The Education of a Coach by David Halberstam
Review by C. Douglas Baker
The Education of a Coach is a mini-biography of New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. It is a well-done exploration of a man many consider to be the best coach in the National Football League today.
The book is written by David Halberstam, a journalist turned writer who is considered one of the best. Nonetheless, at times it seems oddly uncomfortable and awkwardly written. I suspect this may have to do with Halberstam’s unfamiliarity with the game.
This drawback sometimes makes the book and his descriptions of football a bit clumsy. The copyediting is also poorly done, as there were a number of typos in the book you wouldn’t normally see. An example is that Halberstam accidentally refers to Romeo Crennel, former defensive coordinator of the New England Patriots, as the offensive coordinator.
Although the copyeditor let him down by this embarrassing mistake, overall I found the book to be a fine effort and one football fans will appreciate.
Bill’s father, Steve Belichick, was a football coach and scout for Navy most of his adult life. He avoided the fame, control, and money of seeking out a head coaching job that would almost ensure stability for his family—knowing that the life of a head coach is often one of the vagabond, constantly being run out of town, sometimes unfairly, when things go awry for a team.
Many in the profession considered Steve Belichick to possibly be the greatest college scout of all time while at Navy. He was recognized as a master of breaking down game film into its component parts.
And that is where Bill Belichick was introduced to football. Bill would often spend time with his dad to help with certain tasks and thus learned how to break down game film,
This was the beginning of a long education into not just football itself, but the little nuisances of each position. This gave young Bill an understanding of the big picture and how to put the pieces in motion on offense and defense to make a play successful, to win games, and to win championships.
Better yet, young Bill got to hang around players on what was then a stellar powerhouse Navy team. Imagine playing catch with Roger Staubach as kid.
Thus, Belichick had an intense football education as a young boy and grew up with one thing in mind—eventually being a football coach himself.
Athletically Bill was not bad, but he didn’t win the genetic lottery either. So he went off to prep school at Andover and ended up at Wesleyan for his college years where he played offensive lineman on the football team. But what he did mostly was diagram plays and obsess about football and football strategy.
There he met his life-long running mate, Ernie Adams—an odd, behind-the-scenes football genius who works for Bill Belichick in various capacities to this day.
After college, Bill paid his dues to get into the NFL coaching ranks by taking an unpaid internship with Ted Marchibroda and the Baltimore Colts. Belichick’s natural football genius ensured he would move up the ranks. Of course, almost everybody knows of Bill Belichick’s long history as the defensive coordinator of Bill Parcell’s New York Giants, New England Patriots, and New York Jets teams.
I would argue that it was the team’s defense and Belichick’s coaching and strategies on that side of the ball which truly won two Super Bowls for the New York Giants, but I digress. Those years saw Belichick become known as one of the best defensive coordinators in the game and the opportunity to be the head coach of his own team was presented to the young coach.
Bill Belichick was head coach of the Cleveland Browns from 1991-1995 but his tenure was not a successful one. Belichick’s many quirks—from being very secretive about players and player injuries to his being so reticent and boring with the press that it almost appears pathological were intensified by the bad teams and bad decisions he made while at Cleveland.
Without going into the nitty-gritty details, Belichick handled situations poorly, especially with the press and those higher up in the organization. The worst was the beating he took for demoting QB Bernie Kosar, a local hero, out of the starter’s role. After a losing lame duck season when Cleveland was moving to Baltimore, Belichick was fired.
His tenure at Cleveland was so bad that there was a possibility of never getting another chance at a head coaching job.
After spending time as defensive coordinator with the New England Patriots and the New York Jets, the opportunity finally did arise. It was a strange set of circumstances for sure—what Jets or Patriots fan could ever forget the bizarre press conference where Belichick resigned after less than a day as the head coach of the New York Jets?
Bill Belichick wanted to be his own man and knew that Parcells, as a Jets team executive, would really be calling the shots.
And thus Bill Belichick, having impressed Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, with his stint as defensive coordinator, hired Bill Belichick as the head coach. And the rest is history.
Having won three championships in four years in an era of free agency and massive player movement, many of Belichick’s quirks and oddities, which were seen as signs of weakness and lack of leadership in Cleveland, became the eccentricities that went into being a successful head coach in today’s NFL.
But Bill Belichick is not the same man he was in Cleveland. He’s a smart guy, and like most smart guys, he learned from his mistakes in Cleveland and vowed not to repeat them.
The results speak for themselves.
Despite drawbacks in the writing mentioned above, this biography is full of themes and anecdotes. It covers, in detail, Belichick’s relationship with his father and growing up around the Navy football team.
The book also goes into detail about his strange relationship with Bill Parcells, the failures he endured as head coach in Cleveland, and the reasons for his resurrection with the New England Patriots.
It was in New England where mostly diligent work, careful player selection, and surrounding himself with the right staff who knew how to deliver the results he wanted, led to his ultimate success.
Additionally there are some great anecdotes about such offbeat characters as Lawrence Taylor, who is arguably the greatest outside linebacker in the modern era of football.
Highly recommend for fans of professional football.