Monday, January 31, 2005

Bill Belichick's Naval Academy Roots

I was at Logan Airport yesterday when I ran into Boston Globe sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy (of “The Curse of the Bambino” fame). I have exchanged e-mails with Dan in the past, so we stopped to talk – mostly about our mutual perceptions of Tom Brady. And then Dan headed for his gate to catch his flight to Jacksonville, which will be his dateline for the next seven days.

When I opened my e-mail this morning, I saw that my friend, John Byington, a Naval Academy alumnus, had passed along an article that Shaughnessy had written in the Globe last week. The article calls attention to the role that Annapolis played early in Bill Belichick’s football career – helping his Dad break down film of Navy games.

Below are some highlights from that column. For the full column, check the archives of the Boston Globe.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005



The dad of the coach was a coach. More than most, he can appreciate what he's been watching almost every Sunday of the NFL season for the last few years. "This is what you strive for," said 86-year-old Steve Belichick, who retired in 1989 after 33 years of scouting and assistant coaching at the Naval Academy. "That's what you've got when you have everybody on the same page, with the same objective, and they don't care who gets the credit."Tom Brady doesn't give a goddamn whether he gets any credit, or Troy Brown or Corey Dillon. They're all interested in the objective, and that's to win. If they win, they all get credit. I don't see any of them thinking that they are the ones responsible for making the team go. Everybody recognizes that if we all pitch in and work like hell, and do what the coaches plan, we will succeed."

Bill Belichick's Patriots are all about preparation and execution. They are unselfish and they do what the coaches tell them to do. It's stuff that was expected of every player at Annapolis when young Bill was breaking down films at the age of 9. It's extremely rare at the professional level. The dad of the coach is a humble man. Assessing his son's success, he credits Bill's natural intelligence and curiosity about all things. But he won't give too much credit to any head coach, because he was an assistant for so many years and he knows the staff rarely gets enough credit.

* * * *

Steve Belichick thinks young Bill's exposure to the Naval Academy has much to do with the success of Bill Belichick as an NFL coach. At Annapolis, Bill learned about accountability, responsibility, hard work, respect for authority, and being on time. These were days when Navy was a national power and Billy Belichick was playing catch with Heisman Trophy winners when he was 8 (Joe Bellino) and again when he was 12 (Roger Staubach). Steve Belichick was friends with Paul Brown and young Bill met the football deity when he was 13. Something must have rubbed off.

Young Bill also learned how to break down film when other boys his age were assembling model cars with rubber glue. While his dad ran the projector featuring next week's Navy opponent, Bill Belichick would record the down, the hash mark, the formation, and the defense for each play. The kid had great penmanship. His pages were neat and helped Steve prepare his reports.

* * * *

Young Bill didn't talk much when he was around the Navy coaching staff. But he listened to everything; he was a sponge for strategy. And unlike a lot of young people in the 1960s, he had great respect for the regimented lifestyle at Annapolis. The Super Bowl Patriot roster owes much of its character to lessons Belichick learned at Navy.

"The academy and the people there influenced him greatly," said SteveBelichick. "The people that are there, you have to admire their mission and what they go through."

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is

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