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DALLAS -- Is the 2010 regular season the best of Bill Belichick's 11-year Patriots tenure? That was the question buzzing around the Super Bowl media center Wednesday before the anticipated news that Belichick was named Associated Press Coach of the Year.
There are plenty of years to choose from.
The 2001 season, which Belichick once admitted surprised him because it was only the second year of his program and all the parts weren't in place, ranks highly. The Patriots were 11-5 that year, winning their final five games before shocking the Rams in the Super Bowl. In terms of overall year -- regular season and playoffs -- that has to be the choice.
But the Coach of the Year Award is solely for the regular season, and that's why 2003 and 2004 -- when the Patriots were 14-2 -- are up there when it comes to Belichick's best.
The record-setting 2007 season, of course, is a big part of the conversation. When you go 16-0 for the first time in league history, crushing numerous records in the process, that's a strong contender.
And how about 2008 as a sleeper choice for Belichick's top work? Many teams that lose their star quarterback on the 15th offensive play of the season would be in for a long year. The Patriots went 11-5 with Matt Cassel at the helm.
A strong case could be made for any of the six years, with 2010 the latest entrant to the mix.
"This is one of the best jobs he's ever done," said Brian Billick, the former Baltimore Ravens head coach now working as an analyst for Fox Sports and NFL Network. "He had that young defense that had to mature very rapidly, and on offense, to change in-season from the deep-ball Randy Moss [approach] to the small-ball, high-efficiency [approach], that's not easy to do."
|Bill Belichick's decision to forgo naming offensive and defensive coordinators allowed him to work more directly with players to get his vision across.|
It was also a year in which Belichick made the unconventional decision to forgo naming offensive and defensive coordinators. Some analysts mocked Belichick for the move at the time -- painting a picture of a coach who wanted to control everything -- but it was simply a case of him redistributing his workload so he could lead defensive meetings and implement the vision of what he wanted. Defenders seemed to like it, saying the message couldn't have been any clearer because it was coming straight from the top. Belichick's decision also seemed to be a message to his coaching staff about what was most important -- team goals and not individual coaching titles.
Veteran receiver Torry Holt was in training camp with the Patriots and came away impressed with what he saw behind the scenes from Belichick.
"What I learned and loved was his preparation," said Holt, who is working as an analyst for NFL Network at the Super Bowl. "He had a purpose for every day and they were going to improve in an area every single day -- whether it be getting the play call in quicker, whether it be understanding situations like third down and how teams were going to attack them.
"He was really good to sit down with in his team meetings and it was like Football 101. As a fan of football and a guy that really loves the game, it was really a treat for me to see how he coached his football team and how he challenged his football team. He didn't lecture you. Simply, you had a choice -- you either did it the right way or you wouldn't play or you wouldn't be here. I think his players respected that."
Belichick became the first coach in NFL history to lead a team to 14-win seasons four different times, with the Patriots setting the record for fewest turnovers in a 16-game season (10). The team's plus-28 turnover differential was the second best since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Overall, the Patriots were the league's highest-scoring team (32.4 per game) and ranked eighth in fewest points allowed (19.6 per game).
"There was a lot of talk about that defense and how good they could be. We saw what they did and that's a credit to him and his coaching staff," Holt said of expectations in training camp. "Offensively, what sticks out to me is the relationship that he has with Tom [Brady]. I think Tom is an extension of Bill and when you look across the league at the great teams and focus on the quarterback/head coach relationship, those teams are really, really good. I think that relationship between them is outstanding. They both want to win, they're both competitors and they'll do what it takes to get the job done."
That captures Belichick's bottom-line motto to his players: Do your job.
On Wednesday, in what was widely anticipated and well deserved, voters acknowledged Belichick did his job better than the rest. One remaining question was if this season was better than Belichick's rest.
In this view, 2007 still tops the charts.
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.