November 12, 2008

Football history, just like the game itself, is steeped in percentages. Just look at the list of the most successful coaches in NFL annals.

Bill Belichick, for example, is already considered one of the best coaches the game has ever seen.

His legacy will receive a bit of empirical validation if the Patriots beat the Jets on Thursday night. A victory would move the Patriots into a familiar spot, sole possession of first place in the AFC East. It would also move Belichick into the top 10 of winningest coaches in NFL history -- but he would get there, at least for the time being, by the narrowest margin imaginable.

The current coaching top 10 looks like this* (minimum 100 games, combined regular season and postseason):

1. Vince Lombardi -- 105-35-6 (.740)2. John Madden -- 112-39-7 (.731)3. George Allen -- 118-54-6 (.684)4. Blanton Collier -- 79-38-2 (.672)5. George Halas -- 324-151-31 (.671)6. Don Shula -- 347-173-6 (.665)7. Ray Flaherty -- 82-41-5 (.660)8. George Seifert -- 124-67-0 (.649)9. Tony Dungy -- 141-78-0 (.644)10. Joe Gibbs -- 171-101-0 (.629)

* It's worth noting that official NFL coaching records provided by the Elias Sports Bureau are incredibly misleading. Elias uses three formulas to calculate winning percentages for coaches: one that dismisses ties, one that includes ties, and one that combines both formulas. The list used for this piece calculates ties for all coaches. Ties count as full games, and half of a victory. For example, the winning percentage of a coach who is 50-20-5 would be calculated as: 52.5/75 = 0.700

Belichick sits today at 148-88-0, which puts him at No. 11 on the all-time list, with a .627 winning percentage. With a win over the Jets, Belichick would bump up to 149-88-0 -- a winning percentage of .629.

For all practical intents and purposes, he'd be tied with Gibbs for the No. 10 spot on the all-time list. But if we want to get very technical here, Belichick would lead the Redskins legend by the narrowest of statistical margins: a 0.62869 winning percentage for Belichick vs. a 0.62868 winning percentage for Gibbs. (That's a difference of 1/100,000th of a percentage point for those of you keeping score at home.)

The statistical nitpick is only temporary. At the pace he's been winning in New England, Belichick has nowhere to go but up the list.

Remember, Belichick posted a humble 37-45 (.451) record during five forgettable years as the head coach in Cleveland, including a 1-1 mark during his lone playoff appearance in 1994.

By the time he joined the Patriots in 2000, few had him destined for greatness. In fact, his former boss, Jets president Steve Gutman, had him destined for the loony bin, questioning Belichick's mental stability in the wake of the coach's abrupt resignation after one day on the job in New York.

His success since then has been nothing short of historic. Belichick has won three Super Bowls, set every win streak in NFL history, and fielded the only 16-0 team the league's ever produced. He's a remarkable 111-43 (.721) during his eight-and-a-half years in New England. Only Vince Lombardi and John Madden won more often with one team.

And by Friday morning, there may be just two coaches in history with more wins and a greater winning percentage than Belichick: Hall of Famers George Halas and Don Shula. That's pretty good company.

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