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The education of a legend

The education of a legend

 I often joke with the young students at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) that they are spoiled rotten, being born at the beginning of the Patriots football dynasty and knowing only success year after year. That being said, the ongoing run of the Bill Belichick New England Patriots is impressive, and a testament to the years of patience and detailed preparation that has been a way of life for this future Hall of Fame coach. 

David Halberstam, who died tragically in an automobile accident in 2007 while researching a football book, has long been one of my favorite authors. He has written many sports classics. “The Breaks of the Game” and “Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World That He Made” are two that I always go back to during the basketball season. Halberstam was also a renowned commentator on American history; among his other many contributions was his reporting during the Vietnam War. 

In “The Education of a Coach” (2005 with a reprint in 2015), Halberstam lends his attention to what drives people to the story of Bill Belichick. The book features a dual-running story of the strategy behind the first Patriots Super Bowl win against the Rams (a 20-17 win in Super Bowl XXXVI) and at the same time profiles Belichick’s education as a coach’s son and then assistant to several iconic coaching figures in NFL history. Among many others, Belichick was defensive coordinator of the New York Giants for the Super Bowl years of 1986 and 1990 under Bill Parcells. 

There is a moving introduction in the 2015 version, in which sports biographer David Maraniss tells of Belichick’s attendance at the funeral service of author Halberstam. Maraniss references a bond of mutual respect between Halberstam and Belichick, with both being obsessive workers when on task. The book then shows Belichick as a tireless – and much sought after – video analyst for several college as well as professional teams. 

One of the teams Belichick assisted was the old Baltimore Colts, prior to the move to Indianapolis in 1983. I was entertained but not surprised to learn that one of my favorite childhood teams – the playoff Colts team of 1975 – had Belichick working for Coach Ted Marchibroda as a $25/hour assistant. 

I would recommend this book to all students at UNH, as they’re watching what could be the end of an era with the Patriots. One of the best descriptions I ever heard of the Belichick Patriots, from an NFL analyst, was, “They become whatever it is the other team can’t handle.” With a revamped Baltimore Ravens team beating the Patriots in the regular season this year, the sports fan in me looks forward to a possible rematch between the Patriots and Ravens in the playoffs. As “The Education of a Coach” shows us, it is not advisable to bet against the vast knowledge and adaptability of Bill Belichick. 

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