FOXBOROUGH — Driving to Gillette Stadium in the dark of the morning back in 2009, Bill Belichick reflected on his life in football, and how his devotion to the sport cost him in other aspects of his life.
“You definitely miss a lot during football season — you know, family stuff, holidays, and kids stuff when they’re young, and their games,” Belichick said in “A Football Life” by NFL Films. “The world passes you by.”
Belichick, then 57, was thinking hard about his football mortality. He spent years of his life holed up in football offices, splicing tape and figuring out how to stop a third and 4. For four decades, football was all-consuming, as Belichick grinded his way from young gofer to defensive coordinator to two stints as a head coach.
“I won’t be like Marv Levy and coaching when in my 70s,” he said then. “You don’t have to worry about that.”
Nine years later, a funny thing has happened: Belichick is still going strong at 66, and he seems to have found that perfect work/life balance.
Gone are the days of sleeping in his office and eating every meal out of Tupperware. He has developed an alter ego in his latter years; let’s call him Chill Belichick.
The Patriots may be in the middle of training camp, but Chill Belichick was in Canton, Ohio, on Saturday night for Randy Moss’s induction to the Hall of Fame. This came after Belichick ended Saturday’s Patriots practice after just 90 minutes, the shortest session of camp thus far. Chill Belichick then gave his players Sunday and Monday off, allowing safety Duron Harmon to go to the Jay-Z and Beyonce concert at Gillette Stadium.
Sunday night, Belichick was back at the stadium, but not his own. Chill Belichick was hanging out at Fenway Park, watching the series finale of Red Sox-Yankees with Tony La Russa and Dave Dombrowski.
This isn’t a new phenomenon with Belichick, either. Three days before Super Bowl LII, Chill Belichick was sitting courtside at the Minnesota Timberwolves game. (On second thought, maybe he should’ve been studying the Eagles offense.)
This spring, Chill Belichick went to the Preakness and Belmont to watch Justify win the Triple Crown.
In June, he canceled the final two days of the Patriots’ offseason program, then immediately went on vacation. Chill Belichick visited the beaches of Normandy, and spent the rest of his summer on Nantucket, as always.
No days off? It’s a catchy T-shirt slogan, but Belichick is still going strong specifically because he does take days off, and doesn’t let himself burn out.
And suddenly, Belichick is singing a different tune about how long he wants to coach.
“My dad told me age is just a number, so I’ll just look at it that way,” he said Saturday. “I’m not really worried about it.”
No one knows when Belichick is going to retire from coaching. When it happens, it will be sudden, with no warning signs. We’re all just guessing, and basing it off what he said back in 2009.
“You know, I enjoy doing what I’m doing,” he said then. “I don’t think it’s going to last forever.”
But Belichick couldn’t have foreseen this newfound work/life balance.
The world isn’t passing Belichick by anymore. His children are grown, and he shares in their lives. Both of his sons are on the Patriots coaching staff, and his daughter is coaching lacrosse at Holy Cross.
Belichick has his program humming like a well-oiled machine, too. In 2009, he couldn’t have foreseen that Tom Brady would still be playing at an MVP level at age 41, coming off his third Super Bowl appearance in four years. No matter how well or poorly they have done in the draft and free agency, Belichick’s Patriots have won 12 games or more for eight straight years, and counting.
Belichick also makes a large chunk of money as the coach and general manager of the Patriots. No one outside the organization knows how much per year — $10 million? $12 million? $15 million? — but it’s a lot. And it would be a lot to walk away from, no matter how much money Belichick has made in his career.
And Belichick doesn’t have to grind away until the wee hours of the morning anymore, because he has assembled a talented staff that has had impressive continuity and knows exactly what is expected of it. Like any good manager, Belichick puts people in places that he trusts, and delegates a lot of the work.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, defensive leader and linebackers coach Brian Flores, and running backs coach Ivan Fears have all been on Belichick’s staff for more than a decade. The special teams coach, receivers coach, and strength coach have all been with him for at least seven years.
Director of player personnel Nick Caserio has been in the front office since 2001 and does the brunt of the legwork there — holding workouts with players, negotiating trades, completing contracts for the non-superstar free agents, and basically running the draft.
Belichick goes on a handful of college visits, but he’s not doing the nitty-gritty predraft prep. During the 2017 draft, while Caserio was addressing reporters about the team’s Day 3 picks, Belichick was in the stands at a University of Maryland lacrosse game. He lets Caserio run the show, and allows his assistant coaches to have input on the players that will fill out the bottom of the roster.
It won’t be like this forever, of course. Brady will retire sooner rather than later. So will Scarnecchia and Fears. McDaniels could leave for a head coaching job, maybe even next season. Caserio has been and will continue to be a hot commodity as a general manager.
But thanks to discovering his alter ego and a new work/life balance, Belichick is still going strong at 66. Seventy, as he now knows, is just a number.