Belichick's best and brightest struggle

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – It was an afternoon that displayed every last bit of Bill Belichick's coaching brilliance – the scheme, the execution, the motivation, the personnel decisions, even, perhaps, some underhanded sign-stealing espionage.

His New England Patriots' 38-14 annihilation Sunday of the New York Jets started what looks like another potent push for a fourth Super Bowl in seven seasons.

"I thought we executed a lot of things well in the game," Belichick said in his trademark dial tone cadence, which is part of his system.

The Patriots' run of continuing success is why Belichick is considered the best coach in the game and why two NFL franchises and a historic college powerhouse raided his staff in recent years, hoping his chief lieutenants could bring some of the magic with them.

There even, if you can believe it now, was concern among some pundits that the recent brain drain out of Foxborough – Romeo Crennel, Charlie Weis, Eric Mangini – might even cause a crack in Belichick's own kingdom, the way Belichick's mentor, Bill Parcells, never won a Super Bowl without him.

It's a theory that's pretty funny to revisit right now.

New England, indeed, hasn't won a Super Bowl since Belichick's top three assistants started leaving. But if there is any doubt as to who is the true brains of the Patriots' empire, this young football season has all the answers.

The sons of Belichick are 0-4, losers by the combined score of 136-34. And if anything, what we've seen so far has been uglier than the stats.

Crennel's Cleveland Browns, after just 10 victories in his first two seasons, were destroyed 34-7 at home by Pittsburgh and already are embroiled in a quarterback controversy. He may not survive the season.

Weis' Notre Dame team is 0-2, blown out twice, extending its noncompetitive streak to four games dating back to last season. It faces a gauntlet of an early schedule (an 0-8 start?) and no immediate answers.

And Mangini's Jets took a beatdown courtesy of the mentor himself, a dispiriting, disorganized effort that, combined with an equally tough loss in last season's playoffs (37-16 that time), already has the New York media cracking at him.

But don't take my word for it, listen to the trio themselves.

"That was pretty bad," Crennel said.

"That was miserable," Weis said.

"We didn't execute," Mangini said.

We can get to the caveats right here. Crennel took over a terrible team and has been crushed by injuries and bad luck. Weis is dealing with limited talent from undeniably bad recruiting by his predecessor and his own understandably weak first class when he was juggling two jobs. Mangini, meanwhile, was tremendous with the Jets last season, has all the markings of a good one and isn't the only coach to get blasted by the Patriots.

That said, in another week when Belichick had his team firing on all cylinders, made all the right personnel decisions and found a way to motivate even Randy Moss ("He's a role model," Tom Brady declared), his old assistants oversaw bad, worse and worst performances.

What do you make of Crennel, the former defensive coordinator, having his team give up 206 yards on the ground and four touchdowns through the air?

Or Weis, the former offensive coordinator, running an offense that has yet to score a touchdown and has rushed for a grand total of minus-8 yards?

Or Mangini, who stoked up a rivalry with Belichick when, upon parting ways, either he or his former boss was disloyal and disingenuous (they probably are both a little guilty) and then he beat the Pats last year in the regular season, only to get absolutely rolled in consecutive games?

Their teams weren't just noncompetitive, they didn't appear even remotely well-coached.

Are these guys really the saviors they were touted when they took over their own teams? Or is Belichick so good, his system so sound, that it isn't just players he gets maximum production from?

The best answer is that Belichick himself once failed as a coach, run out of Cleveland in 1995. If it took the original genius that long finally to succeed, then patience with the protégés seems required.

Which does nothing to mitigate the immediate.

Three organizations turned to Belichick to send his best and brightest assistants, counting on his unique ability to maintain excellence and steal victories no matter the circumstance.

Instead, times are tough, each team has significant issues and outside of Mangini there is little hope for anything but the longest of seasons.

All while Einstein tinkers with his Ferrari.

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