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He could probably execute better, but Belichick hardly overrated

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff  November 7, 2012 09:52 AM

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Don't you just love opinion polls? Some of them will tell you that Mitt Romney is going to be the next President of the United States. Some of them will tell you that Scott Brown will keep his seat in the Senate. And some will even tell you that Bill Belichick is behind only Rex Ryan as the most overrated coach in the NFL.

That last one, especially, is a pile of compost.

Here's the problem with the world today: more and more frequently, everyone wants you to pick a side. Black or white. Red or blue. You're either with 'em or against 'em. Seemingly ignored is the vastness in between, which just happens to be where most of us reside a majority of the time.

So what does this all have to do with Belichick? Simple. Before Belichick's arrival here at the turn of the millennium, New England had never won a Super Bowl. Now we have won three. In the process, Belichick ascended to a status where he was never to be questioned, on anything, by anyone. If you suggested that Belichick was faltering in the draft, or made a foolish in-game decision, or was a sore loser, you were viewed upon as a treasonous lout and all but smashed in the face with a big-picture retort.

Well whom would you rather have then?

The obvious answer: no one.

Well then shut up.

What vanished, at least for a time, was the right to debate anything concerning the HC of the NEP, the kind of blind loyalty that should never exist in what is, allegedly, one of the free-thinking and informed regions of the country.

And so now, with Belichick in the midst of a seven-year drought (and counting?) without a Super Bowl title, a Sporting News poll of more than 100 NFL players has tabbed Belichick the second-most overrated coach in the league behind only the bellowing Ryan. This is as preposterous as the notion that Belichick was perfect. Belichick has been a lot of things during his tenure as New England's football czar, but overrated is not one of them.

As a head coach, after all, the man has been to five Super Bowls and won three of them. He has recorded the only 16-0 regular season in league history. The only coaches in NFL annals with both more wins and more championships than Belichick are Paul Brown, George Halas, Curly Lambeau, and Chuck Noll. Everyone else is looking up at him in some way, shape or form.

And yet, there are a collection of NFL players out there who believe Belichick is overrated as a coach, that he somehow hasn't fulfilled his promise?

Maybe that league concussion problem is far more widespread than we thought.

At the risk of making this about semantics, let's all agree on what the term overrated really means. Generally speaking, it's when the reality doesn't live up to the hype. Ryan has produced enough hot air to send Felix Baumgartner back into space, but he still hasn't won the Super Bowl he incessantly talks about. Ryan's bluster rightfully earned him the top spot on the list, particularly given that he produced the hype.

In the case of Belichick, let there be no doubt that the Patriots have slipped some in recent years, most notably on defense. Once regarded as the preeminent defensive mastermind in the game, Belichick has seen his team allow 120 touchdown passes since the start of the 2008 season, more than any team but the Detroit Lions during that span. From 2009 to 2011, the Patriots drafted 33 players - count 'em, 33 - and yet Belichick is still playing musical chairs in his defensive backfield, recently going so far as to acquire the troubled Aqib Talib for a fourth-round pick last week.

You want to say that Belichick's standing as a defensive genius has taken a hit? Fine. You want to say that he closer to the rest of the pack as a general manager and evaluator of college talent? Fine. You want to say that Belichick is stubborn and uncooperative, dismissing any discussion about those topics (or most any other)? Fine.

But despite a wretched defense that ranked 31st in the NFL last season, Belichick took the Patriots to a fifth Super Bowl, a game the Patriots very well could have won. On the field, at least, exploiting strengths and masking weaknesses is precisely what coaching is about, and the Patriots are generally still quite effective at doing both.

Over the last several years, criticism of Belichick in this space - and many others - has mounted. But nobody has ever, ever suggested the Patriots would be better off with a coach like, say, Jeff Fisher. (Now, there's a guy who is overrated.) All anyone has ever said is that the Patriots may have left a championship or two slip away, that Belichick's stubbornness sometimes gets the best of him, that the esteemed coach of the Patriots still has room for improvement the way everyone else does.

As for those select NFL players blinded by Belichick's flaws top the point where they would foolishly place him second on the list of most overrated coaches, maybe another question for them should be in the offing.

If every team had the same talent and coaching decided the Super Bowl, which coach would they pick?

We're willing to bet Belichick would finish higher than second.

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About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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