength and conditioning coach

George Godsey, quarterbacks coach, former Patriots tight ends coach and Texans quarterbacks coach under Bill O'Brien

Sean Ryan, quarterbacks coach, previous Texans quarterbacks coach

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