By: Bob George/
July 27, 2007

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Last in a series of positional analysis of the 2006 New England Patriots. Today: coaching.

Who is the least expendable Patriot, Tom Brady or Bill Belichick?

For many years, a fun way to get family fur to fly is to ask a guy in front of everyone this question: "If you and your wife and mother were in a boat, and the boat was sinking, and you could only save one, who would you save, your wife or your mother?" For most guys, answering that question should be just as hard as the saving Brady or Belichick one.

If you really pressed someone on either issue, it can get complicated. Many mothers might tell their sons that "I'll kill you if you save me instead of your wife!", though deep down inside it's not something they'd like to hear from their son. The Brady versus Belichick one requires a great deal of thought, weighing the league's most iconic figures at their position against one another to try and determine who could still win without the other.

And it's tough. It's not unlike Bill Parcells with or without Belichick, though Belichick is creaming the Big Tuna now that some years have passed since their messy parting. But what do you think would happen to the Patriots if either man did not come back? Be it Brady taking a Tiki Barber-esque early retirement (to raise his new baby, perhaps?) or Belichick finding a better coaching gig than the one he's got right now, how would that play out?

Okay, you all know that Brady isn't going anywhere any time soon, except to perhaps the south of France with Gisele or a maternity hospital with Bridget. But what of Belichick, where rumours keep coming up now and then that he would like to slip out of town and take over the Giants, the team with which he came to national prominence and to show everyone once and for all that he was Big Bill and Duane Charles was Little Bill all along.

All player salaries are of public record. You either go to the players association site or ask Miguel Benzan (I prefer the latter option) who's making what. With coaches, there is no such way of finding out any such 411. Being as expertly clandestine as they are, the Patriots divulge nothing at all about Belichick's contract, which includes how much he makes per year, and most important, when his current deal expires.

Lots of fans and experts are sick of the discussion. They are convinced that Belichick will coach the Patriots as long as he wants to. Be that the case, it ensures the long-term success of the franchise. Belichick is the undisputed best coach in the game right now, and the best coach of the last 20 years. When you compare him with other coaches, you talk about Bill Walsh, Chuck Noll, Joe Gibbs, and Vince Lombardi. Given the second chance to build his own system following five tumultuous seasons in Cleveland, Belichick has shown the world that he can flat out coach, and coach at astounding levels.

But there are still plenty of valid reasons why someday, Belichick may still wind up as the HC of the NYG. It may not be 2008, though the fact that Tom Coughlin remains as Giant head coach is rather amazing. Whatever you may believe to be real about Belichick remaining in Foxborough for the foreseeable future, here are some points that cannot be ignored and left in the back of your mind for future reference.

With three rings in his trophy case, Belichick may think that he has accomplished all he can here and simply needs a new gig. Lots of professionals hunger for new challenges. Staying in one place for your whole career is nice, but gaining a reputation for building several great football programs is seductive for many coaches. And don't forget that we still don't yet have a head football coach who has won Super Bowls with more than one team.

For most people, if they had a choice between being famous in Boston and being famous in New York, the vast majority would unfortunately choose the latter. Of course, you have Curt Schilling and his making 55,000 Yankee fans shut up and you still can't discount the possibility of Alex Rodriguez in a Red Sox uniform next year. But Belichick would be the toast of the town in Gotham, and would enjoy unheard of celeb status. If you think Belichick would shy away from such limelight, why then would he allow Michael Holley and the late David Halberstam to write incisive books about him and his football program? And don't forget who the other football coach in New York is. Relegating Eric Mangini to complete irrelevant status might be very appealing to Belichick.

This next issue really isn't about New York, but about leaving in general. This may be a complete reach, especially given Brady's situation with impending fatherhood out of wedlock. But it is possible that Bob and Myra Kraft have been talking to Belichick about the situation regarding his alleged affair with Sharon Shenocca, a former receptionist with the Giants. Reports from Boston Herald gossip columnists state that Belichick has allegedly bought Shenocca a multi-million dollar home in Brooklyn, a summer beach rental in New Jersey, Giant season tickets, and other household amenities. All this came up in divorce court (her husband Vincent filed for divorce on the grounds of extreme mental cruelty), and some of these facts Shenocca tried to hide from the court. This is mentioned only for the sole reason that it could be something that Myra might be nagging Belichick about, which is not an unreasonable assumption given the Kraft family's history of expectations of clean living from their employees. Belichick and his wife Debby are currently separated.

Then there's Scott Pioli. Pioli has stated time and time again that he intends to stay put and does not want to leave New England. But Pioli remains the most sought-after general manager in the business. If the Giants were able to, say, change Pioli's mind some day and give him the key to the cookie jar in Gotham, could Pioli take Belichick with him? Would Belichick's adulation for Pioli overcome his relinquishing final say in personnel matters were he to follow Pioli to New York? Pioli could very well become as enamored with New York as Belichick could, and his celebrity potential cannot be discounted either.

And finally, there's the Big Versus Little Bill postulation stated at the beginning of this article. What would everyone think if Belichick started cranking out Super Bowl wins as Giant head coach? If Belichick really hates Parcells, don't discount this issue.

For right now, Belichick is staying put. The only thing Belichick really has to prove is that he can win the big one without Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel. While Weis flourishes at Notre Dame and Crennel struggles at Cleveland, Belichick has turned the coordinator reins over to Josh McDaniels and Dean Pees. McDaniels is highly regarded by many as one of the young up and coming offensive coordinators in the business, and Pees has his college head coaching experience to draw on. These guys came within a lousy first down of making it to Super Bowl XLI, so Belichick looks like he has retooled his top lieutenant posts pretty well.

This writer's answer to the question at the top of the article? Belichick gets the nod. But both he and Brady can and should be, retire and die Patriots.

This concludes the 2006 positional analysis series.