Bill Belichick

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Failure: The Pathway to Success
How One Football Coach Handled Failure

Bill the Failure

The Cleveland Browns' head coach was one unpopular guy. In five years he'd produced only one winning season. As if losing games wasn't bad enough, he fired Cleveland's favorite quarterback.

The press crucified him. At games, fans would chant, "Bill must go! Bill must go!" Bumper stickers called him an idiot. It got so bad that his children couldn't ride the bus to school because of other students' cruel comments.  He received so many death threats that the police had to stake out near his home. He endured for four long years. But in the end, he probably did well to escape Cleveland with his life.

From One Failure to Another

After such a horror story in Cleveland, you might wonder why anyone would risk repeating it. But Bill loved football. At age nine he was already scouting teams with his dad and studying film of teams. His dad didn't push him into coaching. It was Bill's passion. In school and at home he incessantly talked football, studied football and dreamed up plays. And getting older didn't put out his fire for the game. 

So he refused to give up. When things got tough, he just worked harder.

But it takes more than football knowledge to be a head coach. Maybe Bill didn't have what it takes to motivate players, deal with the public, and chat with the press.

So everyone, including Bill, must have worried that his next head coaching job might be a repeat of the last. But he took the chance by accepting the invitation to lead the New England Patriots. The first year looked like another failure - a dismal 5 wins and 11 losses, the same record as his last season in Cleveland.

On Top of the World

But he still refused to give up. 

Rather than believe the crowds and the press in Cleveland, rather than listen to the detractors who doubted him in New England, he kept on working. He learned from his failures. And behind the scenes, he was building a coaching staff and a team for the future. Not a team built around a couple of flashy superstars, but a team of dedicated players who worked as a team, thought as a team and got credit as a team.

And it worked.

Today, Bill Belichick is universally acknowledged as a brilliant strategist - one of the top coaches to ever coach pro football. His Patriots are one of only two teams to have ever won three Super Bowls in four years.   As I write, they have won every game of their regular season - a feat only equaled by one other team in pro football history. Now they've won the playoffs and are on the way to another Super Bowl.  Two of his Super Bowl defensive game plans are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His Patriots dominate the world of professional football, having won five straight division titles (six overall). 

But it could have never happen had he thrown in the towel after five humiliating years in Cleveland and a horrid first year in New England. 


Have you ever failed? Do certain subjects or skills or sports elude your grasp? Don't give up!

When people put you down, remember how the newspapers, radio and TV commentators put down Belichick. When they laugh at you, remember the bumper stickers that read, "Belichick is an idiot!" When you go through weeks and months of failure, remember Belichick's years of failure. 

And by the way, if your car still has one of those old "Belichick is an Idiot" bumper stickers, you'd better go out right now, peal it off and throw it away. Today it looks kind of...well...dumb.

I suppose you could say that the road to success is often paved with failures.


1. In what ways did Bill Belichick fail?
2. In what ways did people reject him?
3. How would you have felt if you were rejected in the same way?
4. What do you think kept him going?
5. How have you faced rejection?
6. How do you know when to quit and when to keep going?
7. How can we overcome failure?

(Here's another story we wrote on Bill Belichick. We also put together a chart contrasting his criticisms prior to year 2000 with his glowing reviews after year 2000.)

End Notes

(Copyright December, 2007 by Steve Miller and Legacy Educational Resources ( ). Facts from The Education of a Coach, by David Halberstam (New York: Hyperion, 2005) and Wikipedia on Bill Belichick.)

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