Podcast: Bill Belichick's Coaching Tree is More Like a Shrub
Bill Belichick hasn’t just had mediocre head coaching disciples, he has had a group chock full of misfits and failures. From recent examples like Eric Mangini and Matt Patricia to the early 2000’s assistants such as Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis, it seems impossible that the greatest head coach in NFL history would have passed on so little of his football knowledge to his assistant coaches. This week on It’s Always Sunny in Chiefs Kingdom, Austin and I took a look at the Bill Belichick coaching shrub (not a tree, that would require growth) and roasted these failures accordingly.
In the early days of Belichick’s coaching circles, two of the men that stuck with him the longest were Romeo Crennel (1981 Giants through 1990 Giants, and 1996 Patriots through 2004 Patriots minus one year with the Browns) and Charlie Weis (1990 Giants, and then 1996 Patriots through 2004 Patriots). These two were the offensive and defensive coordinators for the first three championships in Patriots history from 2001-2004. But after they left, things took a turn for both coaches.
Weis took over at Notre Dame in 2005, where he proceeded to go 9-3 and lose the Fiesta Bowl in his first season, 34-20 to Ohio State. The next year, he went 10-3 but lost in embarrassing fashion to JaMarcus Russell and LSU 41-14 in the Sugar Bowl. That loss sent Weis into a downward spiral of 22 wins and 43 losses over his final six seasons as a head coach. Three with Notre Dame, and three abysmal seasons with the Kansas Jayhawks, going 6-22 with only a single Big 12 victory. Weis never got a shot to be a head coach in the NFL and for good reason. He does not appear to have picked up any of Belichick’s coaching talents. He did spend a year with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2010, which I’ll get to next when I talk about Romeo Crennel.
O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou wins Romeo? After he left the Patriots in 2005 to take over the Cleveland Browns, the supposed defensive mastermind went 24-40 before being fired after four seasons, where his defenses averaged 25th in yards allowed and 18th in points allowed. So former Patriots exec Scott Pioli takes over as GM in Kansas City and wants to bring in all the former Patriots who will return his calls. In comes Matt Cassel, Mike Vrabel, Romeo Crennel, and Charlie Weis to take the Chiefs to the promised land. But as any Chiefs fan will tell you, that promise turned out to be a lie. Weis left after one season to go be the offensive coordinator at … Florida? before taking the gig at Kansas. Crennel took over for a fired Todd Haley and captained the ship to the worst season in Chiefs history, a 2-14 disaster that got everybody fired and brought on the Andy Reid era. Crennel would go on to be the defensive coordinator in Houston for five seasons before being fired after the Chiefs stormed back from 24 down in the divisional round of the playoffs. While Weis and Crennel never could recreate the dominant magic of the early-2000’s Patriots, neither could they even hold down a coaching job for more than a couple years.
Eric Mangini started off as a ball boy for the Browns under Belichick. Then he was promoted to a Public Relations intern, then an offensive assistant. Literally everything he learned, he learned from Belichick. He only coached on former Belichick teams (Jets and Browns) on his own. With a career mark of 33-47 (.413) as a head coach, his time with Belichick just never translated to any independent success. He had one playoff appearance, a 37-16 to the Belichick’s Patriots, and after he was fired from the Browns, Mangini only got one assistant coaching gig since 2011 - he was a DC for the 49ers in 2015. He was then fired after one season as defensive coordinator. He’s like the David Carr of former Patriots’ assistants: his NFL career sucked, it was a total joke, and now his sole purpose in life is to talk about how great other people close to him are. Except in his case, Belichick isn’t even close to him. It was reported that Belichick even changed the locks at team facilities to prevent a fired Mangini from retrieving his personal belongings. Yikes. Mangini may want to reconsider who he defends relentlessly on each appearance he makes on Nick Wright’s First Things First show on FS1. The whole Spygate thing didn’t help his reputation either.
Matt Patricia is a literal rocket scientist — he got his Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1995. But he uses a pencil on his laminated playbook because he thinks it makes him look cool. OK guy. Then he followed up that accomplishment of getting his degree by becoming a credibly accused rapist. Not a good start to post-grad life there, Matt. But don’t worry, when the Lions hired him they looked into it. Here’s a tip, Lions brass: don’t defend your coach’s sexual assault allegations by saying “Matt was 21 at the time and on spring break in Texas.” That is not a good look for anyone. Back to his football career though, after spending six years as Belichick’s defensive coordinator, he took the aforementioned job in Detroit where he proceeded to gather a 9-22-1 record (.297 win%) as head coach over his two seasons at the helm. How’d his defense fare in 2019, you ask? Oh, just 31st in yards allowed, 26th in points allowed, 21st in rushing defense and 32nd in passing defense. He learned everything he knows from Belichick, so why didn’t any of that translate?
These four flops aren’t even including noted head coaching failure Josh McDaniels (11-17 record with the Broncos before being fired, promised the Colts he’d coach there and then bailed on them) or Bill O’Brien (nice regular-season success with the Texans but no playoff accomplishments and a string of baffling recent personnel decisions as his second job as the overmatched General Manager).
Sure, Nick Saban was Belichick’s defensive coordinator with the 90’s Browns and went on to be an all-time college football coach, but I doubt Belichick taught him much about recruiting to an elite college football program, and Belichick wasn’t having much success himself with those Browns. It’s more likely that Saban earned his own keep as a coaching legend and happened to have crossed paths with Belichick along the way.
No, the truth of the matter seems to be that Belichick wins due to his own genius despite the coaches around him. They clearly have not picked up any groundbreaking lessons from the GOAT, nor has he missed them when they’ve left his program. And I have a sneaking suspicion that Tom Brady will follow the same narrative and won’t be missed there as much as people think, either.
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