|CNN — When Bill Belichick steps out of the tunnel into Gillette Stadium on Sunday, he’ll know he’s done a good job.
It might be his final game as head coach of the New England Patriots and it might even be his final game in the NFL as a whole.
During his almost half-century in the sport, the 71-year-old has brought about the greatest dynasty in the NFL’s long history, as well as the development of some of its most iconic players; Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Vince Wilfork and Logan Mankins all began their careers with him at the Patriots and became some of the greatest to ever grace the game.
With rumors circulating that his time with the Patriots might be coming to an end, it potentially marks the end of an era of unparalleled success in Massachusetts and the turning of a new page.
From a dry sense of humor and memorable draft moments with his dog to becoming arguably the greatest NFL coach of all time, whatever the future holds for Belichick, he is an era-defining legend of the game.
Learning the ropes
Born in 1952, Belichick was the son of Jeannette and Steve Belichick – a former member of the US military who served in World War II. Steve was a fullback for the Detroit Lions prior to serving, and he later coached at the college level and acted as a scout for over 40 years, mostly with the Naval Academy football team.
Speaking to the Washington Post in 2005, his father remembers how a young Belichick showed an interest in the sport from an early age.
“He wanted to be with me, and I wanted to be with him,” the older Belichick said at the time. “He was probably five or six years old when he started to get interested.
“The three of us drove down to William & Mary to scout a spring game because we were going to play them in the next year, and that’s when I remember him showing his first interest. I’d take him to games with me when I could. He was always interested in what I was doing. He was never a bother.”
Former Navy running back and 1960 Heisman Trophy winner Joe Bellino remembers the young boy during team meetings surrounded by future football legends.
“He’d sit in the back of the room listening to his father give the scouting report,” Bellino told Sports Illustrated in 2004. “He’s a six-, seven-, eight-year-old youngster hanging out at the Naval Academy.
“Midshipmen in uniform, parades, the brass, the visiting presidents, the football team with two Heisman winners [Bellino and quarterback Roger Staubach]. And he saw his father’s work ethic. He saw everyone in the room soak up what his dad was telling us, believing if we did what he said, we could beat anybody.”
After being a standout athlete at both the high school and college levels, Bill Belichick began his long and winding coaching journey with the Baltimore Colts in the NFL as a 23-year-old in 1975.
He quickly rose through the ranks, being named special assistant to head coach Ted Marchibroda before moving on to the Lions as an assistant special teams coach the following year. A mere 12 months later, he was given his first positional coaching assignment as Detroit’s tight ends and receivers coach before being hired by the Denver Broncos in 1978 as the assistant special teams coach and assistant to defensive coordinator Joe Collier.
But it was at his next stop where he really made a name for himself.
In 1979, Belichick was hired as a defensive assistant and special teams coach for the New York Giants before being promoted to defensive coordinator – tasked with organizing the defense as a whole – by head coach Bill Parcells in 1985.
The relationship between the two – later coined ‘The Two Bills’ in an ESPN ’30 for 30’ special released in 2018 – became a seminal moment in the history of the NFL, with Belichick’s defense being a key building block in two Super Bowl victories in 1986 and 1990.
The second title earned him his first NFL head coaching role, where he took over the Cleveland Browns in February 1991 at the mere age of 38 – the NFL’s youngest head coach at the time.
Belichick was walking into a sticky situation as is the case for many new head coaches – Cleveland’s previous season record of 3-13 was the worst in franchise history at the time – but within a few years, he had successfully righted the ship and transformed the team into one of the strongest in the league, tied for the second-best record in the American Football Conference (AFC) at 11-5.
He beat Parcells and the Patriots in his only playoff victory that year as the future looked bright for the organization under the revolutionary head coach.