HOUSTON – As Bill Belichick readies the New England Patriots for their seventh Super Bowl appearance of his tenure, his boss has no problem answering the question of how much longer Belichick will coach the team.
“As long as he wants,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said this week.
And how much longer will he want?
“We have a pact that we don’t talk about that,” Kraft said. “He knows and I know. But he won’t be done this year.”
This Super Bowl is, in so many ways, all about Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who seeks his fifth career Super Bowl triumph in a season that began with him serving his four-game Deflategate suspension.
But it also is about Belichick, whose coaching greatness was reaffirmed yet again when the Patriots won three of four games during Brady’s early-season absence to put them on the path to Sunday’s Super Bowl meeting with the Atlanta Falcons.
Belichick turns 65 in April. Yet there are few, if any, hints that the end of his coaching career is in sight.
“He gets paid to do what he loves,” Kraft said, standing to the side on Super Bowl media night Monday. “That’s what he says. It’s true. And I’ll sit in a lot of the meetings if I’m in the building, just in the back of the room. I like to, in every one of our businesses, make sure the energy is always there. And his attention to detail . . .”
Kraft didn’t finish that sentence. He didn’t need to.
“I’m at a certain age,” Kraft said. “I love what I do. I’m passionate about it. And in life, that’s one of the keys is that you love what you do. I really think he was put on this earth to coach football. He is so good at it and loves it and is energized. He’s been with us 17 years. After the first three or four years, I would say to him, ‘You leave late at night.’ I wanted to know what I had and how much autonomy I could give. He would explain things to me. He’s just energized by the work, which is very special.”
That refrain was the same from Belichick this week.
“I don’t really see it as work,” he said at a news conference Tuesday. “It actually beats working. You get to do what you love to do dealing with a lot of great people. . . . [It] really doesn’t feel like work.”
Former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi, an NFL analyst for ESPN, said he does not see Belichick slowing down any time soon, especially with sons Steve and Brian now on his coaching staff.
“His sons are in the building and he works with his sons,” Bruschi said in a conference call with reporters. “So I’m sure that provides a little bit more energy to him. Maybe that gives him an even longer career because he wants to develop them because obviously, possibly, they do have goals of being accomplished coaches in the National Football League. I don’t see why he wouldn’t look at it as, ‘I’m gonna stick around here. Steve’s here. Brian’s here. I’m gonna help them with their careers and also continue my career.’ I don’t see him slowing down any time soon.”
The Patriots have a potential successor in house if Belichick does opt to move on any time in the foreseeable future. Josh McDaniels, their 40-year-old offensive coordinator, is widely viewed as ready for his second NFL head coaching opportunity after an unsuccessful earlier stint with the Denver Broncos.
McDaniels took head coaching interviews with other teams this offseason but remained in place with the Patriots, in large part by choice. He can afford to be picky about his next head coaching chance, with time on his side.
“He’s a terrifically skilled and gifted coach,” Kraft said Monday. “He’s very special and we like having him in our system. He’s definitely a serious candidate if he’s still with us, which I hope he is.”
Opposing coaches know they must bring their best to face the Patriots. Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said this week it’s “a fine line” to try to stick Sunday to what his offense does best while also giving the New England defense a few new looks.
“I don’t think there’s much that Bill and his staff haven’t seen before,” Shanahan said. “They’ve seen a lot of football and they do it as good as anyone. . . . They’re as good as it gets. So we know it’s gonna be a huge challenge, something we’re working at just like they are.”
And if Kraft, Belichick and Brady end up adding another trophy to their collection, it would be pretty much business as usual for them.
“I’ve always posed the question: Who benefits more from that relationship? Does Bill benefit most from having Tom or does Tom benefit most from having Bill?” said former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, now an NFL analyst for Fox.
“I don’t have a great answer for that. I know you can’t win without a quarterback. So my tendency is to say that Bill really benefits probably a little more from Tom. Having said that, I give Bill all the credit in the world as to why Tom Brady is playing. He had to make a tough decision and he made it, and it worked out for him. So I give him a lot of credit for that. And I also know from first-hand experience what a luxury it is when as a quarterback you can just go play quarterback and you don’t have to worry about anything else that’s happening in the organization.”
It is a luxury that Aikman experienced, he said, when he played for Jimmy Johnson.
“I could go do my job and focus on doing my job to the best of my abilities, being a leader for the team and playing quarterback, not worrying about everything else that was happening within the walls,” Aikman said. “I think for Tom, it’s a great luxury that he has, knowing that he’s got a head coach on top of everything and he just gets to go play football. . . . It’s a hell of a duo, as we know.”
So Belichick and his staff trudge onward, relishing the weekly grind of preparing for the next opponent whether it is in Week 3 of the regular season or on the sport’s grandest stage.
“We have a culture,” Kraft said. “I’m into continuity. Marriage isn’t always easy. You make it work. That’s true with our key managers. It’s very easy to break something down. But I’ve always had a rule: I don’t break something down unless I can put something better in its place. Think about it: Bill and I have been together 17 years. How hard is that? No one, I don’t think, is close to that. And when you have success, sometimes that makes it harder to stay together. And then having the unique situation of having Tom Brady at the same time, it’s pretty special.”