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(E) Bill Belichick & Nick Saban Croatian Coaches in the NFL
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  01/13/2005 | Sports | Unrated
(E) Bill Belichick & Nick Saban Croatian Coaches in the NFL


Bill Belichick & Nick Saban two Croatians Coaches in the NFL

Host: Coach, Nick Saban, who was a protΓ©gΓ© of yours β€” you had him in Cleveland as your defensive coordinator β€” had a tremendous success obviously at LSU, and now he's going to be in the division at Miami. How about that? What kind of a head coach do you think Nick's going to be in the NFL?

BB: I think Nick's an outstanding coach, I don't think there's any question about that. I think he's one of the very best I've ever had the opportunity to work with. Nick is strong in every area of the game β€” personnel, strategy, motivation. He has a lot of experience, and he's very good at, as I say, at everything he does, and he can truly get all the bases covered.I think it just makes this division, which is already very tough, even that much tougher. You know, two Croatians in the division, Joe, that's not something you see everyday. [Laughter]

Host: That's got to be a first, right Coach?

Bill Belichick with Joe Benigno and Sid Rosenberg
WFAN, Sports Radio 66AM New York
January 5, 2005

Host: ...the best coach that there is in the business right now, and that is the head coach of the World Champion New England Patriots, Bill Belichick. Coach, how you doing? Happy New Year.

BB: Thank you Joe, Sid. How you doing?

Host: Good. Nice to talk to you, Coach. And congratulations again. Let's start right here. Everyone's talking, obviously, about the Steelers' 14-game win streak, and Peyton Manning's record-breaking season. But somehow or another, through it all, your New England Patriots went 14-2, and looks like you're well on your way to another championship β€” at the very least at least vying for one. So congratulations on a great regular season.

BB: I think it's a real accomplishment for our team. You know, they've gone through a lot of adversity, and met a lot of challenges along the way. But right now we're just where a lot of other teams are right now, we're 0-0. The team that wins will be the team that plays the best from here on out. So everybody that's in, is in. Nothing really matters except how we can each do going forward. That's where our focus is, to try to get our game to its highest level.

Host: Coach, I know you don't like to lose, and I know you haven't done much of that lately β€” what is it, 29 out of the last 31? But I thought one of the best things that happened to this team was going down to Miami and losing that game to the Dolphins. Because it seemed like you came right back and smacked my team next week, of course. And then you win the final game of the season to go 14-2. But it seems like maybe that kind of refocused your team again, Coach. Do you agree with that or not?

BB: Losing down there was tough. You got an 11-point lead with four minutes to go in the game, and end up losing to Miami. That was pretty disappointing.

Host: I guess his answer's no. [Laughter]

BB: Yeah, I don't think there were a lot of positives on that one.

Host: How about the Steeler game? Let's talk about them for a little bit. Because the chances are, at least if you're asking me, I think the AFC title game is going to be you guys and the Steelers in a couple weeks in Pittsburgh. What happened in that game? Was it just a case that maybe you'd won 21 in a row, and you were due to lose, and you kind of ran into a bus? I mean, what happened that day in Pittsburgh, Coach?

BB: You know, they played a lot better than we did. We didn't play very well defensively. We turned the ball over on offense β€” they ran one back for a touchdown, and recovered another two fumbles inside our 30. We just didn't play well. We got outcoached, outplayed, and they deserved to win, they were the better team. And there was no question about it that day. That's why they're the #1 seed. They're 15-1. You've got to give them all the credit in the world, they've had a tremendous regular season.

Host: They did, they won 14 straight games. And everybody's talking about that matchup, Coach, with you and Pittsburgh. But...

BB: I wouldn't worry too much about that one right now.

Host: Right, that's what I'm saying. There's a good chance you're going to see Peyton Manning along the way, again, and you guys have been very successful here against Peyton Manning. [Both hosts talking at once] He's watching film on Manning right now. I know he won't admit it. Probably so. He's got the projector on as we speak watching Manning, figuring how we're going to beat him again. Now you guys have been very successful against him, Coach. Including back to Week 1 in this regular season, you won that game as well. But you went on to the record-breaking season. I mean, do you think that at this point that you can be successful against Peyton doing the same things you've done in the past, or has his game really gotten to the point now where you're going to have to make some changes?

