Red Auerbach was 48 when he coached his final game with the Celtics.
Bill Belichick is 70, readying for his 48th season in the NFL, his 28th as a head coach.
Seventy puts Belichick closer to Red from “Shawshank” than Red on Roundball.
In 2009, a 57-year-old Belichick stated, “I won’t be like Marv Levy and coaching in my 70s, I know that.”
“I wish I hadn’t said that,” Belichick said Thursday in a telephone interview from Florida. “I was probably thinking of what I would feel like. Now, there’s what I actually feel like, and those are two different things. That was not one of my better statements.”
The Patriots open Sunday at Miami, Belichick’s 23rd season as New England’s head coach. The Patriots went 10-7 last year, then got blown out by the Bills in the playoffs.
New England’s 2022 preseason was unimpressive. No longer able to lean on Tom Brady or trusty assistants Nick Caserio (general manager of the Texans), Josh McDaniels (head coach of the Raiders), Dante Scarnecchia, and Ernie Adams (both retired), Belichick has put a bull’s-eye on his back, declining to name coordinators and hiring cronies/failed head coaches Matt Patricia and Joe Judge to take charge of second-year quarterback Mac Jones.
“I think they’re both good coaches,” said Belichick. “Ultimately, it’s my responsibility, like it always is. So if it doesn’t go well, blame me.”
Don’t worry. We will.
It feels as though Patriots fans and media are already blaming Belichick. The Hoodie hasn’t faced this kind of scrutiny since his inaugural Patriots season, when he finished 5-11 with Drew Bledsoe at quarterback.
The ceaseless talking-head patter goes like this: The game has changed. The NFL has passed Bill by. He’s too old to still be doing this.
“That’s their opinion,” Belichick said. “I’m not going to argue with them. I don’t follow it. Everybody’s entitled to their opinion.
“There’s a lot of complimentary things said. When things aren’t complimentary, I don’t really worry about those too much one way or the other. There’s way more publication and air time and blogs and everything else than there is actual news.
“So there’s a lot of opinions and a lot of stuff out there. I don’t know how newsworthy it is. It’s the world we live in.”
What about the fact that Patricia and Judge have no experience calling offensive plays?
“I don’t see it any differently than it was in the last 22 years,” Belichick said. “Look at our other offensive coordinators. We had Charlie [Weis]. Then Josh. He’d never called offensive plays. Billy O’Brien [who succeeded McDaniels] never called plays in the NFL. Josh came back. We’ve changed coaches in every area, multiple times.
“Defensively, Matt Patricia had never called plays. Then he won a couple of Super Bowls. Brian Flores [who succeeded Patricia] had never called plays. That worked out all right. Steve [Belichick] has been calling defenses.
“We were pretty high up there statistically last year. We didn’t play well obviously in the Buffalo game and a couple of other games, but I wouldn’t say we had a bad year defensively. At least not statistically.
“We have plenty of coaches that didn’t have previous experience and it’s worked out pretty well with most of them, but not all of them.”
According to Belichick, it’s the same with player personnel directors.
“Whether Scott Pioli left, or Nick left or Dave Ziegler. Matt Groh’s come in and he’s done a great job. I love working with him, Eliot [Wolf, director of scouting], and the staff.”
Does Belichick ever look around and wonder where everybody went, and how folks around him got so young?
“For sure,” said the coach. “Scott O’Brien [retired special teams coach]. Ernie. Romeo [Crennel] retired. Dante. Coach [Bill] Parcells. There’s a lot of people that are a very important part of my career in football that have retired. But that’s all offset by Brian [Belichick] and Stephen and the young coaches on our staff. That keeps you young.”
Does Belichick have people asking him when he’s going to retire?
“I get the question occasionally,” he said. “I don’t really think about it. To me, it’s about this year. Worry about next year next year. I don’t really think about next year or five years from now. I’ve got a lot of work to do trying to help the team any way I can and make us a good, competitive team, which I think we are. But we’ve got to prove that.”
Turning 70 inspired Belichick to get healthier.
“I’ve got a couple of people here that help me with that,” he said. “Moses [Cabrera, head strength and conditioning coach] works me pretty hard. I’ve dropped a few pounds this year, so I’m not as fat as I used to be.”
Belichick ranks third on the all-time NFL victory list with 321 (regular-season and playoff) wins. He should pass Papa Bear George Halas (324) for second place this season and has a chance to catch and pass Don Shula (347) with a few more playoff seasons.
History is important to the Hoodie. His father, a coaching lifer, put in 33 years at the US Naval Academy. Young Bill grew up breaking down game film with coach Steve Belichick and had multiple opportunities to interact with NFL giants Paul Brown and Halas.
“I had respect for all those guys, especially those two,” Belichick said. “And Coach Shula.”
How is Belichick different now? What has he learned from all these years as a head coach, going back to Cleveland in 1991?
“That’s a tough one,” he said. “I learn every day. I try to improve every day. I think it’s a very incremental process. Each year is different. Some things that apply one year don’t apply the next. I’ve been fortunate and had a lot of great coaches on my staffs.”
Does he see himself coaching into his (gulp) 80s?
“I’ve learned my lesson on that one,” he said with a laugh. “One year at a time.”