Mazzulla honors Belichick, shares unique perspective on coaching

Mazzulla honors Belichick, shares unique perspective on coaching originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Wearing a hoodie with cutoff sleeves, Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla started his pregame media availability by discussing what most sports fans around the world talked about Thursday -- Bill Belichick.

"I don't have a reaction to that [Belichick and the New England Patriots mutually parting ways], I think I just have a reaction to Bill as a coach, as a friend, as one of the best coaches of all time," Mazzulla said of the six-time Super Bowl-winning head coach. "Just what he's been able to do. [I'm] thankful for the relationship he and I have built."

Mazzulla first met Belichick in September of 2022 in Foxboro while he was still just an assistant coach for the Celtics. With the Ime Udoka news breaking around that time, Mazzulla would be named the interim head coach just days after meeting with the now-former Patriots head coach.

Belichick spoke with the media later that day on his interaction with Mazzulla, stating, "It’s very interesting just talking about pro athletes, pro sports, teaching, learning, so forth. It was good. It was a good day."

"It's interesting, when you see things like yesterday, whether it's Coach Belichick or it's Nick Saban -- if coaching defines you, it would be an unhealthy life," Mazzulla added. "It would be really stressful. You can be the best ever -- and there's a shelf life. There's a shelf life on your career, there's a shelf life on being with one particular team, and to me, the most inspiring thing about yesterday was that Nick Saban has won so much and he walked away after losing in the College Football Playoffs."

Saban, who led the Crimson Tide from 2007 to 2023 before retiring on Wednesday, led the program to historic heights. With seven national titles and 11 SEC championships to his name, Saban cemented himself as the best college football coach of all time.

"To me, that's inspiring as a coach because you're not going to be defined by winning," Mazzulla continued. "You don't have to stick around too long and chase another one. I think when you see guys go through coaching changes or slumps -- one, it's easy to forget how hard it is to be a coach, and two, it's easy to take for granted long-term success, and three, we're all just normal guys who have a job and want to do the best we can. I'm just grateful for the relationship and the standards that he [Saban] sets."

Across his two seasons in Boston, Mazzulla has led the Celtics to an impressive 86-33 record, boasting an impressive 72.3 percent win rate. Mazzulla was asked what he thinks he has in common with Belichick.

"I think we share the same sense of humor," Mazzulla said with a straight face. "He's very funny. I would also say his attention to detail, but also his ability to compare sports and build connections. At training camp last year, we started talking about two-for-one's in football, pressing on defense and what that can do in basketball -- his ability to make connections through different sports is kind of a unique way to stay ahead of the curve."

NBC Sports Boston's Chris Forsberg caught up with Mazzulla before Boston's tip-off against the Milwaukee Bucks to ask about the coach's decision to cut his sweatshirt sleeves off like Belichick.

"It's the right thing to do for a guy like him," Mazzulla answered. "Great coach, great legacy, great career, great person, so it's the right thing to do."

Mazzulla also confirmed he grew up a fan of the Patriots and reflected on his time meeting one of the greatest coaches of all time.

"Getting to know people, building relationships, understanding how a person can become a coach -- whether it's through leadership, whether it's their work ethic, through the people around them -- just how they live their life and who they are," Mazzulla responded. "He's been a great example for a lot of coaches for a long time."