Amanda Belichick takes the reins
When Amanda Belichick's father brought work home, it didn't mean the kids had to be quiet and that his office door was closed.
"I remember being in Cleveland in elementary and middle school and he'd be cutting up plays, organizing them, old school, and I remember doing it with him," she recalled this week.
When your dad is the coach of the Cleveland Browns and in the early stages of a career that eventually would yield five Super Bowl appearances and three titles with the New England Patriots, this might leave a slightly larger impression than, say, helping staple papers.
Funny thing is, Belichick, now the interim coach of the Wesleyan women's lacrosse team, never imagined following her father, Bill, into the profession. But sometimes, your life's work finds you.
"I remember sitting in [Wesleyan lacrosse coach] Holly [Wheeler's] office in 2007 and talking about what was going to happen next and her telling me I'd make a great coach," Belichick said. "And I was like, 'No way, that's crazy, I would never do that.' "
With a degree in history from Wesleyan University, where she captained the lacrosse team her senior year, Belichick said she had visions of traveling and maybe eventually teaching in elementary school.
"I was trying to figure it out," she said.
While she was doing that, Wheeler called and told her about a girls' lacrosse coaching job that had opened at Choate Rosemary Hall, an exclusive private boarding school in Connecticut, and asked if she was interested.
"I was like, 'Well, I don't have a job, so I guess so,' " Belichick said with a laugh.
At Choate, Belichick not only coached lacrosse, she was an assistant coach for the soccer and ice hockey teams, worked in the admissions office and taught a health class.
"A little bit of everything," she said, "but when I got to the lacrosse team, it felt so comfortable. I was doing something I knew. Things clicked, and I thrived. I loved it."
A family game
Because of the Belichick name, people might expect her to be somber and not exactly chatty with the media. But Bill's oldest child and only daughter is not only savvy but naturally cheerful, and at 28 and in her first head college coaching job -- after stints as an assistant at UMass in 2010 and Ohio State the past three seasons -- she is as much a promoter of her program as she is of the sport.
"Lacrosse has really taken off throughout the country at the youth and high school level," she said. "It's a fun new game, fast-paced, high-scoring, exciting to play, fun to watch. It's the fastest growing sport in the country. ... And the exposure from television has helped grow the game and allowed people to watch it at higher levels."
Her father, and brothers Stephen and Brian, also played lacrosse -- Bill at Wesleyan, Stephen at Rutgers, and Brian, now a junior at Trinity College -- and the family would "throw it around" in the backyard during their summers in Nantucket, Amanda recalled fondly.
"I would describe myself as a smart player as opposed to a raw athlete, and I think my brothers would say the same thing about themselves," Amanda Belichick said. "None of us are particularly incredible athletes by any means, but growing up around sports and having that as a part of my life, I developed a skill and game sense that were kind of X factors and what I did well as a player.
"And as a coach, I think my vision and creativity, and being able to dissect defenses and create plans, are what I'd consider my strengths."
Wheeler, who resigned in May after 14 seasons at Wesleyan, remembers a player who often extended three-hour practices well into the dark, and said she saw coaching qualities in her beyond her last name.
"Certainly when you have a kid like her who is so focused on doing whatever she's told to get better and take whatever she can to improve, you know something is there," Wheeler said. "The type of person who works that hard has the ability to be a great coach because great coaches are the ones willing to really work at it, and that's something that distinguished her."
Another mentor of Belichick's, Northwestern women's lacrosse coach Kelly Amonte Hiller, first met her after contacting her father.
"At the time, we were going for our third championship and not a lot of people dealt with that and how hard it is to repeat and whatnot, so I called him and asked for advice," said Amonte Hiller, who has led Northwestern to seven NCAA titles.
"I knew he had a lacrosse background, he is good friends with Dave Pietramala, the Johns Hopkins coach, and I thought I'd take a stab at it, see if he'd call and he did," Amonte Hiller said. "He was so great. He's really a great mentor, and he understands the importance of having mentors and that's why he really wanted to connect Amanda and I."
Amonte Hiller introduced Amanda Belichick to Alexis Venechanos, the UMass coach at the time, and that led to an assistant's position. Venechanos is now the head coach at Ohio State.
"[Amanda] really utilized her dad for advice and brought some things to the table by being exposed to the NFL, which is at the forefront of everything," Amonte Hiller said. "She's a real student of the game, which she must have gotten from her dad."
Lessons in coaching
Belichick said she still attends her father's practices when she is able, trying to absorb and borrow what she can, including a one-on-one tackling drill she observed during training camp that she said, "I can't wait to use. Not for tackling obviously ... "
She also has used video of Patriots' receivers and running backs to illustrate the dodging and teamwork necessary in lacrosse.
"That's team sports," she said. "It all requires the coordination of the team."
Based on her father's feedback on losing close games, she also has incorporated a drill that focused specifically on the last five minutes on the clock and responding to an opponents' go-ahead goal.
But some might be surprised at what she considers one of the strongest coaching lessons she has received from her father.
"My dad and I have a lot in common as far as X's and O's, but the place where we really relate is team building," she said. "When I hear players talk about the 'Patriot Way' and putting the team first, running out as one, those types of things are team-building, team philosophies -- not X's and O's. Without ever being part of the team or in the locker room, that's something from afar that I admire about my dad's team."
Her father joked with reporters during New England's training camp that his daughter had more patience than he does, but that the two often talk shop.
"They're quite different sports and genders, but coaching is coaching, and communicating and working with players and motivating your team -- there's a lot of common ground there," he said.
Later, in comments provided by the Patriots to the Hartford Courant, Belichick said coaching has created a "special dynamic" between him and his daughter.
"We'll be together, just catching up and then the next thing you know we're talking about our teams, our players, how to handle a variety of situations," he said. "So one minute it's father-daughter, and the next minute it's just two coaches doing what any two coaches would do. Learn from each other, try to get better and continue meeting our daily challenges in competition."
Amanda Belichick said that perhaps more than anything, her father's example taught her about working hard. "Hearing stories about him working with my grandfather on film when he was little, and seeing how hard my father worked, definitely had a major impact on me. When I think about why he is so successful, I think it's because he's such a hard worker."
She also has observed the tougher side of coaching along the way.
"Cleveland was a challenging time for him and for our family, and I remember the day he was fired, but he never gave up," Belichick said. "I have faced and will continue to face challenges in my own career, but no matter what it is, we keep going, lean on the people who support us and continue to work hard to get through it.
"I'm really proud to be my father's daughter, really proud at what he's done and I'm also really proud of my own career. It's a really exciting time for me."