Our G.O.A.T.’s Are Usually Just Goats and Belichick Is Simply Average

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Our GOATS Are Usually Just Goats and Belichick Is Simply Average

Never get fooled in sports betting by the narrative 

I recently discussed the Patriots trading Stephon Gilmore. The debate took an odd turn into whether Bill Belichick is a great coach. There was no disagreement on that point. Then I started to think, is he great? How do I know that? Have I checked the numbers, or am I just being lazy and assuming? So, being the contrarian that I am, I decided to check the record. It turns out, Belichick is not great. Not at all.  

I understand that Belichick has six Super Bowl rings. He is undoubtedly the most successful coach of all time. Being the most successful does not equate to being the greatest of all time. Case in point, Joe Flacco, Trent Dilfer, and Brad Johnson have more Super Bowl Rings than Dan Marino. None of them were better than Marino. They were more successful in a rings culture. 

I also know that Eli Manning beat Belichick twice in the Super Bowl. And Nick Foles beat him in the Super Bowl once. (I do not believe either merit NFL Hall-of-Fame consideration. Eli’s hall argument amount to eight games. Nothing more). Also, remember we are talking about someone referred to as the greatest of all time, Belichick, in his prime, losing to Eli Manning twice and Foles once! That is hard to reconcile. There is no way to spin that fact into anything other than catastrophic coaching failures. 

I also understand that Tom Brady, another perceived G.O.A.T., started as Belichick’s quarterback for all six Super Bowl wins and three Super Bowl losses. I wanted to separate Belichick from Brady and see how his NFL coaching chops measured up without Brady under center. And then make comparisons of Belichick to the only other NFL coach that has had Brady, Bruce Arians. And I wanted to know what this says about Belichick’s ability to beat the NFL spread moving forward. 

If Belichick is truly the G.O.A.T., he should easily outpace Arians when we compare apples to apples. 

Belichick’s eight seasons as an NFL Head Coach Without Brady 

To be more specific, he has coached 132 regular-season NFL games without Brady. These numbers can be moved around a little when we deal with games where Brady only played less than a quarter, but these numbers take the record in the most favorable light to Bill Belichick. 

Belichick’s record without Brady is subpar at best. Without Brady, Belichick is 60-72 with a win percentage of 45.45%. He is a losing coach by the record. This record puts Belichick in the same league of coaches as Jerry Glanville, Sam Wyche, and Lovie Smith – none of whom had a Brady or anyone like him.

I was not content to end the analysis because you can be a great coach even with a losing record—talent matters. So I decided to check Belichick’s record against two independent measurements to access whether his teams generally overperformed or underperformed. Specifically, I compared his teams’ results to the over/under win totals for each season and the Pythagorean theorem to determine his teams’ net wins over expectation (WOE) without Brady. 

The results were not favorable for Belichick. 

YearTeamWinsO/UPyt. TheoremNet WOE
1991Browns6Under7.8-1.8
1992Browns7Under7.9-0.9
1993Browns7Under7.9-0.9
1994Browns11Over12.3-1.3
1995Browns5Under6.1-1.1
2000Patriots5Under6.1-1.1
2008Patriots11Under10.60.4
2020Patriots7Under7.2-0.2
TOTAL (Per year average)-0.8625
The games in this chart and the four games this season account for Belichick’s 132 game coaching career without Tom Brady under center. If you add in the one game from 2000 or the two games from 2008, it does not alter the math significantly in any direction. I am giving him the benefit of Brady in those three games.

Thus, not only is Belichick a losing coach without Brady, but Belichick-coached teams, without Brady, perform over their expected win totals only 12.5% of the time. His teams have only exceeded expected wins once in eight years. Moreover, Belichick, without Brady, loses .8625 more games per season than expected. 

The 2021 season is incomplete, but the pace is similar:

YearTeamWinsO/UPyt. TheoremNet WOE
2021Patriots1Under2.02-1.02

These numbers make it difficult to support the conclusion that the man responsible for them is the greatest of all time. Unless you mean something completely different than I do when you use the word greatest.  

Next, I wanted to compare Belichick’s record without Brady to the record of the only other person to serve as Brady’s head coach, Bruce Arians.  

Without BradyWonLostPercentage
Belichick607245.45%
Arians563958.33%

As the numbers demonstrate, conclusively, Arians was a far superior coach to Belichick when neither coach had Tom Brady. 

Belichick’s Numbers as NFL Head Coach With Brady

Belichick’s record with Brady under center is unassailable. If it were not, we would not be having this discussion. He is 218-66 with a win percentage of 76.7% and six Super Bowl Championships in nine appearances. 

