Opinion: Why I back Bill Belichick in the Tom Brady vs. Patriots coach debate

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FOXBORO – Rodney Harrison is upset.

I don't blame him. The question, which I asked, was unfair. I even admitted as much.

'Who deserves more credit for the Patriots' success? Tom Brady or Bill Belichick?'

It's a debate that's raged on for a while now, but it has heated up recently. It's easy to understand why. Brady left the Patriots and won a Super Bowl without Belichick. As soon as that happened, people declared Brady the winner.

'Brady 1, Belichick 0.'

Now on Sunday, we have Brady returning with his reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers to take on Belichick’s 1-2 Patriots squad. Hence why the topic has come up again and it's understandable why it seems like Brady is getting the bulk of the credit. Without Brady, Belichick's Patriots finished 7-9 in 2020. Without Brady, Belichick is 63-75 in his career.

In reality, those numbers are misleading. Football isn't about one person. It's not about one coach. It's about 11 players on offense and 11 players on defense. It's about teamwork. It's about 'doing your job' to accomplish higher goals.

That's why Harrison is upset.

"I think it's stupid, okay? I think it's disrespectful," Harrison said. "Not only is it disrespectful to Tom and Bill, but it's disrespectful to all those great players that came along that were part of those championship teams because, at the end of the day, it wasn't Bill and Tom versus everybody else. It was an entire team … I just think it's dumb."

“Tom (Brady) and I had, I feel, like a good relationship and a lot of production, obviously while we were together," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.
“Tom (Brady) and I had, I feel, like a good relationship and a lot of production, obviously while we were together," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.

Harrison makes a fair point. The Patriots didn't win six Super Bowls just because of Brady and/or Belichick. There are hundreds of players who helped bring those championships to New England. Where would the Pats be without Adam Vinatieri? Or Malcolm Butler? Ty Law? Julian Edelman? When the Pats won their last Super Bowl, the offense scored just 13 points. That's the worst scoring output from a Super Bowl winner in NFL history. The real story of that win over the Los Angeles Rams was the team’s defense that allowed three points — that's also an NFL Super Bowl record.

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Football is the ultimate team game.

The problem is I disagree — slightly — with Harrison and mostly everyone on this topic.

Why Bill Belichick should get the credit for Patriots success

Bill Belichick deserves more credit for the Patriots dynasty. He deserves more than Brady. I know that's not a popular opinion, especially when you see his record with other quarterbacks or think back to last season. However, over the course of the last 21 years, Belichick was the main engineer behind the Patriots historic run.

It's comparable to Steve Jobs. He didn't invent the iPhone, but he made it happen by putting together a talented team of 1,000 employees to invent the smartphone. It happened under his leadership. It's part of his legacy.

In this case, Belichick is the head coach and general manager of the Patriots. Yes, he's had help when it comes to drafting, signing and trading for players — Scott Pioli, Nick Caserio, etc. — but he built and coached these championship teams. Belichick also drafted Brady in the sixth round in the 2000 NFL Draft. That's on his resume, too.

Sure, the Pats passed over Brady six times — including once in the sixth round — but Belichick made the decision to select Brady over Tim Rattay. Then coming off a 5-11 season, he also made the choice to stick with Brady over Drew Bledsoe a year after that. No one would've been surprised if the coach went back to his veteran quarterback, who by the way was the highest paid player in the NFL.

The Pats signed Bledsoe to an NFL record, 10-year, $103 million deal in March of 2001. Eight months later Belichick benched him in favor of a second-year, sixth-round pick. That takes guts.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) and head coach Bill Belichick head out onto the field to shake hands with the Buffalo Bills after their 24-12 win at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 23, 2018.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) and head coach Bill Belichick head out onto the field to shake hands with the Buffalo Bills after their 24-12 win at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 23, 2018.

Over 21 years and six Super Bowls, we've seen Belichick grow a program that's developed players and coaches alike. How many unsung heroes have we seen in Foxboro? How many low draft picks or undrafted free agents came in and made an impact? The New Orleans Saints tried to convert Rob Ninkovich to a long snapper. He then started 101 games in eight seasons, winning two Super Bowls, in New England. Edelman was a college quarterback drafted in the seventh round and developed into a dynamic punt returner and No. 1 receiver.

Sure, there are painful draft misses, but the Pats still won six Super Bowls.

The case for Tom Brady

This is where the argument usually turns to Brady.

Would the Pats have won without him? Would Bledsoe have been able to drive the offense downfield against the Rams to set up a Vinatieri game-winner? There’s no way any other quarterback can complete a 28-3 comeback in the Super Bowl, right?

In all those historic moments, the Patriots prevailed because they had the best quarterback, of course. They were also better coached and prepared than the other team. When Butler made his game-securing interception, against Seattle, it was a play they practiced and studied the week before. The defenses that led the early portion of the dynasty were led by Belichick, who by the way has two rings without Brady (Super Bowl XXI and XXV). Belichick is a defensive mastermind and most of the Patriots Super Bowl wins showed that.

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Does Brady win seven Super Bowls if his career starts in Cleveland? With the New York Jets? In Cincinnati? What if he was drafted to a different team with a veteran quarterback? Would a different head coach have the gall to bench a high-priced starter for a sixth-round pick?

Would Belichick win six with Brady? On Friday, he was asked a question like that and stated the obvious, "Of course not."

Bill Belichick and Tom Brady celebrate their overtime win over the Chiefs in the 2019 AFC Championship Game.
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady celebrate their overtime win over the Chiefs in the 2019 AFC Championship Game.

In the end, Harrison is right. The argument is “stupid” to certain degree. The Pats were a dynasty because they had the greatest quarterback and greatest head coach of all-time. Brady helped Belichick. Belichick helped Brady. It's not a one-player or one-coach game.

That being said, the Patriots are a foundation built upon teamwork, discipline and a solid roster. It wasn't about one person. The dynasty doesn't happen without both Brady and Belichick. No one can dispute that.

However, in a world where people sometimes want to see things in black and white, if asked, I side with Belichick. He's the architect behind it all.

Sorry, Rodney.

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Tom Brady vs. Bill Belichick: Who is responsible for Patriots success?