If Bill Belichick ever walked away from coaching — not that we’re endorsing such a thing, of course — he would be outstanding as an analyst on one of the assorted NFL studio shows.
Yes, Belichick the TV personality runs contrary to his mumbling, grumbling national image, but we already have plenty of evidence that he’d excel as a compelling, dry-witted purveyor of football insight.
His Patriots All-Access “Belistrator” breakdowns with Scott Zolak on Channel 4 and Patriots.com are always informative. During his Friday news conferences, when he’s in the mood, he can give fascinating dissertations on all sorts of NFL history. We’ve even seen him serve as an informative studio analyst on ABC before Super Bowl XL in 2006 between the Steelers and Seahawks.
But we haven’t seen anything like what we’re going to get from him with the “NFL 100” series that premiered Friday night (8 p.m.) on the NFL Network.
The series, which names its 100 best players and 10 best coaches in NFL history as part of the celebration of the league’s 100th season, runs in six parts over the next six weeks, beginning with the unveiling of the 12 running backs and two of the coaches that made the team.
The series is hosted by Rich Eisen, with NBC’s Cris Collinsworth and, yes, Belichick, as the analysts for the entire series.
We’re getting a prolonged look at Bill Belichick, enthusiastic NFL historian, and it’s amazing.
“We’re getting the full arsenal of Belichick’s historical knowledge,’’ said Eisen. “I can’t overstate how good he is in this. I don’t know what NFL Films is going to keep on the cutting-room floor, because there was an insane amount of material that we shot. Let’s just say they’re going to have to cut some great stuff.
“He couldn’t have been better to work with. He was a total pro, totally prepared, as you’d expect, right? He’s a historian of the game, and he talks so expertly and knowledgeably about ’30s and ’40s players, let alone the modern guys he’s coached or coached against.
“The reverential tone when a Baltimore Colt popped up — because of his history with the mid-Atlantic area and his dad coaching at Navy, these players he was introduced to through his father’s own relationship with football — that’s something to see. That was where he developed his own early love of football, and it comes through.
“Then we get to the ’70s, he’s involved with the league by then, and, as we get into the ’80s, he’s coordinating against all-time greats, and he’s telling first-hand stories about trying to stop all-time greats. There’s really nobody who can do what he did. And I’m so thrilled he agreed to do it.”
The process to select the historic team began in early 2018 with a 26-person blue-ribbon voting panel. Among the panelists were coaches Belichick, Don Shula, John Madden, executives Gil Brandt and Ron Wolf, players such as Dan Fouts, Ozzie Newsome, and Art Shell, and media members Peter King and Chris Berman.
The organizing committee researched various commemorative team compilations done by other organizations. Ultimately, a 100-player team was decided upon, broken up into a specific number of players across 15 positions. The team includes 10 quarterbacks, 12 running backs, 10 wide receivers, and so on.
The series, which was filmed over two days in May between the draft and minicamps, does not rank the players; Belichick wanted no part of that. His role is to use his clicker (similar to the “Belistrator”) to tell you on the show’s state-of-the-art set why a player was so great and belongs in the top 100.
“I don’t want to give away too much,’’ said Eisen, “but there is one in-studio guest, a contemporary player, that he requested to have join him on the Belistrator because he respected his game so much and wanted to break down the film with him that way. There’s only one player he does that with.”
The show is structured like this: A player will be introduced as a member of the team. He comes in and chats with the hosts, and his picture goes up on the wall. Then another player is added, and another, until there is a roundtable of guests all having just learned that they are members of the team.
It can make for an emotional scene, Eisen said.
“Those that are already in the Hall, if you asked them after their Hall of Fame weekend, ‘Do you think you will ever receive another honor that will make you feel this humbled and emotional again?’ all of their answers would be, of course, no,’’ he said.
“But watching them stroll into the studio to see some of the names that are already up on the wall, and to feel the historic nature of the team, one even more exclusive than the Hall of Fame that has more than 300 players and grows every year, it hits them.
“But the seriousness of the honor really landed when they sat down and saw Bill Belichick sitting there. It was like that with all of them. And Bill’s seat is directly in front of the wall, so when they look at the wall to see who’s already made it, and Bill’s sitting there, in the foreground of the wall, I’m telling you they were all like, ‘Whoa, this is serious.’
“A couple of them during a commercial break were like, ‘I can’t believe you’re sitting here.’ They really said that to him.
“He’s the one talking about their greatness and their worthiness to be on this team. It’s kind of like, ‘Who better to welcome them to club than a guy with 301 career wins and counting?’ It was amazing to be sitting in my chair to watch that all play out.”
Eisen said there was only one time when Belichick resisted talking about a topic. The topic, of course, was Bill Belichick.
“There was one time that he essentially reverted back to ‘We’re moving on to Cincinnati’ language, and that’s when it involved him,’’ said Eisen. “I’m not telling any tales out of school here; there are coaches on the NFL 100 team. Clearly he makes it. Clearly [Vince] Lombardi makes it, too.
“I don’t know if it makes the final cut, but I ask him what goes through his mind when he’s referred to as the modern-day Lombardi, and his response is priceless. The moving-on-to-Cincinnati, I’m-only-talking-about-the-players-who-are-here Belichick magically appeared. We had a little fun.”
Eisen said Belichick’s involvement and enthusiasm made for the kind of fun no one involved will soon forget.
“After the first night, a bunch of us got together for dinner, including Collinsworth, and we were like, ‘How awesome was that? How amazing was that?’ ”said Eisen.
“When it was all over, at the end of the shoot, we all agreed — every single person that was there, from NFL Films to the network to everybody — top-five experience of our careers. It really was beyond special.”