In this very space I have raved about Bill Belichick on the NFL 100’s All-Time Team show. (Did you see the corners and safeties episode with Ed Reed? I’m pretty sure Coach Belichick asked him to come live on Nantucket with him and Linda.) I thought that was the pinnacle of Belichick content and then Belichick & Saban: The Art of Coaching premiered on HBO (in partnership with NFL Films) Tuesday night. Tons of amazing footage and access on this 1 hour and 14 minute show, here are my highlights.
Liev Schreiber narrates and plots out that this is an annual meeting between these two coaching colossus’ that takes place around Alabama’s Pro Day. Essentially, this is what happens every year after we see Belichick wearing some fresh Bama paraphernalia and teaching draft line prospects about hand placement. What’s the first thing that happens as we see the two coaches in Saban’s office? Belichick clears the room, he wants to chat with coach Saban first. Now you’d figure that they’re going to formulate a game place for how this is going to go. No, because a camera is “accidentally left on” we are able to see and hear what the coaches discuss alone. They immediately start talking ball. Coach Saban asks about the Patriots defense, Belichick answers that they were terrible for the first two thirds of the season but got it together. This is the most candid we have ever heard any football coach or public personality let alone Bill Belichick and then because we would probably get too many state’s secrets, Liev comes back and talks over the rest of the dialogue. I get it, couldn’t broadcast too much behind the scenes, but the raw footage of that conversation would have to be considered priceless. Like a bootleg copy of Stevie Ray Vaughn jamming with Jimi Hendrix, it doesn’t feel like it should even exist. There isn’t a coach in the SEC or the AFC that wouldn’t pay a year’s salary to hear that discussion.
During Pro Day, Belichick straight up asks Saban, “Who is the best player here?” Saban thinks about it for a moment and whispers “Jonah Williams or any of the defensive lineman.” This is a level of candid that most NFL coaches probably can’t get to, let alone with the foreman of the top prospect factory in the country. Saban later says that Belichick always calls Saban about Alabama prospects that he drafts, which seems logical enough, but Saban details that many coaches don’t. They’ll just pick an Alabama guy without every asking questions about the player and he knows immediately that it won’t work there. I wonder what the conversation was like when Belichick called about Dont’a Hightower?
There is a lot of good stuff here, but the greatest “what if” has to be, “What if Nick Saban had never left the Miami Dolphins in 2007?” During Saban’s two years in South Beach, the Patriots went 2-2 vs the Dolphins including a 21-0 loss. Hard to imagine now having those two titans in the same division, but in 2005 when Saban took the Miami job, he had only won just the one national championship with LSU. But would he have won Super Bowls during the last 12 years instead? (I had never put this together but, Nick Saban was the coach of the Dolphins when Doug Flutie drop kicked the extra point in 2006.) The reverence that Belichick has for Saban is evident the entire film, Saban is a bit tougher to read (if that is possible) but the relationship is fascinating, and even more so if Saban had stayed in the pros. You wonder after all the talk of Belichick’s seemingly poor relationships with assistant coaches over the years what this one would look like if Saban hadn’t gone to Alabama.
At this point, you feel like you’ve seen all of the NFL Films clips from the Patriots dynasty. All the celebrations, big plays and reactions. You know the beats: Brady putting his hands on his head, Harrison with him arm in a sling while confetti rains down, Seymour with his son on his shoulders and Bill & Steve Belichick getting the Gatorade bath after Super Bowl 39. But this show has stuff not only have I never seen, it has stuff that I never knew would EVER exist. For instance, this show not only features interviews with Coach Saban’s wife, Miss Terry, but also his children. Now you think, Coach Belichick wouldn’t allow that. This film not only interview his sons Stephen and Brian (both who are Patritos coaches), but also his daughter Amanda, girlfriend Linda Holliday and Ernie Adams! Then the capper, because this is HBO AND NFL Films, they know how to wrap up a show. They air footage of BOTH coaches giving speeches at their daughter’s weddings. Talk about a peek behind the curtain, you see Bill Belichick dancing with his daughter at her wedding. For a person who’s previously most revealing televised moment was making a PB&J on raisin bread back in Cleveland, this is staggering to say the least.
I can’t recommend this show enough, it’s one of the best sports documentaries of the decade for certain and for a Patriots fan this is something that is hard to believe even exists.