Good vs. Evil: Will the Real Genius Please Stand

By Kenneth N. Robinson
Updated: November 3, 2007

BUFFALO — As the Week 9 classic matchup between the unbeaten 7-0 Indianapolis Colts and 8-0 New England Patriots draws near, questions are abounding. Which team is better? Which team has the better quarterback? Which team will most likely represent the AFC in this year’s Super Bowl? Which team has the better head coach? While all of this media hyperbole is being sorted, the latter question seems the most compelling.

Lost in the fray of media frivolousness is the fact that the NFL’s media anointed premier genius, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was busted for cheating. Belichick broke NFL rules when he surreptitiously and illegally video taped New York Jets defensive coaches in an attempt to steal their signals in 2007 season opener. NFL security confiscated the tapes and the League later fined the head coach $500,000 and the team $250,000 and plans to take away draft picks in the future. Did the punishment fit the crime?

Absolutely not, a host of black football players in the NFL have been suspended for less damage to the integrity of the game than what Belichick has done. ESPN’s Tom Jackson asked what would the response have been had Tony Dungy cheated.

A good question we will undoubtedly never have to answer. Still a $500,000 fine means nothing to Belichick who reportedly spent 10 times that amount remodeling his girlfriend’s house, all of which came out during testimony from her divorce from her husband. Yet, the genius moniker that Belichick was dubbed by the media warrants more attention because now more than ever it seems unwarranted.

Where did the notion of genius come from in the NFL and why are white males at head coach the only ones so designated. The literature reveals that the idea of whites being imbued with genius started in the upper social circles of London and spread to American universities which propagated the ideas rather falsely I might add.

Paul Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated wrote a book entitled Thinking Man’s Guide to Professional Football. In it he gives an account of covering the Green Bay Packers locker room after a game where he asked their head coach Vince Lombardi a question. As Lombardi was walking away, Zimmerman asked a Packer player the same question.

Prompting an irate Lombardi to blast the reporter for asking the player a question he felt had already been answered. Zimmerman was so impressed by Lombardi’s awareness (I thought it was enough to surmise the coach simply overheard him) that he decided to consult with a psychologist who explained, “genius” is being in total control of your environment.

Perhaps such thinking prompted Belichick to act out by cheating given the weighty responsibility of being the media dubbed genius. He sought total control of the coaching environment both on his sidelines and that of his opponents. Ironically, Belichick has been mentioned with Lombardi-who is the only head coach with a better playoff record than he.

But the “genius” cliché no longer fits Belichick unless you refer to him more befittingly as the evil genius for cheating in violation of the NFL rules. Still maybe he had to cheat for his part Belichick may very well be overrated. He was a terrible head coach in Cleveland with just one playoff season in five seasons at 36-44 where he left the team in shambles and the organization fired him before they moved to Baltimore.

On the other hand, Dungy took a perennial loser in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and won more games (54) in six years than what they had achieved in their previous 20 years where he won a Division title and averaged 9 wins per season. Oh yeah, Dungy also left the team with a blue print to win a NFL Super Bowl-with his vaunted “Tampa-two” defense that he duplicated with the Colts’ Super Bowl win in the 2006 season.

Still the media continues to edify Belichick above Dungy despite that the former has been exposed as a cheater and the latter just keeps getting consistently better on the field and off. When Dungy and his understudy Lovie Smith appeared in the Super Bowl last year — the media described the coaches as exhibiting “class” — but not that the coaches spent time in the classroom honing their craft or that Dungy exhibited genius by competing against a former assistant in the Super Bowl-with both using a complex defensive scheme he designed.

Conversely, the genius concept is reserved for white coaches like Bill Belichick and his vastly overrated understudy Eric Mangini head coach of the now 1-7 New York Jets who ratted on his former boss about video-gate. For years the media loved it when Belichick’s team beat Dungy’s Colts’ teams three straight times en route to back-to-back Super Bowl victories including a regular season win in Indianapolis in 2003 that helped the Patriots secure home field where they later trumped the Colts in the AFC Championship and again in 2004 in the Divisional playoffs.

What is more remarkable about those games is the hidden racism, often times mistakenly called unconscious bias, expressed by the media. For example, the media constantly peppered Colts star quarterback Peyton Manning with questions about going up against Belichick.

But the same media never asked Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady about going up against Tony Dungy, himself a renowned defensive strategist. Such persistent media maligning of Manning seemed to have a profound effect on the quarterback’s confidence.

Before the Division playoff game in 2004, Manning remarked, “If we don’t win this game, I just hope they (the media) don’t say he (Belichick) confused me.” What kind of mentality is that for a franchise quarterback to have before a big playoff game?

