Nepotism or not, Steve Belichick rises in the coaching ranks

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Nepotism is as much a part of the NFL as is the league’s ubiquitous shield. And the franchise that has dominated the NFL for much of the past two decades has a clear and obvious nepotism situation playing out in plain sight.

Steve Belichick, the 32-year-old son of legendary Patriots coach Bill Belichick, has emerged as one of the team’s most important assistant coaches in recent years, prompting some to wonder whether Steve Belichick and not Josh McDaniels will become the eventual in-house heir to Bill. Henry McKenna of USA Today recently took a close look at the younger Belichick, including the obvious questions raised when a son of a coach is perceived to receive unfair advantages in an industry that is commonly criticized for lacking diversity.

It’s a tricky and sensitive subject, as evidenced by the fact that the usually tight-lipped Bill Belichick actually provided a statement to McKenna via email for the story.

“There are many father/son coaching combinations in the NFL and any challenges are far outweighed by the rewards of working together on a daily basis,” Bill Belichick said regarding whether he’s hard on Steve in order to ensure that his success has no relation to their close family relationship.

Nepotism has taken root in the NFL for three primary reasons. First, many teams operated as family-owned businesses. For owners who intend to groom one or more of their children to eventually take the reins, there’s an element of hypocrisy that creeps into the prospect of telling coaches that they can’t hire their own kids. Second, many coaches had little or no involvement in the upbringing of their children, because the coaches were constantly working. Once the children become adults, coaches make up for those cats-in-the-cradle days, with fathers and sons pressed together for many, many hours while grinding away at the many demands of running an NFL team. Third, there’s real value in giving NFL jobs to those who grew up in and around NFL teams.

Earlier this year, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan explained the benefit of being around the game as a boy. Right or wrong, fair or unfair, Kyle benefited from the fact that his father, Mike, spent Kyle’s formative years in the NFL as a coach. The experience resulted in Kyle being even better suited to becoming a head coach in his own right.

As to Steve Belichick (or any other child of an NFL coach), he’ll eventually have to prove that he has the chops and the work ethic to stand on his own. Already, Steve Belichick is doing that.

“He’s a guy that works 20 hours of the day and 350 days of the year,” first-year Giants coach and former Patriots assistant Joe Judge told McKenna.

“I think it’s tougher for Steve in a lot of ways, because he’s always got to prove that he’s earned it,” Judge added. “Over time, if you can’t demonstrate that you belong in that building, you’re the sore thumb sticking out. And he’s showed time and time again that he’s prepared, he’s very good with the players, he’s got the great, global view of the game, he does a good job schematically. You have to demonstrate value in front of everyone all the time. That’s the thing about that building — and our profession in general — there’s no hiding.”

Judge provided a specific example regarding the abilities Steve Belichick has developed.

“Maybe you’ll be watching tape or doing something in a staff meeting, and he’ll just lean over and whisper something to you, and it’s so insightful, and you kind of have to think, ‘Man, how come I didn’t see that earlier?’” Judge said. “He doesn’t want any credit. Steve’s one of the best guys personnel-wise in understanding how to use guys’ strengths. He’ll stick his head in your office, and maybe he’ll notice what a certain guy is doing and say, ‘Have you thought about using so-and-so on kickoff?’ And he’ll cite [that player’s] skill set on defense and show how it might work on special teams.”

None of this will change the perception that Steve Belichick’s opportunities arise more from his name than his nature. And that perception surely will fuel Steve Belichick as he continues to thrive, perhaps to the point where, after winning a Super Bowl or two as a head coach, Steve won’t be known as Bill’s son but Bill will be known as Steve’s dad.

27 responses to “Nepotism or not, Steve Belichick rises in the coaching ranks

  1. I get the feeling that, son or no son, if Steve wasn’t cutting it Bill would not be giving him more responsibilities within the coaching staff.

  2. It’s only nepotism if a relative got/kept an undue opportunity, but most teams would’ve given him (and 49ers’ Kyle) a shot. And Pats have one of the smaller staffs so there’s no hangers-on. Don’t forget Steve was calling that top-ranked D.

  3. I don’t know, but I don’t think being Belicheck’s kid gets you many breaks. Anyone picture Bill ruffling his kids hair and saying “Don’t worry about it kiddo, everybody screws up?”

    I think Steve likely has to work twice as hard to prove himself to the team and to his Dad.

  4. Didn’t seem to hurt Bill growing up with his dad being a football coach. It’s amazing how many of the best coaches in all sports have spent time at the academies. It’s all about working as a team, that’s the secret sauce.

  5. If you wanted to be an NFL coach and could pick a tutor, it’s an obvious choice. It’s been proven there is a ton of success from coaching trees, so this is a great tree to shake.

  6. Good post Florio. You just left out one key point. Bill Belichick walked in his coaching father’s footsteps and learned from him although Bill moved on early to work for others in the NFL.

    Bill’s dad was also named Steve and is most remembered by Patriots fans for getting a cold bucket of Gatoraide dumped on his head after a Patriots super bowl victory.

