<
>

Belichick honored after 14-2 season

Bill Belichick owns a Super Bowl title and Saturday, after
his best coaching job, he won The Associated Press NFL Coach of the
Year.

In a year of masterful coaching throughout the league, Belichick
led the New England Patriots to the NFL's best record, 14-2. The
Patriots, fighting off injuries almost from the outset of the
schedule, won their final 12 games, setting franchise records for
winning streak and victories in one year.

They did so in great part because of Belichick's brilliance as a
game-planner, motivator and in-game strategist.

"I am honored to accept this award as recognition of the
tremendous work of our entire coaching staff, personnel department
and Mr. Kraft," Belichick said. "Coaching is always a collective
effort that depends on the assistant coaches' preparation and
direction and the players' performance on the field. More than
anything, it was the players' exceptional resiliency, toughness and
execution under pressure that allowed us to have a successful
regular season."

And they did so with a variety of starting lineups, unusual for
a championship-caliber team.

"We have had a number of different people," Belichick said.
"It has been that kind of team.

"Again, I am not caught up on the big starter thing. ... I
think all of the players have been active at one time or another.
They have contributed in one way or another. So it has been a lot
of different mixes through the course of the year from
game-to-game, and from one part of the season, and so I guess that
part of it has been maybe a trademark of this season."

Another trademark in 2003 was the strong coaching in many
cities. Although seven head coaches either were fired or resigned,
there was admirable work done by Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati, Bill
Parcells in Dallas, Andy Reid in Philadelphia, John Fox in
Carolina, Tony Dungy in Indianapolis, Brian Billick in Baltimore
and Dick Vermeil in Kansas City.

Belichick, with 35½ votes from a nationwide panel of 50 sports
writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL, easily beat Lewis, who
received seven votes. Parcells was next at 6½ and Reid received
one.

There was no indication at the beginning of the season that
Belichick would be coach of the year or that the Patriots would be
dominant. In a stunningly controversial move, Belichick cut
starting safety Lawyer Milloy, who was picked up by Buffalo. The
Bills then promptly spanked the Patriots 31-0 in the opener.

"If you had asked me at the beginning of the year, I'd say,
'Hell, no! How can you cut Lawyer Milloy?"' star cornerback Ty Law
said. "But he changed my mind.

"He's done an outstanding job. In my opinion, he's coach of the
year. He can get rid of me, I don't care, he's still the best coach
of the year."

New England was 2-2 when it began the winning streak that
carried it to the top of the standings. The Patriots have won in
every manner: defensive battles, high-scoring free-for-alls, close
games, routs.

At Denver, Belichick's coaching acumen was on display when he
made one of the shrewdest calls of the season.

Trailing 24-23 with 2:49 remaining and New England at its 1,
Belichick ordered a deliberate safety rather than punting.

Denver misplayed the ensuing free kick, and the Broncos went
three and out. That gave the Patriots time to drive 58 yards, and
Tom Brady threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to David Givens with 30
seconds left to win.

"He just knows pretty much everything about everybody or every
position," tight end Christian Fauria said. "He knows everything
about the offense. He knows everything about the defense and
special teams, where a lot of coaches are either offensive-minded
or defensive-minded."

Belichick's background, of course, is defense. As coordinator
with the New York Giants under Parcells, he designed defenses that
led to two NFL championships. One of the best jobs he did for New
York came in the 1991 Super Bowl, when the Giants stymied Buffalo's
prolific offense in a 20-19 victory.

After an unsuccessful first stint as a head coach in Cleveland,
where he went 37-45 during 1991-95, Belichick rejoined Parcells in
New England and then with the New York Jets.

When Parcells quit as coach after the 1999 season, Belichick was
elevated, but he spent only one day as Jets coach before resigning,
citing uncertainty in the team's ownership.

Soon after, he surfaced as coach of the Patriots, who paid the
Jets compensation for Belichick. Clearly, the price was right.

Belichick is the second Patriots coach to win the award;
Parcells got it in 1994.

Reid won it last year.