Not surprisingly Manning played poorly and the team lost. This media meddling with Manning’s head was persistent enough that he was struggling in last year’s AFC Championship against Belichick’s Patriots, apparently under the excess weight of having to beat — not just the Patiots — but Belichick as well.

The team fell behind by nearly three touchdowns after his third quarter interception was returned for a touchdown and he was uncharacteristically booed at home. Rather than being bewildered by the spectacle of Belichick and the media, the quarterback looked to his head coach Tony Dungy, whom he called a “cool customer” and rebounded. The amazing come from behind win that propelled the Colts to the Super Bowl was not led by Manning but by coach Dungy who the quarterback followed-all of which was underreported by the media.

Still as we look at the NFL today, the media would still have us believe Belichick is the better head coach despite that Tony Dungy has more wins than any current NFL head coach in the last six years. The media refused to give credence to it because he had yet to win a Super Bowl before 2006. (Although they constantly reminded us that Marty Schottenheimer — when he was a head coach — had the most wins of all active head coaches.)

Still Dungy did win the Super Bowl and the media still ignores his success. The Colts became the first team in NFL history to start 3 straight seasons at 7-0. His “Cover 2″ sometimes called “Tampa Two” has become one of the duplicated defensive schemes in the NFL that is employed almost as widespread as Bill Walsh’s West Coast offense. They called Walsh a genius, but not Dungy.

Moreover, Dungy has more former assistant coaches working as head coaches in the NFL than any other coach. Yet, Belichick is still ballyhooed as the better head coach. The fact that Belichick has won three Super Bowls while Dungy has one to date, does not make the former better, especially since we know he has cheated since becoming head coach of the Patriots.

Furthermore, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell demanded the Patriots turnover all tapes from their library going back to 2000 when Belichick was hired. He concluded that there was more evidence of cheating, but oddly enough, Goodell ordered the tapes destroyed and ordered the Patriots to send him a certified letter that they too had destroyed all of the tapes.

So the NFL and its media horde has apparently forgiven or forgotten what Belichick has done already. The media reasons that as good as the Patriots have been Belichick did not have to cheat. Well President Richard Nixon did not have to go along with the Watergate scandal but he did. Moreover, history has recorded that a third rate burglary ended what was a first rate Presidency, but Belichick’s coaching legacy remains largely in tact in the eyes of the media. Why has not the media vilified and asked for Belichick’s resignation?

Because NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell protected Belichick and the Patriots dynasty when he ordered the tapes destroyed, which is what Nixon failed to do. Years after Watergate, Nixon was asked about his biggest regret in the scandal. He replied that he did not destroy the tapes (audio recordings revealed the he knew of the burglary and conspired to cover it up.) Commissioner Goodell, whose father was a Republican Congressman, apparently understood as much, so he destroyed the tapes before the tapes could destroy Belichick and the League’s credibility.

Ironically, Rush Limbaugh in his ill-fated attempt to be a reliable expert on the NFL during his brief but stinging stint on ESPN erroneously suggested that the media and NFL were desirous to see black coaches succeed out of social concern (the media focused on Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb — who took the weight for black quarterbacks — but Limbaugh also included black head coaches in his comments.)

Still Dungy does not need reaffirmation from the white male dominated media. The coach has experienced everything the NFL has to offer including racism. Dungy has achieved rare success in the League becoming one of a few coaches to win an NFL championship as both a player and head coach.

His uncharted success in Tampa Bay in his first six years is still remarkable and what he has achieved in Indianapolis in the last five years is unmatched in wins and losses and his former assistant coaches are being hired more often as head coaches. He will certainly be in the Hall of Fame.

In Dungy’s career in the NFL he has been discriminated against as a player — he was an outstanding quarterback out of college, but the NFL did not play blacks at the position. He was overlooked for head coaching jobs because of his race. He was unceremoniously fired by the Bucs, who then took his defensive scheme and won a Super Bowl with it the following year.

He has been met with personal tragedy involving his family and has taken controversial stands against the NFL and is still standing. Dungy has not detracted from the League’s integrity instead he has helped to define it. Throughout Dungy’s NFL career as a player and coach he has withstood pitfalls reminiscent of Elton John’s hit song I’m Still Standing.

Yet, as this week’s big game draws near, Dungy is still being overshadowed by a coach who shamed the profession and the game. Therefore, the biggest question is not so much which team, quarterback, or even head coach is better. But if genius is being in total control of your environment as a psychologist once suggested about an NFL head coach, then will the real genius please stand.