BB: Oh, I think there will have to be some adjustments made. I'm sure they will make some, and I'm sure we will make some. We didn't exactly β€” I mean, that game came down to a field goal on the last play of the game, and that was the difference. So that could have easily gone either way. I think that at this point we're prepared to play all three teams β€” the Jets, San Diego, and Indianapolis β€” depending on how things turn out this weekend. And we have a lot of respect for all three of them. We know that no matter who we play at this time of the season, they're all good. And I think if you look at β€” you know I'm not a big stat guy, but when you look at the league stats after 16 regular season games, and you see all those teams bunched up there in terms of turnovers, and rushing defense, and red area production, and all those kind of things, they're all right up there at the top. It doesn't really matter who you play at this time of year β€” everybody's good. It's just a question of which team goes out and plays well. And can you get your best performance on the field at this point in time. And that's really what it comes down to. There's plenty of talent on every team, and I'm sure we'll have some very competitive games as we go through the playoffs. But it'll just come down to the team that can execute the best at critical points in the game.

JB: Coach, you know Andy Reid, Philadelphia, had everything wrapped up a couple weeks ago. Andy Reid had his team basically mail it in that game against the Rams and certainly last week against Cincinnati they got killed 38-10. You know, no Westbrook, no McNabb. And even though you really had nothing to play for β€” you were locked in last week against the 49ers β€” you still played Brady three quarters in that game, Coach. I mean, how about that? What's your feeling on, you know, do you feel maybe if you don't play your best players in these kind of games that maybe you lose momentum going in to the playoffs?

BB: Well I think, Joe, that every coach does what he thinks is best for his football team. And whatever any other coach did, I respect that 100% because I know that that coach is doing what he thinks is best for the team. And where one team is, and where another team is, can often be two different things. In our case, our players are used to being in a routine, they're used to getting ready to play, and playing. They want to play. I don't think that they would have really accepted any other approach. To them it's football season, it's a game, and they want to play in it and they want to be prepared when they walk out on the field to play in it. That's the way we approached it. But we just do what we thought was right for us. I'm not saying that another team should have done it differently, or could have done it differently. We just try to make the decisions in the best interest of our organization. I don't want to tell anybody else how to do their job.

Host: We are talking to the coach of the defending World Champion New England Patriots, Bill Belichick. Coach, lots of adjustments you had to make this year, especially on the defensive side of the football with the injuries, Ty Law going down in that Steeler game. And a guy like Troy Brown is out there picking off passes at the cornerback position. And a couple youngsters had to step in for you this year β€” the kid Wilfork from Miami, and Randall Gay as well. Last couple of years in New England, was this the toughest job you've had to do to kind of patchwork this defense together to get you through the second half of the season?

BB: We've had to make some adjustments in the secondary, but on our defensive front we've actually been pretty consistent there with our defensive line and linebackers. We've had a lot of the same guys pretty much every week. So it seems like every year you've always got something, or one position, and sometimes a little more than that. But every team goes through that, and we just have to work our way through it. But Troy's done a nice job for us. And Randall Gay is an undrafted rookie, so he stepped in and probably given more than anybody would have expected from. Although once he started playing, he's played at a good, competitive level. Asante Samuel was our nickleback last year, and has got a lot more opportunity this year, and he's been able to take advantage of that playing time. So that's what a lot of just competitive sports is, are guys preparing and then getting an opportunity. Then a lot of times when they get that opportunity they're able to raise their play to a high competitive level. And that's been the case with some of the players for us in the secondary this year.

Host: Coach, how tough has it been with the situation with Charlie Weis? You know, he accepts the Notre Dame job a couple weeks ago, but he's still your offensive coordinator. I guess he's kind of been shuffling back and forth between Foxborough and South Bend. How difficult has that been for you, and more specifically, for Charlie?

BB: I think it's been probably more challenging for Charlie. My job hasn't changed a lot, and neither have the players' or any of their coaches. But Charlie's had to manage another situation. But I think all in all that it's gone fairly smoothly. We all know what it is, and there's no question that he's added some responsibilities. But he hasn't really been shuffling back and forth. He's basically been here, and he's done all the things that he would normally do. And he's done a good job. So I think that we can certainly work within the situation that we have to deal with. And I think we can handle that.

Host: Talking about Charlie Weis and the offense here, Coach, let's stick with the quarterback position. You know obviously this year Ben Roethlisberger is getting an incredible amount of play. In fact, they started the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award back in 1957, and this year Ben Roethlisberger was the first quarterback ever to win that award. So he has the big year, everybody's talking about him. Peyton Manning breaks the record, everybody's talking about him. And there's the guy that plays for you that's won two Super Bowl MVPs in the last three years, who at least, in my opinion, never seems to get that respect. Tom Brady's name is never mentioned at the top of the list. Now with his accomplishments the last couple of years, do you think it starts to bother Tom at some point, or is he just so business-like it doesn't really matter?

BB: Well I think Tom's focused on winning. And I think his record there speaks for itself. Tom's a winner. He prepares hard, he's a great leader, he's good with his teammates, and is a well respected team captain and teammate really from all quarters β€” offensively, defensively, guys on special teams. He's a player that I think everybody's glad is on this team, and has contributed a lot to our victories. I think that he understands that, and in the end that's the way he wants to be measured. And I think he's done a pretty good job of it.

