Editor's note: Our two-week series, "The Best," looks at the NFL's best in a number of key categories.
The Best: Coach
Consistency is what makes Belichick the clear-cut winner in this category. Regardless what happens to the Patriots -- and they've lost several key veterans over the past five years -- they enter every season with the confidence and potential to claim the Lombardi Trophy. The most critical factor in Belichick's ability to lead that team to three Super Bowl victories is his innate feel for putting players in position to succeed. There's no coach in the game who can get more out of the talent he's given.
John Clayton: Belichick
In Cleveland, Bill Belichick was missing something. He chased away star players. He seemed distant from reporters who covered the team. Now, he's the best coach in football. Patriots owner Robert Kraft has three Super Bowl rings because he believed enough in Belichick to give up a first-round pick to get him. Belichick is the best because he gets the most out of every player. He understands that players have limitations. He devises schemes that allow players to do what they do best. He's also one of the best sideline managers in the game. In New England, Belichick grew into a future Hall of Fame coach.
Merril Hoge: Belichick
Belichick is hands down the best coach in the league. It's kind of a no-brainer. His three Super Bowls with different personnel and coaches, combined with the Patriots always being in the hunt, put him a step above all others in his profession.
It's hard to deny that type of success, and to do so would deny just how difficult it is to win consistently in this league. It is even more difficult when the changing variables every coach has to deal with are put into play. When Belichick retires, he will quickly be inducted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.
Matt Mosley: Belichick
Belichick is the best coach in the NFL -- and history will prove him to be one of the greatest of all time. He learned from the mistakes he made in his first head coaching opportunity, in Cleveland, where he never learned to delegate enough. With the Patriots, Belichick spent a lot more time getting to know his players, and it's a big part of the reason he has led the team to three Super Bowl titles during a period when a lot has been written about parity.
In 2004, New England's starters missed more than 100 games because of injury, and that led to 42 different players starting at some point. It didn't stop Belichick because he's a master at getting the most from his personnel. He's capable of taking a lifelong defensive lineman and somehow getting him to perform at linebacker, and we watched him turn Troy Brown into a two-way player.
One of Belichick's mentors, Bill Parcells, has talked about how he almost got himself fired early in his time as coach of the Giants. Belichick did get himself fired, but what he learned from that setback has helped make him the game's best.
Len Pasquarelli: Belichick
By adopting a trait once associated primarily with the NBA, the NFL arguably has become the consummate coach's domain, a league in which the person on the sideline is even more critical than the ones on the field. And there is no more consummate coach in the NFL than Belichick. The New England coach does the two things that are critical to the position -- pushes the right buttons and connects with his players -- and he does them significantly better than any of his peers. Given the public perception of him, one might think it difficult to play for Belichick, but that is hardly the case. In a league in which big salaries have eroded continuity, players still want to win, and they know playing for Belichick provides them a legitimate opportunity to get a Super Bowl ring. Why else do free-agent veterans want to play for New England so badly?
Belichick commands respect because he gives respect. And at a time when it is fashionable to adopt the role of CEO-type coach, Belichick remains very much a hands-on presence. And he coaches all facets of the game and is far more accomplished on the offensive side of the ball than some people realize. In 2001, when quarterbacks coach Dick Rehbein died, essentially at the start of training camp, Belichick basically took it on himself to coach the game's most difficult position. And how did he do? The Pats won the first of three Super Bowl titles. Belichick also remains intimately involved in devising defensive game plans, the area in which he forged his reputation. Belichick is the best of this era, and he has guaranteed himself a spot in the Hall of Fame.