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Last Updated: Monday, 7 February, 2005, 04:18 GMT
The Professor in a class of his own
By Graham Jenkins

Who's smarter - Bill Belichick or Albert Einstein? So asked a New York newspaper recently as part of a tribute to the New England Patriots' coach.

Such is the esteem in which this 30-year NFL veteran is held.

Respect for 'The Professor', as he is known, has risen even higher after the Patriots' 24-21 win over Philadelphia.

It was a close-run thing at times in Jacksonville, but the victory gave New England their third title in four seasons.

So what is the secret of Belichick's success?

His skill, and particular ability to shackle even the most formidable offence, is rooted in his undoubted football brilliance.

The self-confessed control freak plots the downfall of opponents with masterful game-planning blended with enviable man-management.

BELICHICK'S CAREER HIGHLIGHTS
Super Bowl XXI
New York Giants 39 Denver 20
- wins first Super Bowl ring as defensive co-ordinator with Bill Parcell's Giants.
Super Bowl XXV
New York Giants 20 Buffalo 19
- assistant once again with the victorious Giants
Super Bowl XXXVI
New England 20 St Louis 17
- completes makeover over Patriots and steers them to title
Super Bowl XXXVIII
New England 32 Carolina 29
- makes it two wins in three years in the NFL finale
Super Bowl XXXIX
New England 24 Philadelphia 21
- Pats seal NFL dynasty status with third win in four years

Before winning in Florida, the Patriots had already accounted in the play-offs for the Indianapolis Colts, who led the NFL in scoring and had a record-breaking quarterback in the prolific Peyton Manning pulling their strings.

They were held to a solitary field goal.

Next up were the Pittsburgh Steelers, who gave up the fewest points in the league in the regular season.

The Patriots racked up 41 against them.

Rather than wallow in any adulation, Belichick is always quick to hail the collective effort ahead of the input of any particular individual.

The role of his assistants, Charlie Weiss (offence) and Romeo Crennel (defence) cannot be underestimated - and never are by their boss.

Such are there own reputations that they are set to depart for Notre Dame and Cleveland respectively at the conclusion of this season to take the next step up the coaching ladder.

But make no mistake, this is Belichick's team.

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick

He began mastering his craft at the tender age of nine when he started helping his dad, who was an assistant with the Navy football programme, to break down films of opponents.

While his dad ran the projector, young Bill, an only child, would note down the details of the play and formation like a sponge for strategy.

Steve Belichick, now 89, cites the lessons learnt by his son during that time as key elements of his success.

"Accountability, responsibility, hard work, respect for authority and being on time," according to Belichick senior, have all played their in his son's success-littered career.

That commitment has so far produced five Super Bowl rings, two with the New York Giants as defensive co-ordinator and three with the Patriots.

By winning the trophy again this weekend he has joined an elite group of nine coaches whose teams have won at least three NFL championships - all nine are in the Hall of Fame.

His play-off record is even more impressive. The victory against the Steelers last time out took Belichick's record to 9-1, and level with the very name that adorns the trophy on offer this weekend, Vince Lombardi.

Lombardi, with five NFL titles to his name, was regarded as the master motivator. Belichick in contrast has no rivals in terms of preparation and tactics.

He breaks it down to its simplest form
Patriots' linebacker Ted Johnson on Belichick's methods

"It's very flattering to have my name mentioned with his," the Patriots' supremo said when pressed on the achievement.

"I don't really think I'm deserving of that. I think it's really stretching it a bit."

Cool and calculated as a coach he may be, but Belichick's rapport with his squad cannot be questioned.

The carefully-crafted roster that Belichick and his personnel chief Scott Pioli put together is renowned for its lack of big names.

This is where Belichick's skill extends to coaxing more from players than they themselves and so called experts believe is possible.

His players say he has the astounding ability to say the right thing at the right time to trigger the exact response he wants.

"He breaks it down to his simplest form," commented linebacker Ted Johnson recently.

"He gives you just a few things to key in on, and tells you to do those things, and that you're going to win the game."

Above all Belichick is a humble man, whose priority is quite simply to win each game.

Of course, the players got most of the attention on Sunday as the Patriots came from behind to see off Philadelphia.

But New England have the smartest man in football to thank, and you don't need to be Einstein to realise that.





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