JB: You know, Coach, one thing that I'm sure bothers you β€” I know it's all about winning championships, obviously, for you β€” but I take a look at the Pro Bowl voting every year, and I think the only guy on the defense that makes it to the Pro Bowl is Richard Seymour. And I look at guys like McGinest, I look at guys like Tedy Bruschi, and I don't know if there's a better linebacker in the NFL right now than Tedy Bruschi. Does that kind of motivate these guys even more? I mean, you've got so many top-flight players on that defense, yet Baltimore's got like five guys going, and they're not even sniffing the playoffs. And you got one guy from the defense. How about that?

BB: Well, Joe, you know, the Pro Bowl voting and all comes from a number of different areas β€” you know, the fans, the coaches, the players β€” and so that's the way it's set up. It's really hard, I know just from my standpoint, I don't get to see every single player in the AFC play. I see the ones that we play. So it's a hard thing to get totally accurate, because I don't think everybody gets a good full view of the league. You know, and then you start going on stats and reputation and so forth. So I'm sure that every team in the league has a couple players that they feel like should have gotten more recognition than they did. But, you know, unfortunately that's the way it goes.

JB: But I would think, Coach, that that's the way you like it β€” again, talking to Bill Belichick from the New England Patriots β€” because going back to when you won the Super Bowl a couple of years ago, and you were kind of introduced as a team, and not the individuals. And you guys, in the last couple of years, have kind of epitomized what the team is all about in an era where it seems like it's all about the selfish individual. That's not your football team. So is it fair to say that maybe at the end of the day you're kind of happy? You know you guys are all-pro players, but you're still a team, and not a bunch of individual superstars?

BB: I think that our players take a lot of pride in the success of the team. And I think it's important to them to support their teammates, and do their job, and not let their teammates down. So when we all walk out at the end of the day, I think number one you want to feel good about yourself and what you've accomplished. And you know you can't always react to externally what the judgments are β€” good or bad. I think our players are pretty mature about that, they have a good perspective on it. As long as they feel like they're doing all they can, then that's what counts the most for them.

Host: Coach, Nick Saban, who was a protΓ©gΓ© of yours β€” you had him in Cleveland as your defensive coordinator β€” had a tremendous success obviously at LSU, and now he's going to be in the division at Miami. How about that? What kind of a head coach do you think Nick's going to be in the NFL?

BB: I think Nick's an outstanding coach, I don't think there's any question about that. I think he's one of the very best I've ever had the opportunity to work with. Nick is strong in every area of the game β€” personnel, strategy, motivation. He has a lot of experience, and he's very good at, as I say, at everything he does, and he can truly get all the bases covered. I think it just makes this division, which is already very tough, even that much tougher.You know, two Croatiansin the division, Joe, that's not something you see everyday. [Laughter]

Host: That's got to be a first, right Coach?

BB: Probably is.

Host: Alright Coach, let you go here. But as you're about to embark here on the playoffs β€” you're not doing a road game at the very least to get to the Super Bowl, but I think your team is certainly capable of doing that. And you've got all these great players, and Corey Dillon is here this year. You know the one thing that I guess we have to talk about is β€” no disrespect to Mike Vanderjagt in Indianapolis, or Jeff Reed in Pittsburgh β€” but the one guy we've got to talk about this time of year, maybe the most clutch kicker in the history of the game, and that's Adam Vinatieri. This is a guy that's made more big kicks for you than anybody can ever remember.

BB: Well, you get in a very competitive situation like the playoffs where a lot of times teams are so close, and it comes down to a play or a kick, there's nobody we'd rather have than Adam. He's been familiar with kicking in the weather that we have in the northeast at this time of year β€” you never know what you're going to get. So, you know, he's a football player. He's not really a kicker, he's a football player. He has a lot of poise, has good talent, and has obviously come through for us in a lot of big situations. But again, his work ethic and his demeanor and what he puts into the game is really just as impressive as his performance. And we'll need everything we've got at this time of year. As I've said, every team we play we know is good, and we'll need every ounce and every resource that we have available.

Host: Coach, before I let you go, I've got to ask you about the quarterback of my Jets, Mr. Pennington. Who every time you play him now recently finds the open Tedy Bruschi on a regular basis. What's your feel on him right now, where he is? Give me a little feel on what you think about Pennington right now.

