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Belichick vs Lombardi: Who is the greatest NFL coach ever?

Publish Date: 09/28/2016
Fact checked by: Mark Lewis
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick watches from the sideline during the first half of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

With New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick continuing to win even without franchise QB/all-time great Tom Brady, there has been recent talk about renaming the Lombardi Trophy. While I don’t agree with renaming the Lombardi trophy, I think it is fair to consider which of the two is the greatest coach of all-time.

Let’s look first at the case for Vince Lombardi. Lombardi won five NFL championships for the Green Bay Packers, but much of Lombardi’s career came when the NFL consisted of 14 teams and a team needed only one or two playoff victories to win the title; add this to the fact that there was no free agency and therefore no worries about replacing one-third of the roster every year.

In Lombardi’s defense — and I think the best case that can be made for him — is the fact that the Packers were terrible for much of a decade before Lombardi arrived. A career .738 winning percentage, 9-1 in the playoffs, five titles, zero losing seasons and the white T-shirt tucked into the shorts at practice? What’s not to love about Lombardi?

Belichick, on the other hand, has coached in an era with 32 teams, and, let’s face it, NFL coaching on the whole is better technique-wise. The fact that teams have a longer season and must win at least two games just to get to the Super Bowl also makes it a more difficult accomplishment to achieve. When you factor in free agency and much greater turnover in your roster, it makes it even harder.

To downgrade Belichick because of his time in Cleveland is absurd also. The Browns were horrible when he got there, and he turned the organization around enough to got them into the playoffs. The year after that season, 1995, the Browns started off well at 3-1, but as rumors swirled that the team was possibly moving, the Browns went into a slow tailspin that can’t be blamed on Belichick.

You shouldn’t be allowed to be as dominant in the modern-day NFL: The league has put in dozens of rules to prevent that sort of thing that Belichick does, the biggest being a salary cap that allots less than $3 million to each spot. But Belichick keeps winning, no matter the circumstances. He gets rid of players seemingly right before they start their decline, then finds players nobody else wants and they become a big part of his team.

You thought the Patriots’ success might be directly tied to Tom Brady, who also might be the best to ever play at his position, but the beginning of the 2016 season stands as a control to that hypothesis. When teams like the Texans can’t seem to find a QB, the Patriots find one each week if need be.

This undefeated start isn’t a fluke: It’s a testament. The NFL is better than it’s ever been — it has the parity to prove it — but Belichick continues to be head and shoulders above the rest of his coaching peers. Who could question his bid as the best coach in NFL history?

In the end, the Lombardi Trophy should stay the Lombardi trophy,  but does that make the Lombardi the greatest coach ever? No, it means that he was the most popular coach at the time, and it is debatable if he was the best coach up until the trophy was named: Paul Brown has a claim to that also.

In the end, Belichick has achieved the kind of incomparable success at a time when it is harder to succeed than ever before. So hate him all you want and call him a cheater if you must, but either way, Bill Belichick is the greatest coach in the history of the NFL.

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