DAN LE BATARD 'Genius' owes lots to players

MIAMI -- The genius looks homeless.
Bundled in his gray sweatsuit, hood over his head, frosted face reddened, Bill Belichick looks like he should be pushing a shopping cart of aluminum cans along those sidelines.
(Insert John Facenda voice here: On the frozen tundra of this hard-muscle life, Belichick returned the Patriots to glory and also returned three dollars and 12 cents worth of cans.)
You could drop Belichick in a giant juicer and not extract a single drop of charisma. Jon Bon Jovi and Jim Brown call him a close friend, so there is a personality in there somewhere, but Belichick doesn't reveal any of that to us with his media-coached droning, boring on purpose. And then there's the matter of how he quit the Jets after one day, with a hand-written note saying he was no longer the "HC" (head coach) of the "NYJ." The note did not have a mustard smudge on it.
Not that offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel are helping the aesthetics any here. When the three of them huddle up to be genius on the Patriots sidelines, Belichick and his homeless-looking friends could be gathered around a big garbage can, warming their hands near the fire, chugging cheap wine and singing songs.
No style, no problemwhen you're victorious
Substance matters over style in sports, the loophole being named Anna Kournikova, so appearances are irrelevant here. Peyton Manning looked fine, downright presidential, right up until Belichick ended his unprecedented season early.
But this week brings an avalanche of media to meet Belichick yet again at the Super Bowl, and the myth-making machine must be fed, so it appears we're going to have to find our own words to explain the success of The Homeless Genius because he certainly isn't going to help us, the bum.
Here's what you won't be reading much this week, though: That Belichick isn't a genius.
But he isn't.
Not unless you believe Belichick is indeed smarter than everyone else in the sport. Not unless you believe his sub.-500 record when he had crappy players in Cleveland and the 9-7 finish behind even Dave Wannstedt two years ago were aberrations, Einstein stumbling across a couple of drunk and stupid theories before he found the one for relativity.
Oh, he's a very good coach and leader, no doubt.
But at any point here are we going to allow that, um, you know, maybe the players The Homeless Genius has are a little bit better than any of us realize? You know, the guys who actually have to win the collisions? Perhaps all those linebackers are really, really good. Isn't it intellectually lazy to keep assigning the credit to the coach and his system -- the same coach and system that has gone 6-10 once and 5-11 and 7-9 twice in his decade of coaching -- just because we don't have another explanation for how this starless team keeps winning?
Fact is, the Patriots have six players who can be considered top five in the world at their position this season. Tom Brady, quarterback. Corey Dillon, running back. Ty Law, cornerback. Ted Bruschi, linebacker. Rodney Harrison, safety. Richard Seymour, defensive end. That's almost one-third of your starters.
And, yes, the Patriots smothering the unprecedented Colts without Law or Seymour certainly helped Belichick's status, but that could have had as much to do with the cold as with any genius, given that indoor teams have an 11-33 record in outdoor playoff games.
This isn't to knock Belichick, who will go up on the Mount Rushmore of coaches with one more triumph in a week. It's just to point out that his value is vastly overstated, as it is with any coach who wins. Jon Gruden, Bill Parcells and Joe Gibbs -- all losers this season -- didn't forget how to lead. So maybe the best part of Belichick's genius was getting lucky on a quarterback a few years ago in the sixth round. Gruden, Parcells and Gibbs didn't have one of those in 2004.
A perfect situationfor a perfect quarterback
Brady, who never seems to make a mistake in an important game, is the perfect QB in the perfect system. Brady says if he had been taken a few picks earlier by Arizona, he might be out of the league by now because so much of what happens in sports is fate meeting opportunity. If the Packers had drafted Brady in the third round, as one of their scouts demanded, we might not even know who Brady is today because Brett Favre hasn't missed a start since.
Belichick had no idea how good Brady was. If he had, he would have taken him a lot earlier than the sixth round.
The best coaches put their best players in the best position to win. That's the extent of genius in their world. Belichick has certainly done that better than anyone three of the past four years, and there have been a few times (like against Mike Martz in a Super Bowl) when his coaching has swamped superior talent.
But let's not give him all the credit for things like, say, Willie McGinest having 9.5 sacks this season. McGinest had three seasons of nine or more sacks in New England before Belichick ever even got there. And he isn't even one of the aforementioned top-five-in-the-world players the Patriots have.
Belichick isn't a genius, no matter how much he looks like one.
Just like he isn't a bum, no matter how much he looks like one.
& copy; 2005, The Miami Herald

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