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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Education of a Coach

My second post-Christmas reading conquest today was David Halberstam's new book on Bill Belichick entitled The Education of a Coach (which Bill Simmons recommended this fall). It explains a lot about the idiosyncracies of Belichick's coaching style through a close examination of his life and professional history.

For instance, Halberstam tells readers about the high school and college coaches Belichick played for, as well as the coaching staffs he was a part of, and what Belichick learned along the way. There's some real interesting discussion of how Belichick interacted with Lawrence Taylor, what went wrong in Cleveland, and how he made the decision to go with Brady over Bledsoe. And there's a good deal about Belichick's dad Steve, a long-time coach and scout for the Naval Academy, who famously was doused with Gatorade standing next to his soon after the last Super Bowl win and then died earlier this fall.

A few notable tidbits emerge, including that Belichick, previously a film guy and special teams coach, began to work with the defense as a linebackers coach in Denver in the late 1970s, where one of the LBs was Tom Jackson, who 25 years later incensed Belichick as a TV analyst when he declared that the Patriots hate their coach. Halberstam explains the Belichick-Parcells rift more clearly than I have ever seen it explained, and in a way that Parcells can't like very much, since it is quite favorable to Belichick (in any book like this, I wonder how much the access granted the author is re-paid through a favorable depiction of the protagonist).

Finally, after a book that repeatedly notes the long hours Belichick spends preparing for opponents, Halberstam reveals that Belichick and his wife separated in 2005. This isn't something I've seen reported much in the media, probably out of respect for the coach's privacy, but it is especially salient in light of the James Dungy suicide and Stan Van Gundy resignation for personal reasons that have made sports headlines recently, emphasizing the toll that professional coaching takes on family life. It was an ending that highlighted the price of being the best coach in the NFL.