Bill Belichick rewriting the record books for head coaches in playoffs

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Bill Belichick is in a league of his own when it comes to coaches in the playoffs. His New England Patriots players can explain why.

"He does football 24/7, that's it," tight end Rob Gronkowski said with a laugh. "And he's a genius at it."

"His detail to the game," added cornerback Eric Rowe. "There isn't a situation that he doesn't turn over and talk about -- from offense, to defense, to special teams. Little details about the game that you don't see that he harps on over and over, and then it just sticks in your head, and when you're out there, you see the situation come up and you're aware, and it makes you a better player."

"He focuses on the task at hand," veteran defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois said. "He repeats that to us every other day -- don't listen to the noise outside, only listen to what goes on in this building."

"Since I've been here, it's just always been his consistency," eighth-year safety Devin McCourty said. "He demands the best out of the team every day. It's not a thing where we come in here, the playoffs start, and it's ‘OK, guys, now it's serious time; now it's time to do this.'

"We're doing the same things we've been doing all year, because I think he believes in how you coach the game, play the game, how you prepare: He believes you do all that stuff one way, you do it every week, you do it every day, and that type of consistency just trickles down throughout the whole team."

That process produces victories and results that have Belichick atop various categories in the record books.

Consider that Sunday's AFC Championship Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars will mark Belichick's 38th playoff game as a head coach, extending his record for most postseason games coached. Tom Landry and Don Shula each coached in 36 playoff games.

It is also Belichick's 12th conference championship game as a head coach, which again extends his own record. Landry (10) is next.

Furthermore, Belichick’s 277 career wins (including playoffs) rank third in NFL history, behind Shula (347) and George Halas (324), and his .684 winning percentage is tops (among coaches with at least 160 wins), ahead of Halas (.682), Shula (.666) and Curly Lambeau (.630).

And his five Super Bowl championships are the most ever by a head coach, followed by Chuck Noll (four), Joe Gibbs (three) and Bill Walsh (three).

One of the last places you might expect to find a coach with those credentials is on the college scouting trail, which was why Vanderbilt defensive tackle Adam Butler was so surprised to see Belichick about 10 months ago on campus. The two watched film together, with Butler saying that Belichick was the only NFL head coach to meet with him.

Then when the draft concluded and Butler wasn't selected, Belichick reached out to him with an offer to join the Patriots as an undrafted free agent. Butler accepted on the spot and has been one of the surprise stories of the Patriots' 2017 season, which is a credit to himself and also a reflection on Belichick.

"To hear 'yes' from the greatest coach of all time, I take that personal," said Butler, who has played in every game this season. "He's legendary. You can't brush off anything he says, because he has the statistics to back it up. You'd be an absolute fool to pass up advice from somebody like that."

Jean Francois, the veteran defensive tackle who has played for San Francisco (2009-2012), Indianapolis (2013-14), Washington (2015-16) and Green Bay (2017), said one thing that stands out about the culture Belichick has created in New England is hard work.

"That's one thing I love about this place," he said. "You don't have to tell a guy to work. He's going to work his butt off."

Or he won't be around for long, especially if he doesn't adopt a short-term focus.

"He does a great job of just literally focusing on what you’re supposed to focus on that week -- not looking down the road, not looking in the rearview mirror, but focusing on the task at hand. He does a great job of getting all his players to buy into that, myself included," said fifth-year safety Duron Harmon, one of the team's captains. "And when you do that, you put all your energy and your effort into that, it allows you to have a good grasp on the game. It allows you to play the game the right way, respect the game, and he just does a great job of it."

Said Rowe: "It's usually just the same every day in the team meeting -- we all go over the film and whatever situation it is, it's 'boom, boom, boom' and over and over and over, and it just sticks in your head. Even when I watch a football game at home, I'm like 'What is he doing? Why are they not taking awareness of this?' It just sticks to me."

Belichick is 27-10 all time in the playoffs as a head coach. His .730 winning percentage ranks second all time (minimum 10 games) behind Vince Lombardi (9-1, .900).

And a win Sunday would clinch Belichick's 11th Super Bowl appearance overall, the eighth as a head coach.

No surprise, and no coach has more.