Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick was named AP Coach of the Year last week, a development that can be viewed as a bit of a surprise in the wake of his early-season spying scandal and subsequent punishment, which included personal and team fines, and forfeiture of a first-round pick. In the end, the unprecedented 16-0 mark was enough to outweigh any misgivings that may have lingered in voters' minds. And while he and the team are to be congratulated on the undefeated regular season, is Belichick's performance this year really worthy of Coach of the Year?
In 2007, Coach Belichick directed a Patriots team widely regarded as one of the most talented in the league, and one which had narrowly missed reaching its fourth Superbowl in six years. The team had made massive upgrades in its wide receiving corps, and landed one of the most sought after free agent defensive players, Adalius Thomas. Before the season started the Pats were a popular pick to win a fifth straight AFC East title and contend for another Superbowl championship. So although they did it in impressive fashion this season it's really not surprising that they have been successful.
Compare this year's performance to the 2001 season, in which he did not win Coach of the Year, when he led the team on a 6-game winning streak to finish the season, and eventually staged on of the biggest upsets in Superbowl history against the Rams. That year's team featured first-year starter Tom Brady, and an assortment of veteran castoffs including Bryan Cox, Terrell Buckley, Antowain Smith, and Bobby Hamilton. The Pats were coming off a 5-11 season the year before and no one really considered them a serious playoff contender, yet somehow Belichick and his staff were able to get the most out of that group, motivating the team to play their best football late in the season and into the playoffs.
To me, taking a mediocre team and getting them to play great is more impressive than taking one of the most talented and playoff-tested rosters in the league and directing them to a 16-0 season.