Like father, like daughter: Amanda Belichick's thirst for coaching is in her DNA
- Amanda Belichick wasn't expecting to follow in her father Bill's footsteps. And yet she's now immersed in that world, as head coach of the Holy Cross women's lacrosse team.
For months, Amanda Belichick has been hyper-focused on the first weekend in February. Considering the logistics. Preparing for the possibilities. Working her way through an ever-expanding to-do list.
Oh, right, the Super Bowl is that Sunday, too.
Where is it again, she ponders momentarily, two days before her father, Bill, and the Patriots punch their tickets to Houston with a 36–17 victory over Pittsburgh. In classic Belichickian fashion, planning for a Super Bowl trip does not start until the appropriate time, and this year, Amanda has her own big game to worry about before she flies south. Holy Cross opens its women's lacrosse season against Boston College on Feb. 4, one day before Bill finishes his.
On an unseasonably warm January Friday in Worcester, Mass., the afternoon sun splashes off the second-year coach’s whiteboard in her second-floor office. Several tasks remain: replenish the team’s supply of balls, set up the locker room, create a practice overview. But Amanda takes a break from the chores, having agreed to discuss how she learned the family trade (there's difference No. 1 between her and her father; New England declined an interview request).
Amanda does not remember her dad’s two Super Bowl championships as defensive coordinator with the Giants, so her first memories of his devotion to football come from Cleveland. “We didn’t always see him at home,” she says, “but we’d go in and watch practice or go in for lunch or dinner and just hang out for a little bit.” And of course, she also remembers Valentine’s Day, 1996, when her dad was fired after a 5–11 season. “It was awful,” she says. “It was horrible.” From there, the family moved to New England for a year, before heading to New York for three, only to return to the Boston area in 2000 when Bill was named Patriots head coach.
At each stop, a lacrosse net was set up in the backyard. On the 4th of July, the family would grab a ball and play in the backyard of their Nantucket home. Bill, always looking for an edge, never told his kids—Amanda, Stephen, and Brian—whether he is right or left-handed. He played lacrosse growing up in Annapolis and captained the Wesleyan team, but even deception couldn't keep his growing kids at bay. “I used to be the best one," Bill told US Lacrosse Magazine last year. “Now I’m the worst one, so I’ve seen that transition kind of run its course.”
These days, he is often spotted wearing lacrosse gear and bringing in former lax stars (like Sunday's hero, wideout Chris Hogan, and assistant coach Mike Pellegrino). He even briefly coached Brian's youth team. “Lacrosse was a great connection for us,” Amanda says.
Still, she never considered coaching herself. After following Bill's footsteps to Wesleyan, and as a captain on Wesleyan's lacrosse team, Amanda studied printmaking and worked at an ad agency. Her dad was even supportive when she took a marketing and advertising internship at ESPN after her junior year (he needn’t worry, she hated it). After graduating, she returned to Nantucket and spent the summer selling t-shirts. She was at work when she got a group e-mail from her Wesleyan coach to several lacrosse players about a lacrosse coaching job at Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut. Amanda had enjoyed her boarding school experience at Phillips Andover (also Bill’s alma mater), she thought, plus this job would require about as much work in the admissions office as on the lacrosse field. Ultimately, she decided, I don’t have a real job, so I guess I’ll say yes.
Wesleyan AD Mike Whalen, who has developed a friendship with Bill since coming to the school in 2010, was unsurprised that Amanda eventually joined the family business. “As players both Bill and Amanda loved to watch film and talk game strategy with their coach,” he says. “It was clear that each was destined for the coaching profession.”
On a bike ride with her dad after getting the Choate job, Amanda started with the basics. “How do you be a head coach?” she asked. “Like, what do you do?” That was the beginning of a series of coaching clinic conversations, not focused on Xs and Os but on how to talk to players, how to plan your time—the important things.
After two years juggling administrative, teaching, and lacrosse duties at Choate, Amanda committed to coaching by taking an assistant job at UMass, moving to Ohio State as an assistant a couple years after that. It was in Columbus where Amanda began envisioning herself leading a college program, and it took just two more years for her to get the job at Holy Cross (with a stop at Wesleyan in between). Heading into the job interview, HC athletic director Nathan Pine was wondering how Amanda would handle working 43 miles from Gillette Stadium “in the shadow of the New England Patriots,” he says. “But I’ve been really impressed by how she’s her own person. She has her own vision about what she wants to do. And she grew up in that environment. She's comfortable with it.”
When the team found out who their new coach would be, “we were super excited to see how similar she was to her father and what differences she has,” team captain Avery Giorgio says. They were impressed by how intelligent and strategic Amanda turned out to be, and maybe a little relieved that she did not substantiate her father's gruff reputation.
The Crusaders went 3–14 during Amanda's first year in Worcester, almost mimicking her father’s 5–11 record during his first season in Foxborough. Last season’s bright spot came when Holy Cross beat Navy for the second time in school history—a twist of fate given Amanda’s grandfather, Steve, worked for the Midshipmen football team for 33 years and Annapolis, Md., played host to Bill’s early football lessons, just as Cleveland had for Amanda.
Those lessons continue today. This fall Amanda took her assistants to observe a Patriots practice. Afterwards, they decided to implement more time-based drills in their practices and devote each day to a different phase of the game—attack, defense, transition—rather than mixing them all in every day.
Bill has visited Worcester, too, showing up with his dogs and standing by himself on the sideline during games. “It’s like when my own father stands alone during my games,” Giorgio said. Bill usually does not speak to the team, watching instead with an analytical eye and making sure not to smother his daughter at work. In fact, everyone was so bundled up at the Crusaders’ opener last year, nobody even noticed Bill, Amanda says.
They still talk multiple times per week, as Amanda also does with her brothers, who are Patriots assistants (even though Amanda attempted to hire Brian away from pops when he graduated from Trinity last year). The conversations are closer to venting sessions than advice-sharing. But there are plenty of lessons, too. With each passing year, for example, Amanda increasingly turns to Bill for help connecting with a younger generation. “As a coach, he’s very adaptive to learning styles,” she says.
Other times, the family’s common ground is simply an easy topic of conversation, something to discuss after a game of charades or before a puzzle is broken out, both Belichick pastimes. “The fact that she is in coaching creates a pretty interesting and special dynamic for us,” Bill told The Hartford Courant in 2013. “We’ll be together, just catching up and then the next thing we know we're talking about our teams, our players, how to handle a variety of situations.”
As for the future, Amanda says she’s now fully committed to a career in coaching. Though it may have started on something of a whim, she’s fallen in love with the profession. “My intention was never to follow in his footsteps,” she says. “And yet, somehow I kind of have.” By accident, it turns out. Or fate.
Then again, she does not think too far ahead. She has a big game coming up.