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Coach went to school

Page 2 of 2 -- OK, let's stop here. How talented are these guys, anyway? The Patriots couldn't possibly be 60 minutes away from a third Super Bowl victory in four years with a mediocre roster. Are people missing something when they evaluate the skill level of this team?

"We [i.e. the coaches] don't determine the All-Pro team," Belichick said. "So I have nothing to do with that. I think we have a lot of good football players who play the game passionately. How they are perceived externally, I really don't know."

The players may be underrated or misrated or prorated, or something, but when Belichick and his staff get through telling them what to do and where they should be, they seem to be able to play this game pretty well. Game after game people come away saying, "How did they do that?"

That, by the way, is what opponents were saying about the Paul Brown teams that stormed through the All-America Football Conference in the immediate postwar years and then shocked the football world by winning the NFL title after joining the league in 1950.

In a league where so many coaches have these endless resumes in which they crisscross America, going back and forth between college and pro football, Bill Belichick is pretty sui generis. He might have become one of those guys, because his first job after graduating from Wesleyan in 1975 was to have been with Lou Holtz at North Carolina State. "I was signed, sealed, and delivered," he declared. But the funding for that job was eliminated when the school had to scramble in order to implement Title IX, and Belichick was instead taken in as a driver/gofer/film guy by then-Colts coach Ted Marchibroda. Thirty years later he can say he's never drawn a paycheck outside the NFL. The football he's familiar with is pro football.

The NFL is clearly where he belongs. It is football's biggest stage and, although he'd never phrase it this way, he is football's biggest intellect. "From a coaching standpoint, I find it a tremendous challenge," Belichick acknowledged. "The best players in the world and the best coaches in the world -- not to demean anyone in college -- are in the NFL. I enjoy that part of it. I'm not saying it's easy. I look forward to the challenge and I love trying to meet it."

He meets it by following all those Paul Brown precepts, starting with the biggest: It is all about the T-E-A-M. The truth is the talent available to him is better than most people are willing to admit, but it still may not be among the top 3-5 in raw skills. Belichick makes it clear that personal agendas are not allowed, that you are only useful to him insofar as you can help the team win.

Paul Brown was about as far from a sentimentalist as there was, and does that sound like any coaches of your acquaintance? The more you think about it, the more you realize the one coach in the modern NFL who comes closest to possessing the intellectual and organizational skills of the legendary Paul Brown is a legend-in-the-making named Bill Belichick.

We need to ask him if he still has the same dog.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is 

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