No one knows when Bill Belichick will retire from coaching football, but he turned 70 last month.
George Halas and Marv Levy, both at 72, are the oldest full-time coaches in NFL history. Seattle’s Pete Carroll, about seven months Belichick’s elder, will hit 71 this season.
Like Carroll, Belichick has shown no sign of slowing down. It would surprise no one if he works into his mid-70s. New England is certainly in no rush to lose its sideline icon.
Still, it is fair to believe that the drafts he is currently running and personnel decisions he is presently making will form the base for some of his final seasons in New England. And as the dust settles from free agency and last weekend’s college selections, it’s clear Belichick is going full-Belichick.
Namely, doing exactly what he believes is right, regardless of league, public or media opinions. So-called “reach” draft picks, low-key signings, prospects from obscure schools, trading back for quantity over perceived quality … that was New England’s offseason. The Pats are oblivious to league trends.
When pre-draft he announced he’d sent a fifth-round pick to Houston in exchange for a sixth and a seventh, he jokingly dubbed it “a blockbuster.” It was vintage Belichick.
Whether it helps form the core of a vintage Belichick team remains to be seen.
His first-round selection of offensive guard Cole Strange of UT-Chattanooga and second-round pick of wide receiver Tyquan Thornton of Baylor were considered too high by consensus draft wisdom. Meanwhile, many believed more talent left via free agency (Shaq Mason, J.C. Jackson) than arrived.
Belichick never cared about all the chatter though.
“We feel like we made the best decision that we could,” Belichick said.
Only time will tell, but it probably needs to be if these Patriots teams can return to a level of consistent excellence, if not championships won, that only Belichick was ever able to reach in the annals of the game.
Six Super Bowl titles. Nine appearances. Seventeen AFC East titles.
The man set the standard. And yet ... that was the past.
“First, more than anything, it bothers me that we haven’t been able to win a playoff game in the last three years,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said at the NFL owners meetings in March.
It was the closest thing you’ll ever hear to disappointment coming out of Foxborough — Kraft pointing to wild-card round losses in the 2019 and 2021 seasons and a missed postseason in 2020. Maybe only the owner has the power to even bring it up. Belichick was once asked about the fans who stuck with him and the team “through thick and thin” and he deadpanned back: “I wouldn’t say it’s been all that thin around here.”
Yeah, it hasn’t. But the team owner wants what he once had, and while this was anything but an ultimatum or any sign of a lack of faith in Belichick, it was, well, something.
Winning playoff games isn’t easy. Belichick (and Tom Brady) just made it look that way. And right now in the AFC — let alone the Buffalo-led AFC East — it may be harder than ever.
There is no questioning Belichick’s coaching acumen. However, his track record in the draft is as hit and miss as anyone else.
There have been some epic finds, like Brady at 199, Julian Edelman at 232, etc. There was the impressive 2010 draft that yielded Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski, Brandon Spikes and Aaron Hernandez, among others.
There have been plenty of busts too, of course, including enough to cause New England to be active at the high end of the free agent market in 2021, a departure from the norm. It was a point of contention for Kraft, who wants the team built mostly through the draft.
“I’m happy we had a great draft last year and it made up for what happened the previous four years or so,” Kraft said. “I look forward to hopefully having a great draft this year … the only way you can build your team for the long term and consistently have a chance of winning is having a good draft.”
The draft pundits were not impressed with Belichick’s 2022 effort, of course. A lot of C- grades and questions about taking players above their projected spot. Others wonder about a lack of playmakers across the roster.
Belichick just shrugged. Did he reach on Cole Strange, the offensive lineman out of FCS-level Chattanooga? That isn’t the way Belichick looks at anything.
“He’s long, he’s athletic, he’s physically tough,” Belichick said. “He’s an aggressive player … Cole fits well into our team and our system, and we obviously think he’s a good player.”
For Belichick, that’s all that matters. What he thinks. What he determines.
In New England, that was good enough for the longest and most dominant run the NFL has ever seen. That’s the well-earned foundation of faith. As Belichick’s career approaches its post-70 final acts though, the question is whether it will be good enough again.
Either way, he’s building his team, his way. No changing things now.