Inside the brilliant football mind of Belichick

Bill Belichick is coaching in his eighth Super Bowl, seventh as New England's head coach.

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Bill Belichick is coaching in his eighth Super Bowl, seventh as New England's head coach.

The son of a long time NFL scout, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, as a youngster, learned a lot of football inside of his own house.

He soaked up as much football information on scouting that he could from his father Thomas Dimitroff Sr., a professional player, coach and scout in the Canadian Football League and the NFL.

But it was his time with Bill Belichick, first in Cleveland and later in New England, that helped to shape his views on the current era. Dimitroff knows the inner workings of Belichick’s brilliant mind and how the coach thinks. He is widely considered the greatest coach of the modern era, with all due respect to the great Bill Walsh, Joe Gibbs and Chuck Noll.

Dimitroff and Belichick, who’s taking his seventh team to the league’s title game, will be on opposite sidelines for the Super Bowl on Sunday in Houston.

For Dimitroff, the fact that the Falcons are set to face Belichick and New England Patriots is a bit surreal.

“This is kind of a dream game that way, to be able to go against the Patriots and against one of my mentors in this league,” Dimitroff said. “I have a great respect for them.”

Dimitroff has been clear, that while their personalities are different, he brought a lot of what the learned from Belichick to the Falcons.

Belichick taught him and Falcons assistant general manager Scott Pioli, who’s also part of the Cleveland-New England connection, valuable professional football lessons.

Belichick preaches about role understanding, non-entitlement and of course, the mantra of everyone doing their job — well — within the scope of their responsibilities.

Belichick, as we have seen over the years, has very little room for players with massive egos. Those must be checked at the door.

It’s no surprise that humble superstars like quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones set this tone for the Falcons.

“A lot of things were brought to the table that I learned in New England,” Dimitroff said. “It’s just been fun watching the development here over the years and there’s definitely a Northeastern stamp on it in certain ways and yet we’ve really evolved into something that is very much the Falcons and not obviously the Patriots.”

Dimitroff has evolved into his position. For instance, he didn’t take Belichick’s advance with regard to moving up 21 spots to trade for Jones in 2011. His mentor advised against the move.

“We have random communications,” Dimitroff said. “Every once in a while we’ll send a text or we may get on the phone and talk about an issue at hand. It could be a league issue or a league matter that we talk about. Every once in awhile I’ll reach out, but not that often.

“We see each other at the combine and league meetings and such.”

Another lesson that Dimitroff has learned from Belichick was the valuation of players, especially in free agency. The decision to give a certain player $50 million dollars has to be par with that players’ ability to contribute to the team.

The handling of the former New England safety Lawyer Milloy opened Dimitroff’s eyes to the hard-cold business side of the NFL.

In 2002, after Milloy, who would later play for the Falcons from 2006-08, had played seven seasons and was a four-time Pro Bowler and one-time All-Pro, the Patriots elected to move on. Milloy signed with Buffalo.

“He was very clear with the valuations,” Dimitroff said. “We do the same thing here.”

Dimitroff worked for Belichick as a national scout in 2002 and as director of college scouting from 2003-07.

Since joining the Falcons in 2008, Dimitroff has helped to transform the franchise. The roster that Dimitroff has put together with Pioli and coach Dan Quinn’s input has impressed Belichick.

“Tom, I go back a long way with Tom when his dad was a scout for me with the Browns and Tom was working in the organization when he was out of high school and into college and in that kind of era,” Belichick said last week on a conference call. “He’s a football guy, so it’s in the family. Works hard. He knows the game. I think he did a real good job for us with the skill players — defensive backs, receivers, linebackers, running backs, things like that.”

Belichick, not one to blow too much smoke, continued to rave about the Falcons.

“Explosive offensively and they have a lot of athletic players on defense,” he said. “And they play a lot of guys, too.”

Belichick is proud of his former pupil.

“You see he’s done a very good job with the Falcon football team,” Belichick said. “They’re an impressive team to watch.”

Quinn has been reminded of Dimitroff and Pioli’s football roots and ties to Belichick.

“I do know that just from looking from afar there is a strategy behind lots of lessons, experiences,” Quinn said. “So for those guys to have, this is another way you could look at it. This is something maybe I’ve done in the past. Those are conversations, for sure, that we’ve had.”

Belichick taught Dimitroff another lesson that helped when he had to cede some power when Quinn was hired. Belichick taught him that is vital to have a strong partnership with the coach.

“If it’s acrimonious, you have no chance,” Dimitroff said. “You can be two great football men, but if you’re not operating together on the same wave length and you don’t trust and respect each other, there is no chance for success.”

Winningest Super Bowl coaches


4 — Chuck Noll, Pittsburgh, 1975, 1976, 1979, 1980

4 — Bill Belichick, New England, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2015

3 — Bill Walsh, San Francisco, 1982, 1985, 1989

3 — Joe Gibbs, Washington, 1983, 1988, 1992

2 — Vince Lombardi, Green Bay, 1967, 1968

2 — Don Shula, Miami, 1973, 1974

2 — Tom Landry, Dallas, 1972, 1978

2 — Tom Flores, Oakland-L.A. Raiders, 1981, 1984

2 — Bill Parcells, N.Y. Giants, 1987, 1991

2 — Jimmy Johnson, Dallas, 1993, 1994

2 — George Seifert, San Francisco, 1990, 1995

2 — Mike Shanahan, Denver, 1998, 1999

2 — Tom Coughlin, N.Y. Giants, 2007, 2011