Until last season, that was our universe of knowledge. We had no way to compare what another coach would have done with Brady under center. While the sample size for Arians is admittedly tiny, it is all we have. Plus, Arians is getting 43 and 44-year-old Brady.   

Here is a side-by-side comparison of the two coaches that have coached Brady:

With BradyWonLostPercentage
Belichek2186676.76%
Arians14670.00%

Belichick does maintain a reasonably sizable lead over Arians in this small sample size. He also holds the accolades in sheer numbers. But it is also clear that Arians is on pace with a far older Brady. He is 1 for 1 in bringing home the Lombardi Trophy. 

A couple of things become clear from the preceding when you account for Brady. It is very difficult to maintain that Belichick is anything more than an average NFL coach. Second, if you hold to the notion that Belichick is the G.O.A.T., you must conclude that Arians is a close second, which is as preposterous as it sounds.

When we put the data into a single table, the case becomes clear:

Brady made Belichick a far better coach than he made Arians. Arians was a winner before Brady. Belichick has never been one without him.

Belichick’s Teams Performance Against the Spread

From a betting perspective, the G.O.A.T. moniker may seem irrelevant. It isn’t. And this is where we find Belichick’s most potent argument for G.O.A.T. status.

Here are the longest-tenured head coaches in the NFL:

  1. Bill Belichick (New England Patriots): January 27, 2000
  2. Sean Payton (New Orleans Saints): January 18, 2006
  3. Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh Steelers): January 27, 2007
  4. John Harbaugh (Baltimore Ravens): January 19, 2008
  5. Pete Carroll (Seattle Seahawks): January 9, 2010

Here is how their teams perform against the spread (Please note the numbers that follow are only going back to the 2010 season)

CoachTeamATS WinsATS LossesATS PushesATS Percentages
Bill BelichickPatriots11583558.08%
Sean PaytonSaints10585255.26%
Pete CarrollSeahawks10487754.45%
Mike TomlinSteelers9889552.41%
John HarbaughRavens9592750.80%

Belichick’s record is impressive and profitable. Still, Belichick’s record in the 20 games without Brady raise question marks on whether or not he will remain a consistent spread beater:

CoachTeamATS WinsATS LossesATS PushesATS Percentages
Bill BelichickPatriots911045.00%

It is also worth noting that Bruce Arians’ record against the spread before Tom Brady was 4.77 percentage points higher than Belichick’s record. 

CoachTeamATS WinsATS LossesATS PushesATS Percentages
AriansCardinals/Bucs4748349.77%

Finally, when we compare Bruce Arians’ record against the spread with Tom Brady to Belichick’s record against the spread, we see the following:

CoachATS Win Percentage (With Brady)ATS Win Percentage (Without Brady)The Brady Bounce
Belichick58.50%45.00%13.50%
Arians54.20%49.77%4.43%

Some may counter that the argument is not fair because Belichick had Brady for most of his career. There is some truth in that, but he has been an NFL head coach for so long that we still have eight full seasons of his work without Brady to compare. That is not a small sample size, and the results are not good.

There is One Last Argument for Belichick G.O.A.T. Status

He is the one that decided to bench Bledsoe and turn the team over to Brady. In short, Belichick discovered, if not made Brady. Let us acknowledge that he had an assist from Mo Lewis. Bledsoe was injured. To that point, nothing Belichick saw in practice made him decide to start Brady. The injury forced him to start Brady. Second, no matter how great it was, one decision cannot be the basis for making you the greatest of all time. It does win the award for the greatest single decision of all time in the NFL, but nothing more. 

Moreover, the decision was obvious. It would have been Nagy-Level absurdity not to make it. We like to romanticize sports, and people point to Bledsoe’s enormous contract to indicate that Belichick made a tough call.  He didn’t. 

Here are Bledsoe’s stats leading up to his injury:

His completion percentage was below average league-wide, and he had nearly a one-to-one touchdown to interception ratio, 38 to 36. He was not a superstar by any stretch of the imagination. 

Here are Brady’s stats after taking over for Bledsoe in 2001:

Brady had a higher average, a higher completion percentage, and a better touchdown to interception ratio, 2-1. Anyone would have made the switch. It was painfully obvious. The real question is why Belichick did not see this sooner. Why didn’t Brady start the season? How could Belichick have missed this apparent talent disparity?

Belichick is a great defensive mind, a poor talent evaluator, and an average NFL coach, nothing more.  

About the author:

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I write about data and sports. I created my first model in 1997 using nothing more than Excel. Currently, I have data-driven models for the NFL, NBA, and World Cup Soccer.

Mathematics is the music of reason.
— James Joseph Sylvester, English mathematician

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