Pursuit of Don Shula’s record could keep Bill Belichick around
DENVER — Pay attention, Patriots fans.
You want Bill Belichick to stick around? I think I have the solution.
Belichick is climbing the ladder of NFL coaching legends. The Patriots’ stunningly easy 41-16 victory over the once-tough Denver Broncos Sunday night was Bill’s 270th career win, tying him with Cowboys legend Tom Landry for third place on the all-time list. The only guys ahead of him are George Halas (324) and Don Shula (347), whom Belichick hates.
Do the math. Belichick is 65. If he coaches seven more years and wins 12 games per season — with 47-year-old Tom Brady as his quarterback in 2024 — he can establish himself as the winningest coach in NFL history, while bumping Shula from the gold medal platform.
It might be enough to keep him going.
Chasing Shula is significant.
Belichick grew up in Maryland when Shula was running the Baltimore Colts. In 1972, Shula’s Miami Dolphins put together the only undefeated season in NFL history, a record they remind us of every time they get a chance. Belichick’s 2007 Patriots ran the table in similar fashion, but were derailed on the path to perfection when David Tyree made his ridiculous catch in Super Bowl XLII. Then, in 2015, Shula became the enemy forever when he referred to Belichick as “Bel-i-cheat” after Deflategate.
You can imagine how that went over in Foxborough.
So now I’m wondering if chasing Shula might keep Bill in the game into his 70s.
Sunday’s beatdown of the Broncos checked all the standard boxes for your blueprint Belichick/Patriots win. We had Walt “Tuck Rule” Coleman as the referee. We had Martellus Bennett demonstrating the sketchy but rewarding “Quit-On-Your-Team, Sign-with-New England, Be-Born-Again” Patriot Way that worked so well for LeGarrette Blount. We had the Patriots’ opponents wetting their pants (muffed punt that led to a Pats touchdown) in the first three minutes. We had the Patriots scoring in the final minute of the first half for the sixth straight game. We had the Patriots defense bending but not breaking. We had the chaotic Broncos with 12 men on the field, the gateway for another Pats TD. We had the ageless Brady ever-bulletproof from age and all harm. We had New England winning in Denver in back-to-back years for the first time since 1965-66, and capping an NFL Sunday by serving notice that they are clearly the class of the AFC and bound for their eighth Super Bowl under Belichick.
An hour after it was over, I tried and failed to get Bill to talk about the meaning of his new ranking among the elite NFL coaches.
“Look, it’s flattering, but honestly, I don’t think that’s the story tonight,’’ he answered. “The story tonight is the way our team performed. To win games in this league you need great players and I’ve been fortunate to have some great players and a lot of great assistant coaches and great staffs. That’s really what it’s about. The players are the ones that make the plays and they did it tonight.’’
Got it. Belichick is not one to smell the roses or reflect on all he has done. Certainly not after a win in Denver. Certainly not in midseason. Probably not ever. Not publicly anyway.
In the days leading up to the Denver game, Belichick had little to say when asked about catching Landry in the all-time win column.
“I didn’t really have a lot of interaction with Coach Landry,’’ Belichick said. “I’d say most of it is kind of through [Roger] Staubach stories he would share, that type of thing . . . ”
There wasn’t much else. Belichick talked a little about Landry’s offensive and defensive systems, which he learned from former Cowboys assistant Ed Hughes when the two worked together in Detroit. But Belichick did not say anything else about the Dallas icon who was referred to as “God’s Coach.’’ Instead of talking about Landry, Belichick launched into Hall of Fame advocacy for Dallas personnel guru Gil Brandt.
The idea of Belichick and Landry standing side by side in NFL lore conjures a great visual. Landry was ever-dapper, always wearing a coat and tie, and a nifty fedora (Landry invented this look to keep his bald head warm and impress potential insurance clients for his offseason job). Landry’s posture was perfect, like his suits.
Belichick, meanwhile, looks like the guy who just vaulted out of the AAA truck to change your tire in the breakdown lane on Route 128. In terms of sartorial splendor, Belichick is the anti-Landry. The Hoodie is famous for wearing . . . the hoodie. He’s often hunched over scribbling notes, and he’s made rumpled sweat shirts (sleeves scissored off) popular on sidelines throughout New England.
Clothing aside, Belichick has more in common with Landry than 270 career wins. Both were born in the south: Landry in Texas, Belichick in Tennessee. Both had deep ties to the US military: Landry was a war hero who flew combat missions over Europe in WWII, Belichick grew up in Annapolis while his dad coached at the Naval Academy. Both were assistants with Hall of Fame legends in New York: Landry with Vince Lombardi, Belichick with Bill Parcells. Landry was known to be careful and economical with words. Belichick pretty much speaks only when league-mandated.
Whether he talks about it or not, passing Landry will mean a lot to Belichick. The Hoodie is an encyclopedia of NFL history and in the past has demonstrated how much it means to him to join the game’s elite.
In 2010, when Belichick had 169 wins, one shy of Ohio legend Paul Brown, Belichick wore a fedora to Heinz Field. It was a literal tip of the cap to the man who invented the Browns and was known for wearing a hat on the sideline in Cleveland and Cincinnati. CBS captured the moment on video and if you search hard enough you will find footage of Bill walking to work looking like a character from a Jimmy Cagney film.
When Belichick vaulted past Green Bay legend Curly Lambeau for fourth place on the all-time win list in 2014, the Hoodie thanked ESPN’s Mike Reiss for asking about the milestone, then launched into a lengthy tribute to Lambeau.
Now he is tied with Landry and there are only two ahead of him.
Papa Bear . . . and the hated Shula.