FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — When New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was celebrating on the championship stage after Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002, he held his youngest son, Brian, in his arms. Brian was wearing a blue Patriots jersey, a good 15 years away from graduating college.
Older brother Steve Belichick was there, too. Like his dad often does, Steve was wearing a blue hoodie. It would be another 10 years before he would graduate college.
More than 18 years later, both sons work alongside their dad inside Gillette Stadium, and Bill recently opened up about having them on the Patriots’ staff.
“Both Stephen and Brian have grown up a lot, and they’ve come a long way, especially when I’ve had a chance to see them their whole lives,” said Bill, 68, who is in his 21st season as Patriots coach. “They’ve seen a lot of football. They’ve seen things done from a different perspective than other people. They’ve just lived their whole life with this program.”
Brian, 28, is in his first year as safeties coach after spending 2016 as a scouting assistant and three years as a coaching assistant (2017-19). Steve, 33, is in his first year as outside linebackers coach, continuing to work his way up from coaching assistant (2012-15) and safeties coach (2016-19).
The Belichicks have a similar situation to the Carroll family’s with the Seattle Seahawks. Pete Carroll has sons Brennan and Nate on his staff as run-game coordinator and wide receivers coach, respectively.
Being the sons of two of the oldest and most successful head coaches might help open initial doors, but players say Belichick’s sons have earned respect through hard work and passion for the Patriots’ program.
Veteran Patriots cornerback Jason McCourty, who — like Steve — attended Rutgers University, noted how the Patriots are truly in Steve’s DNA.
“[Steve has] always been a guy that’s extremely knowledgeable, and he’s been around this organization for so long,” McCourty said. “I know it was cool when I first got here [in 2018] to sit and talk to him about the history of the organization. As he talked about past players and the excitement comes into his eyes. You just see how much he loves and cares about the team and this sport.
“That just carries over into his coaching, the way he’s able to relate to guys, his ability to command a room and stand up there and tell guys what they have. And when questions are fired, [he’s] able to get guys in the right position. That’s carried over for him, no matter where he’s coaching. That’s continued to help us grow as a defense.”
While the Patriots don’t have an official defensive coordinator, Steve has worn a headset and taken a leadership role on the sideline in training camp practices.
“Steve is a very intelligent guy. He knew the whole defense last year, even though he was doing the back end [with safeties],” Patriots outside linebacker John Simon said. “Steve’s been awesome, knows a lot about the game, really giving the ins and outs of what he knows and trying to build our game, as well.”
Fifth-year defensive back Jonathan Jones has noticed how Brian’s voice is becoming heard more in his new role leading the safeties.
“Before, it was more behind the scenes as an assistant. Now, he has the opportunity to take charge and take the lead of that group and put his fingerprint on it,” Jones said. “He’s grown up around ball. His whole life has been football, so you get a lot of knowledge from him, what he’s learned. … He definitely brings that facet to the game — just another set of eyes on the game.”
Asked what it’s been like to grow up around the Patriots, including being on the sideline during games as a youngster, Brian called it “very valuable.”
“It’s been great to spend time around the great players and coaches we’ve had here for 20 years,” Brian said. “Getting to experience being on the sideline of an NFL game is a lot different than the perspective of seeing it on TV. Things happen really fast down there. It helped me a lot just to learn about what’s really going on out there, not just standing behind a glass screen and seeing it …
“Whatever anyone needed help with, I was basically an extra set of hands — it was handing out iPads once those started, or charting the plays with the quarterbacks, tracking stuff on defense. In the beginning, when it was just starting in 2006, 2007 — obviously, didn’t know a lot about the intricacies of the defense and stuff. … I was lucky to get that experience.”
Steve has offered advice and support to Brian whenever possible.
“We’ve talked a lot about it, and obviously we’re extremely close, being brothers. As more of a veteran coach than he is, I’m doing the best I can to lead him through that safety room,” Steve said, adding that the presence of veteran Devin McCourty is almost like having another coach in the room.
“I’ve spent a lot of time with Brian in the offseason, and so far in training camp to try to bring him up to speed. There’s a lot of little things in our defense that are big things.”
As for living up to the family name, Brian said: “I don’t really think about it. I’ve been blessed with an amazing opportunity in my life to be around this organization. I just try to learn from them and apply things to my life and try not to think into the future. Expectations — I try not to think about that. Just better myself every day, every year, and learn more things and put one foot in front of the other.”
In that sense, it sounds like the football doesn’t fall far from the head coach.
“All the things that we do, for all the different reasons and how it all ties together and so forth, they have a very good understanding of all the things that are involved and how it all is interwoven,” Bill said. “And that’s valuable to me, because they have a perspective of that.
“We have a lot of good coaches on our staff; those guys are very, very good coaches and very proficient, and they do a great job. But it’s a little different to see it from the perspective that Brian has seen it from, or Steve. They all help, they’re all valuable and I’m glad we have them.”