BB: I think that offensively the Jets are a good football team. They have a lot of weapons. It starts with Curtis, naturally. I think it always has. And then everything works off of that β€” the play action game, the vertical routes to McCareins and Moss, the utilization of the tightends, Becht and Baker, especially on those bootlegs and things like that. And they have a good offensive line, so the complementary plays and the complementary part of the offense flows very well together most of the time. Now sometimes when one aspect of it isn't really being productive, then that can effect another aspect. But I think overall the Jets are a good offensive football team. I think they have a lot of balance β€” one of the better balanced teams in the league β€” going even to their second tightends, and their fullbacks like Sowell, two good running backs. And a good set of receivers, Wayne as a third receiver, and even the whole receiving crew, Carter, I mean the whole works. So I think they're a good, balanced offensive football team, and I have a lot of respect for them. I have a lot of respect for what they do. And I think Chad's very accurate, and as long as, like any team, as long as you can keep those passing situations to manageable yardage β€” I mean there's not any quarterback that's really very good on 3rd-and-15 β€” but you know when it's 3rd-and-four, five, six, and you have a couple different guys that you can throw to, and you got the threat of the running game and all that, then those situations are advantageous for any quarterback in any offense.

JB: Coach, you know you chopped him up pretty good two weeks ago. I mean he's got problems with the shoulder. Do you think he's playing hurt right now, in your mind, Pennington?

BB: You know, it's hard to say, Joe. I don't know. I think that at this point in the season, every player who's playing a lot is less than 100%. I mean 16 regular season games against this competition, everybody's got bumps and bruises, everybody's sore, everybody would love to feel a lot fresher than they feel right now. But you know what, it's football time of year. It's crunch time, it's playoff time, so everybody just puts that behind them, they reach down, they suck it up. And you know, you're going to see the teams that play their best football now are teams that are going to be mentally tough, they're going to be physically tough, and they're going to be resilient. And I wouldn't worry too much about what happened last week or what happened two weeks ago. You know, it's about right now what every team can muster up and generate going forward. And they're all good, so whichever one of these 12 teams comes out on top, that team will deserve it because they will have mustered up the most energy and the best performance in the coming weeks. And that's what championship football's all about.

Host: Coach, you breaking out a new sweatshirt for the playoffs?

BB: No, probably not.

Host: Did you get rid of that red one that you had on down in Miami when you lost? Did you burn that one? You must have.

BB: Yeah, we'll move on from that one.

SR: Will there be a 60 Minutes II with Lesley Stahl if you win the Super Bowl again this year? That was fascinating that piece. I love that piece you did last year.

BB: No, that's not my call. You know, that's not really my thing, Sid.

SR: I know, but you were great. I've got to tell you, Coach, I thought that was fascinating how you go about your work everyday. Even watching Tedy Bruschi a couple of weeks ago during the Monday night game β€” before the game, Coach, against the Dolphins β€” how he breaks down video every week. I mean, I don't think the average fan really realizes, Coach, how many hours you put in every single day. How many hours your players put in every day. We all know about practice, but I don't think the average person realizes, Coach, you know, 16, 17, 18-hour days that you guys put in. Do you ever sleep, Coach?

BB: It's a very competitive league, and you're going up against the best every week. And every other team that you play, their coaching staff, their players, they're working just as hard as you are. And you just can't leave a stone unturned. You want to make sure that you've got your execution up to its highest level, because that's where it needs to be. It's such a competitive league, especially now. We go to this time of year where one play can mean everything. It determines the whole course of your season. So it's important, and you just want to put everything you have into it and get it right.

Hosts: Coach, a great job as always. Appreciate you coming on. Thank you very much, Coach. Good luck in the playoffs.

BB: It's a pleasure. And Joe, it's great to talk to you when the sun's up. I don't think we've ever done this before.

Host: How about that? Well, you know, this is actually like late in the day for you. Do you ever sleep, Coach? I mean you never do, right?

BB: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Host: What, an hour a day? An hour a week? What?

BB: Oh, no. When I run low at the end of the day, that's it for me. I just sometimes I get an early start. Not as early as you start it though. Great to catch up with you, too.

Host: You too, Coach. Good luck. We'll talk to you down the road, alright?

BB: OK. Thank you.

Hosts: Alright, there he is, Coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots. And he gave us quite a bit of time there, Joe. He did. Big fan of Joe Benigno, Bill Belichick. I tell you what, there's no question about it β€” THE best in the business right now. Yeah, it's not close. I think Parcells really took a beating with Dallas this year. Shanahan β€” Denver's falling off. Andy Reid β€” no, he's never even won a Super Bowl. Only guys who have won Super Bowls. You're right, you can't get that level till you win a Super Bowl. Mike Holmgren β€” you know, forget about it. This guy [BB] is the best right now. He's the best without a doubt. You and I've been saying this for a couple of weeks now, don't be surprised β€” three times in four years. Absolutely. We'll see, Belichick.

Transcribed by the webmaster.

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