FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots’ new safeties coach took a second to think about the question: What have you learned over the past four years to help you get ready to become a position coach?
“Just kept my mouth shut and learned,” he replied. “Everybody in this building is smarter than I am. I’ve got a lot to learn from everybody. These guys have been through it, and I haven’t.”
But the fact is, he’s no ordinary coach, and he’s smarter than he gives himself credit for.
He is Steve Belichick, 29, son of head coach Bill. He earned his first promotion this spring after four years as a “defensive assistant,” i.e., the coaches’ gopher.
Steve Belichick isn’t quite a clone of his dad. He has long blond hair and a beard, and gave a few candid answers during a media session. He said he appreciates his father and the opportunities the elder Belichick has given him with the Patriots.
“I’ve followed every single thing that he’s done,” Steve Belichick said. “Obviously, I love my dad. He’s my role model, he’s my idol. I’ve wanted to be just like him since I knew what an idol was.”
It’s been a great bonding experience for father and son, who didn’t always spend a lot of time together during Steve’s youth. Bill Belichick was obviously very busy with coaching and he didn’t get to see his son much for a six-year period when Steve went to prep school and then to Rutgers.
“It’s great to have him back, see him on a daily basis and be able to work with him,” Bill Belichick said in January 2015, “but also have our father-son relationship kind of not as part of the working environment. But the fact that we work together gives us a little more opportunity to do things like that. So it’s great. It’s great.”
Steve sure has a lot of the same Belichick tendencies. He wore — what else? — a Rutgers lacrosse sweatshirt Monday, repping the program that he played in for four years. He talks with the same monotone deadpan, has that Belichick dry sense of humor, and keeps details of the inner workings of the Patriots to himself.
“Did you have to apply for a job with your dad?” he was asked.
“Those types of decisions that happen in here, we’ll leave that to us,” he said.
“Do you like to wear hoodies?”
“A good piece of clothing,” he said. “Everyone should have a hooded sweatshirt in their closet.”
“Do you envision yourself becoming a head coach one day?”
“I just hope to be here by the end of the day,” he said.
And no one has to remind Steve Belichick to have a team-first attitude. It’s ingrained.
“I’ve just always liked to be on a team,” he said. “The camaraderie of being on a team, having to put your personal success on the back burner for the betterment of the team, all to get to one goal.”
Steve Belichick was a 13-year-old ball boy during his father’s first training camp with the Patriots. He later played linebacker, tight end, and long snapper at The Rivers School in Weston, spent a year at prep school, then five years at Rutgers — four on the lacrosse team, one as a backup long snapper/graduate assistant coach under then-coach Greg Schiano, a good friend of the elder Belichick’s.
Coaching is obviously in his blood. Steve Belichick is a third-generation coach, as his grandfather, also named Steve, literally wrote the book on scouting (“Football Scouting Methods,” published in 1962) during a 43-year career as a coach and scout, mostly for the Navy.
“He taught me how to long-snap,” Steve Belichick said of his grandfather. “I don’t know how old he was, but he coached me till the day he died. He was a coach for life.”
In 2012, Steve was hired as a defensive assistant for the Patriots, and he spent the next four years learning the intricacies of the Patriot Way: Breaking down film for the other coaches, identifying opponents’ trends, learning the computer system, learning to conduct private workouts for players, and more.
“Steve works his butt off,” former special teams coach Scott O’Brien said the week before the Patriots won Super Bowl XLIX. “A lot of times he doesn’t even go home, and he just stays there. He’s learning the game the way all young coaches should learn the game, and I think that’s one thing Bill’s always done. He’s not only teaching players the game, but he’s teaching coaches the game.”
No job has been too small for Steve Belichick.
“My responsibilities were to help us win,” he said. “If that was breaking down film, if that was to throw an interception to the defensive players to make them feel good, that’s what I do. I’m here to win.”
Steve Belichick obviously got his foot in a door that most don’t get through, but his father definitely did not hand him anything, either.
“He certainly has a lot of advantages that a lot of young coaches don’t have,” Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said. “He’s just a great young coach, and I think that’s the way we all look at it — a guy that’s trying to work his way up the coaching ranks. We always have that mentality around here, that we’re trying to develop our own, and certainly he’s doing a great job of that.”
“He’s always trying to really learn how we do things, and obviously has been around it for a long time, so he’s got good instincts for the things that we do.”
Steve Belichick is about the same age as many of the Patriots’ current players, and they certainly bust his chops for who his father is.
“And I bust them for who they are,” he said. “Good camaraderie. Those are my guys.”
In fact, he went to Rutgers with several players he is now coaching — safeties Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon and cornerback Logan Ryan. Even if they give him a hard time, they also respect how much work he puts in, and his bloodlines.
“I think his dad is a pretty good coach, so I’m sure he’s learned a lot from him,” McCourty said. “He’ll have his own style and what he wants to do, so I’m excited to have a young guy come in and we know he’s going to be full of energy, ready to go every day. I’m just excited just to learn with him and go through the process.”
But Steve Belichick will probably be thrilled if he turns out like his dad.
“Hopefully, I’m just like him. That’s what I try to be like,” Steve said. “Been around football my whole life, so just to have the support of the rest of the coaches and everybody else behind me to step up to a bigger role in this organization, I’m excited about.”