Was it the coach or the quarterback?
The departure of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick — after winning six Super Bowls with Tom Brady taking nearly all the snaps in those championship appearances — reignited the long-running debate over who was more responsible for the club’s unprecedented glory.
Belichick is leaving New England after 24 seasons and a 266-121 record in regular season games and 30-12 in the playoffs.
Brady took over as the starting QB shortly into Belichick’s second season in 2001, and 4½ months later, the franchise won its first Super Bowl title.
And together, they led New England to nine Super Bowl appearances and six wins in pro football’s ultimate game.
Pro Football Hall of Fame archivist Jon Kendle in 2018 declared Brady and Belichick the greatest QB-coach combo in the sport’s history.
But when Brady left New England to sign a free agent deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020, his success continued, while Belichick’s did not.
In Brady’s three seasons in Tampa, the Bucs went 32-18, made the playoffs all three seasons and won the Super Bowl in 2021.
In four post-Brady, Super Bowl-less seasons, the Patriots went 29-38 and made the postseason just once.
Brady’s Tampa ring clearly settled any questions about who was more valuable to the Patriots, Defector’s Luis Paez-Pumar wrote Thursday.
“That Super Bowl 55 win for the Bucs cemented that Brady could win without Belichick, if there’d been any doubt that the most accomplished quarterback the sport has ever seen could win in almost any situation,” Paez-Pumar wrote.
“What has happened to New England since Brady left has also seemed to answer — or at any rate underline — the question of Belichick’s relative value. The results haven’t been pretty, in the Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe of it all. It’s not surprising that things went this way: Lose the best player ever, replace him with bozos, get worse.”
A reporter asked Patriots owner Robert Kraft on Thursday what led to the team’s decline in the past four seasons.
Kraft declined the easy opportunity to blame the team’s recent poor fortunes totally on Brady’s departure.
“I don’t know. So many games were close — is it the coaching, is it the personnel?” Kraft said, without ever mentioning Brady. “Something isn’t quite right from where it was, and I’m not smart enough, I think, to give you a credible answer.”
While retired NFL quarterback Robert Griffin III called Belichick the greatest head coach in league history, he hinted at whom he credits more for the Patriots success.
“If he keeps coaching, he has to adapt and understand the Patriot Way is DEAD and doesn’t work ESPECIALLY when you don’t have Tom Brady,” Griffin wrote on X, the platform formally known as Twitter.
And ESPN anchor Linda Cohn, while not taking sides, acknowledged that Belichick’s already sterling résumé could shine a little more brightly with a Brady-less Super Bowl ring.
“Glad Bill Belichick is moving on from Patriots. While flowers are being tossed I still would like to see him win without Tom Brady,” she wrote Thursday.
While talk show host Rich Eisen said the question, Belichick or Brady, is unavoidable, he aggressively walked down the middle.
“We always have to sit here and wonder, who’s the best, who’s better, who’s more important, who’s more this, who’s more that,” Eisen told viewers Thursday.
“The Patriots would not have had six championships without Tom Brady. The Patriots would not have six championships without Bill Belichick. They were absolutely perfect for each other. They were the perfect coach-quarterback organism.”