Bill Belichick begins his 42nd season in the NFL this month. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
FOXBORO — To give you some perspective as to just how long Bill Belichick has been in the NFL, when the Patriots meet the Dolphins this year, Belichick will square off against a head coach in 38-year-old Adam Gase who wasn’t even born when Belichick took his first job as an assistant in the league.
This week marks the start of Belichick’s 42nd consecutive year in the National Football League, the last 17 of which have come as head coach of the Patriots. The longest-tenured head coach in the league with his current team (the closest is Cincy’s Marvin Lewis, who took over the Bengals in 2003), it’s a remarkable run for any coach in the NFL.
When it comes to stacking his resume against some of the greats of the game, entering the 2016 season, he’s at 223 career wins as a head coach, tops among all active coaches and fourth on the all-time list. This season, he’ll move past Curly Lambeau (at 226, fourth) on the all-time wins list, and will almost certainly pass Tom Landry (third with 250 career victories) before he’s done. While you never say never, it would probably take at least another decade for him to come anywhere near the likes of Don Shula (first, 328 career wins) or George Halas (second with 318 wins).
The 64-year-old Belichick, who first went to training camp as an special assistant with the Baltimore Colts in 1975 at the age of 23, has been working in the league ever since. He said that when it comes to coaching, there’s some carryover in preparation and approach. But in his experience, his approach over the previous 41 seasons has been to take each one as its own animal.
“Fundamentally I think a lot of things are the same; things you have to do in camp in order to prepare for a season,” he said on Wednesday at the dawn of a new season. “But each year is different. Players are different, teams we play are different, things change in the league, there are some rule modifications, or whatever. Things like that. So, every year is different and the chemistry – each team is different. Even with some of the same players there’s still always a little bit of a different mix.”
According to one of his most senior assistants, Belichick’s consistent approach and a willingness to adapt have been key in getting him to this point.
“He’s the same as when we worked together under (Bill) Parcells,” said offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who worked with Belichick as an assistant in the 1990s, as well as the 14 years as the offensive line coach on his staff. “He’s the same guy. Every day is the same. That’s what you have to appreciate about him. You really do.”
That belief stretches to many of his longtime players, including special teams captain Matthew Slater.
“I think the thing that’s remarkable about Bill is his approach. He hasn’t changed at all, and that consistency in his attitude and preparation, the things that he values and the things he tries to stress to his team. It’s really remarkable,” said Slater, who is entering his ninth season under Belichick. “I think it would be easy for him to become complacent. It’s human nature, once you have success you kind of exhale and think you have it figured out. And if anyone has it figured out its Bill Belichick.
“But you wouldn’t know it by the way he prepares, by the urgency with which he coaches us, the hours he puts in. That’s really been impressive to me in my time here. Whether we go out and win a Super Bowl or don’t make the playoffs, he’s always been consistent in that regard.”
Running backs coach Ivan Fears has been a part of Belichick’s coaching staff since 2000. While he also lauded Belichick’s consistency as a coach, he said that Belichick is one of the more “progressive” old-school coaches he’s ever come across.
“I tell you what Bill does best, better than anybody I’ve ever been around; he grows with time,” said Fears. “He is as old-school as anybody there is. But I guarantee you that he is as up-to-date on every new thing out there. Technology, when it comes to the sport. Techniques. Anything that’s going on, he does a great job of keeping up with it.
“For a guy who is as hard-nosed and as old-school of a coach as he is, you’ll find he’s also very progressive in the things he does and the knowledge of the game. Things he wants to implement. How he keeps up with the young guys. I think that’s what makes him elite.”