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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Work the same job for 39 years in a row, albeit in a different role at times, and it would be understandable if the routine got old.
It hasn't for Bill Belichick, the NFL's longest-tenured head coach.
As the 61-year-old Belichick prepares his New England Patriots for another season opener, his 39th since entering the NFL as a coaching assistant with the Baltimore Colts in 1975, the passion still burns. We know Belichick is not the open-book type, but on Friday he gave us a little glimpse of what it is about football that makes him tick.
|"Every year is different. Every year is a great challenge, a great opportunity. Every time it comes around, it's nice to be able to go up to the plate for a turn at-bat," Bill Belichick said.|
In true Belichick fashion, he summed it up succinctly: "It beats working."
But there was more. Plenty more actually, including a trip back in time to his high school and college years in Maryland when he worked for Mayflower Moving and waited tables at a local establishment, but would enjoy a break from those responsibilities to work at his father's summer football camps.
Belichick grew up around the game, as his late father, Steve, was a legendary coach at Navy, but being around others at the camp for 2-3 weeks each summer opened his eyes further.
That is when some of the roots were planted that help explain why Belichick enters Sunday's season opener on the road against the Bills with the same enthusiasm and competitive fire as he did as a Colts assistant making $25 per week.
"Every year is different. Every year is a great challenge, a great opportunity. Every time it comes around, it's nice to be able to go up to the plate for a turn at bat," he said, using a baseball analogy that sounded a lot like something Bill Parcells, the Hall of Fame coach with whom he enjoyed great success as an assistant, might say.
"I like football. I like the game. I like the players. I like what it's all about," Belichick added. "Every part of it, whether it's assembling a team, working with new players, working with veteran players that are experienced and extremely talented at the highest level, game-planning, scouting, preparation, practice, games -- I enjoy all of it."
He's good at it, too, but that's not exactly a news flash these days. Belichick's career winning percentage of .653 (205-109) ranks third all-time among head coaches with 150 or more wins, trailing only Hall of Famers George Halas (.682) and Don Shula (.666).
He is the only head coach in NFL history to win at least 13 regular-season games in five separate seasons, and also the first NFL head coach with 10 straight seasons with at least 10 victories. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the only person in NFL history to serve 20 or more seasons as an assistant coach and at least 15 seasons as a head coach.
Part of what makes this year different for Belichick is that the NFL's longest-tenured coach has one of the league's youngest teams. The Patriots have an eye-opening 13 rookies, six of whom weren't drafted, and three of whom could play crucial roles at wide receiver (second-round pick Aaron Dobson, fourth-rounder Josh Boyce and free agent Kenbrell Thompkins).
How the youth develops over the course of the season figures to play a significant role in whether Belichick's 39th season on the sideline produces the desired goal, his sixth Super Bowl championship ring.
As for how many more at-bats Belichick has left in his championship quest, it's safe to say we're closer to the later innings of the game than the first pitch. In NFL Films' excellent "A Football Life" documentary on Belichick a few years ago, he said he didn't plan to follow the route taken by Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy, who coached until he was 72.
That still leaves him plenty of time. Similar to his good friend, 67-year-old New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin, Belichick shows no signs of slowing down.
So in that sense, this year is no different than 1975, when Belichick's initial plans to earn his master's degree at NC State and coach with Lou Holtz fell through and he instead landed with the Baltimore Colts as a rookie NFL coach on Ted Marchibroda's staff. The Colts had assistants like Ralph Hawkins, George Boutselis and Whitey Dovell, all of whom had worked at his father's summer camps and made an impression on him.
"You can call that working, but after taxes there wasn't even gas money ... the price was right," a smiling Belichick said Friday when asked if he felt the same way about coaching with the '75 Colts that he does today.
"So, yeah, it's great to work with great people. We have great ownership here, great assistant coaches. I like the players that are on this team. They work hard. They're very committed to winning. The staff, support staff, it is a great, great opportunity here, and I'm privileged to have the opportunity to coach this team. Yeah, I'm happy to be here."
It shows. Thirty-nine years later, it beats working.