Belichick’s men­tor­ing might pro­vide an ad­van­tage

His for­mer assistants have fared bet­ter against coach than most oth­ers have

Houston Chronicle - - PRO FOOTBALL - By Alex Speier BOS­TON GLOBE

FOXBOR­OUGH — It’s not much of a stretch to imag­ine Bill Belichick in the hooded role of Obi-Wan Kenobi, but in his 22 years as an NFL head coach, he has not cul­ti­vated a Darth Vaderesque foil. There has never been a sus­tained threat by a stu­dent against the mas­ter, nor a long­stand­ing run of suc­cess by a Belichick dis­ci­ple that forced the sort of re­ex­am­i­na­tion of re­la­tion­ships and con­tri­bu­tions to past suc­cesses that fol­lowed Belichick’s lib­er­a­tion from the shadow of Bill Par­cells.

In many ways, when Bill O’Brien leads the Tex­ans into Foxbor­ough on Satur­day, he will do so as the most suc­cess­ful Belichick acolyte in the NFL to date. Al­ready, O’Brien has led the Tex­ans into more play­off games (the di­vi­sional round against the Pa­tri­ots will mark his third in three years at the helm) than any other prod­uct of the Belichick coach­ing tree.

Of course, the bar O’Brien has cleared was hardly daunt­ing. The prior stan­dard-set­ters for play­off ap­pear­ances by for­mer Belichick assistants were Eric Mangini and Jim Schwartz, each of whom en­joyed one one-and­done ride in the NFL play­offs. O’Brien is the first (and, to date, only) for­mer Belichick as­sis­tant with a play­off vic­tory on his NFL head coach­ing ré­sumé.

Nonethe­less, it’s worth ask­ing: Do for­mer New Eng­land assistants en­joy more suc­cess against Belichick than oth­ers?

Small sam­ple in­trigu­ing

The sam­ple is in­suf­fi­cient to draw any­thing more than su­per­fi­cial con­clu­sions, but they are at the least in­trigu­ing. The seven for­mer Belichick staffers who be­come head coaches in the NFL — O’Brien, Mangini, Schwartz, Nick Sa­ban, Romeo Cren­nel, Al Groh and Josh McDaniels — have played Belichick a to­tal of 19 times. The group owns a col­lec­tive 8-11 record (.421) against their for­mer tu­tor — and it’s 6-11 (.353) if one ex­cludes Groh’s 2-0 record with the Jets against the Pa­tri­ots in 2000, be­fore the start of New Eng­land’s peren­nial con­tention for cham­pi­onships.

That hardly seems like an im­pres­sive run, but it’s worth not­ing that even a 6-11 mark (6-10 in the reg­u­lar sea­son, with one play­off loss) from 2001-16 qual­i­fies as rel­a­tively ro­bust com­pared with the per­for­mance of the other coaches who have op­posed Belichick. Since 2001, teams coached by some­one who wasn’t a Belichick staffer have just a .208 win­ning per­cent­age against the Pa­tri­ots in the reg­u­lar sea­son.

So Belichick’s ex-assistants — in a ter­ri­bly lim­ited sam­ple — have en­joyed a reg­u­lar-sea­son win­ning per­cent­age that is roughly 70 per­cent bet­ter than the rest of the league dur­ing the era of Pa­tri­ots’ dom­i­nance. The group has won just over one out of ev­ery three con­tests while the rest of the NFL has won roughly one out of ev­ery five reg­u­lar-sea­son games against the Pa­tri­ots. Crack­ing the Brady code

O’Brien, how­ever, has yet to beat his for­mer boss, hav­ing gone 0-2.

Cren­nel, now O’Brien’s de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor with the Tex­ans, hasn’t been able to crack the code of stop­ping Tom Brady. The Pa­tri­ots quar­ter­back is 3-0 with a 62.1 per­cent com­ple­tion rate, seven TDs and no picks along with a 112.0 passer rat­ing against Cren­nel-coached de­fenses.

Mangini came the clos­est to en­joy­ing ri­valry sta­tus against Belichick for a num­ber of rea­sons. He coached a Jets team that rep­re­sented his for­mer team’s fore­most ri­val. His teams typ­i­cally proved com­pet­i­tive against Belichick, with the Jets earn­ing one reg­u­lar-sea­son split and one sweep against the Pa­tri­ots. His de­fenses proved un­usu­ally adept at con­tain­ing Brady (and, in 2008, Matt Cas­sel), lim­it­ing New Eng­land to 20 or fewer points in four of eight games.

And, of course, Mangini in­spired some of the most scru­ti­nized and frosti­est postgame hand­shakes in NFL his­tory af­ter the Jets put the Pa­tri­ots in the NFL’s crosshairs early in 2007 by lodg­ing the com­plaint with the league that turned into Spy­gate.

That said, in the game of great­est con­se­quence be­tween Mangini and Belichick, New Eng­land crushed the Jets, 37-16, in an AFC di­vi­sional game in 2006, the only play­off matchup be­tween the Pa­tri­ots and one of Belichick’s for­mer staffers.

O’Brien will come to Foxbor­ough at­tempt­ing to do what Mangini could not: claim a play­off vic­tory against the team with whom he re­ceived his NFL ed­u­ca­tion.

If the Tex­ans can pull off such a shock-the-world up­set, then O’Brien would truly ce­ment his dis­tinc­tive place among for­mer Belichick assistants who even­tu­ally took con­trol of their own pro­grams.

Mike Ehrmann / Getty Im­ages

New Eng­land head coach Bill Belichick is 11-8 against his for­mer assistants.

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