    Where nepotism is rampant in the NFL and working poorly is the front office with the children of ownership.

  7. I am a USCF chess master, and I recently started to give my daughter lessons, and her progress has been remarkable. Who is willing to give you more time for free than one of your parents?

    Is it better to learn from a Master like Belichik, or go out and try to figure it all out on your own? The answer is clear to me, and I can tell you from chess that you need to study the masters rather than try to figure it out from scratch; so to have a parent, who is wiling to teach you, like BB, it does not get any better than that.

    Nepotism, in this type of case, is a good thing. I might feel differently if the coach were Freddie Kitchens or Hue Jackson.

  8. Yes it’s nepotism. And he may be a wonderful coach. But the opportunity to show it was 100% nepotism.

  9. The Belichick’s, Harbaugh ‘s, Shanahan’s, Gruden’s, etc., are all coach’s sons, and have always been the most qualified guys when they get hired. These kids grow up around a coach and get a great education. Plain and simple, they’re the most qualified. It would be discriminatory not to hire them if they’re the best person for the job. Not only that, they benefit from seeing all the mistakes their dad’s made, and learn from that. It’s like having a PHD in coaching. We see the same thing in every business.

  10. Then there’s genetics. Many good coaches had coaching dads. Churchill’s father was a great politician (until untimely death) & came from the line of one of the world’s greatest military commanders (John Churchill). The list goes on and hence: Apples don’t fall far from the tree.

  11. If he wasn’t cutting it, he’d be gone….it’s really as simple as that
    Nepotism may have opened the door for him to get his chance but thats pretty much how the real world works…. to get your CHANCE, its usually WHO you know not what you know that opens the door….. its then up to the individual to prove they deserve to stay there or advance….

  12. If someone did benefit from their family giving them a job, I would have more respect for that person if they went their own way after a few years coaching with their father to show that they deserve it rather then be promoted every year by your own parent.
    As far as McDaniels, Bill will give it to his son, Josh should have left last year, he seen the offense wasn’t going to be that good and if the offense lays an egg this year he may not get a whiff at a interview.

  13. Nepotism has ruined the entertainment industry. It’s a big reason why TV has become unwatchable. I love going to movies. But it’s also the reason I only go to one or two movies a year. And even that is a risky proposition.

  14. Yeah well, nepotism isn’t confined to the NFL coaching ranks.
    Just the other day, I was listening to Joe Buck complain about how it’s even occurring in NFL broadcasting.

  15. While he may ultimately prove his worth, this is of course nepotism. He started out with a leg up. He’s gotten opportunities that others wouldn’t. He didn’t start off as some grad assistant at some D3 school in the middle of nowhere a& slowly work his way up the ladder like other coaches. No, he started off on the staff of probably the greatest dynasty in NHL history. Whatever job he initially took, there was definitely a better, more experienced candidate for it.

  16. Sometimes nepotism is the way the world works. I’ve been people get promotions for which they were unqualified because of who they know. It’s natural and understandable that BB would give his kid a shot, but as others have said, I can’t picture him carrying the kid unless he was doing a good job.

    I remember when Jerry Rice’s kid came out of college a few years ago and he seemed to get quite a few looks with NFL teams. The kid just wasn’t physically large enough to play receiver in the NFL, but all those looks were because of Jerry. Sometimes it’s a courtesy, but his kid wasn’t handed an NFL career because that doesn’t happen.

  17. This is not new. Look at the Shula brothers, sons of Don or Kyle Shanahan, son of Mike or Wade Phillips, son of Bum. Look at Joe Buck, son of Jack Buck who got him into broadcasting. This is like any other business where the son or daughter of the company CEO has their pick of any job in the company.

  18. With Jonathan Kraft and young Steve Belickick, the Patriots aren’t going anywhere for a long time.

  19. Keep in mind, he probably wouldn’t have gotten IN the door if he hadn’t already proven something to Bill.

  20. Pretty sure BB would throw his son to the wolves to win an extra game. If he ain’t pulling his weight, nepotism won’t save him.

  21. jm91rs says:
    April 9, 2020 at 1:24 pm
    Pretty sure BB would throw his son to the wolves to win an extra game. If he ain’t pulling his weight, nepotism won’t save him.

    1 0 Rate This

    His dad handed him a job that will earn him 300k at least. So when folks talk about hiring the most qualified person for the job, it’s sounds objective but it’s not. If you let the Sean McVays, Shanahans, Fishers, Polians, Williams of the world walk right in, then they’ll always be the most qualified. And what did those kids do to earn it besides being born into privilege? Let’s be real here. I don’t mind them getting the job let’s just acknowledge that hiring the most qualified mantra accepts and relies on this unearned preferential treatment.

  22. Let’s not act like some complete unqualified amateur got installed here. Steve Belichick has worked his way up through merit. Bill wouldn’t put the team at risk by hiring and promoting his son. By all accounts he’s done the job competently, so I fail to see the problem. He’s not going to HC tomorrow and he’s not even the DC now. He’s a positional coach and a good one.

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