A Great Coach Doesn’t Need to Cheat

Much has been made in the past couple weeks about the “Cameragate” scandal, an incident which, in addition to the Michael Vick dog fighting debacle and the continued debauchery of Pacman Jones, has lead some to think less of the legitimacy of the NFL. It is indisputable that Coach Bill Belichick’s ’71 New England Patriots did have an illegal camera on their sidelines monitoring the hand signals given to the Jets’ linebackers by their defensive coordinator. Reactions to these revelations have been mixed, ranging from mild disappointment to vindictive rage. Terrell Davis wrote on that the Patriots should be banned from the playoffs this year, while other players and coaches have stated an opinion of indifference, saying that this sort of thing happens all the time. Either way, the focus on cheating in the NFL sphere has been greatly intensified. Ironically, Ravens Coach Brian Billick made a loud complaint during his post-game press conference about the Jets’ linebackers mimicking the Raven’s snap count in order to draw their offensive linemen offsides, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that results in a 15 yard gain and first down. The presence of sideline cameras has gone from something that is not mentioned during game coverage to an issue that takes up the entire pregame show during NBC’s weekly primetime game. This week’s show featured none other than the Patriots, after which they went on to stomp on the San Diego Chargers 38-14. Despite this entire furor, I do not share the view that this incident taints the coaching career of Bill Belichick. His coaching successes in the late 80’s and early 90’s while defensive coordinator of the New York Giants provide more than enough examples to prove that he, without the aid of instant video access that we have today, may be the greatest defensive playcaller that football has ever seen. This is not the sort of statement that lends itself to be taken seriously, but historically, Coach Belichick has consistently shut down previously productive and highly touted offenses. The earliest major example of this is Super Bowl XXV, in which Belichick laid down a game plan that held Jim Kelly and the revolutionary Bills no-huddle offense to 19 points. (Buffalo scored 423 points that season, the highest team total, which gave an average of 27 points per game.) You can also point to the upset of the offensively spectacular St. Louis Rams in New England’s first Super Bowl title, a game in which the Patriots were picked to lose by the largest point spread in Super Bowl history. What difference does this make? It proves that Belichick didn’t and doesn’t need to tape other coaches to win football games. You can point to last week’s rout of “the NFL’s most talented team” as conclusive proof of this. LaDanian Tomlinson, “the greatest running back of all time,” was held to fewer than 50 total yards in the game, less than half of his per game average last year. The high powered Patriots offense made the very athletic and very nasty Chargers defense look like a soft piece of Swiss cheese, combining for over 400 yards of total offense, all without the use of illegal cameras. Coach Belichick cheated, but he didn’t need to, and he remains the best coach in the NFL today.