Bill Belichick might not have realized it during his Wednesday press conference, but on the subject of Tom Brady’s fast break from Foxborough, the coach did an impressive job of indicting himself.
Incredulous when a reporter wondered if he considered Sunday night’s special guest, Brady, a tough quarterback to defend, Belichick repeated the query through one of his many you-gotta-be-kidding-me smirks. “Is that the question?” he asked. The Patriots coach then called Brady “as tough as any quarterback there is or ever has been. Enough said.”
Belichick, for once, actually went ahead and said more.
“His numbers are incredible. He’s about to pass the all-time passing record. He’s done more than any other player at that position in whatever measurement you want to take — whether it’s yards, completions, touchdowns, championships, you name it. So put anything out there you want. It doesn’t get any tougher than him.”
All of which begs the follow-up question:
Then why the hell isn’t he still your quarterback?
Just before Brady exited the Patriots stage left, and headed south to begin a new football life in Tampa, some New England officials were hoping against hope that Belichick would abandon his emotionless approach to hiring and firing people, and kiss Brady’s you-know-what in an attempt to lure him back. In the end, there was a better chance of Belichick saying the words “Spygate” and “Deflategate” out loud.
Of course Belichick should have topped Tampa Bay’s two-year, $50 million offer. Of course he should have long ago told Brady all the things he said Wednesday, and all the things he said in his public statement after the six-time champ signed up to become a seven-time champ in a different uniform.
Belichick declared in March 2020 — with Brady already going, going, gone — that his franchise player was “unfathomably spectacular” and “the greatest quarterback of all time,” and that their relationship would always be “built on love, admiration, respect and appreciation.”
“Tom had been waiting to hear those things for 10 years,” one team official told me.
So that’s why, 3 ¹/₂ years ago, a source close to Brady said, “Tom knows Bill is the best coach in the league, but he’s had enough of him. If Tom could, I think he would divorce him.”
And that’s why, after Brady signed with the Buccaneers, another source close to him said, “Tom was Belichick’d out after 20 years.”
In his upcoming book on New England’s dynasty, “It’s Better to Be Feared,” Seth Wickersham writes that Brady wanted to say goodbye in person to the only NFL coach he ever had. The author’s rock-solid reporting reveals Belichick told the quarterback he wasn’t available to meet and needed to — quite literally — phone it in.
But as much as Belichick screwed up Brady’s endgame in Foxborough — and he screwed it up on every level — one thing can’t be taken away from him: He did turn the 199th pick in the 2000 draft into arguably the NFL’s greatest all-time player. Some scouts liked the unathletic prospect with the uneven college career at Michigan — including the Giants’ Whitey Walsh, who strongly urged then-GM Ernie Accorsi to draft him. And yet only one decision-maker pulled the trigger on Brady.
Belichick was smart enough to keep him as his fourth quarterback in Year 1, when Brady was concerned enough about his NFL worthiness to tell his friend and former Michigan teammate Aaron Shea that he was worried he’d end up selling insurance.
Brady’s high school coach didn’t develop him into a blue-chip national recruit, and his college coach, Lloyd Carr, didn’t develop him into a national championship quarterback or first-round pick. But over a longer period of time, Belichick — a defensive coach — turned a 2001 game manager into an offensive juggernaut (by 2007), a three-time league MVP, and the undisputed GOAT at his position. If you want to assign credit to Josh McDaniels, well, Belichick raised him, too.
Bill and Tom were such different people from such different generations, it’s hard to believe they stayed together as long as they did. Tom grew up wanting to be Joe Montana, the 49ers icon. Bill grew up wanting to be Joe Bellino, the 1960 Heisman winner from Navy. Tom sometimes made his male friends uncomfortable by telling them he loved them, to their faces. Bill’s male friends never had to worry about that.
Pats owner Robert Kraft called his coach “the biggest f–cking a–hole in my life,” according to Wickersham’s book. Kraft is hardly the only person in the NFL who would say the same.
But Belichick wasn’t put on this earth to make friends.
“Bill was put on this Earth to win football games,” Kraft once told me.
He won a ton of them because he was the one who drafted and developed Tom Brady. Give the devil his due on that.