All hail coach Belichick

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:14 AM ET

Led by the don himself, the Bill Belichick mafia is slowly and surely taking over American football.

The master's team, the two-time defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, kicked things off Thursday with a 30-20 win over the Oakland Raiders.

Two days later, Belichick's former top offensive assistant, Charlie Weis, showed the system apparently works well in college football as well.

The rookie head coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish humiliated heavily favoured Michigan on the road, leading the golden domers to a convincing 17-10 win at the Big House.

Then on Sunday, another advocate of the book of Bill authored one of the biggest upsets of the NFL weekend when Nick Saban's Miami Dolphins slapped the Denver Broncos with a 34-10 home win.

Yes, coaches coach and players play, but don't discount the influence of the former on yet another wild Week 1 in the NFL.

Forget that the perennial losers of the sideline fraternity once again proved themselves unprepared -- raise your hands Mike Martz in St. Louis, Mike Tice in Minnesota and Herman Edwards with the New York Jets.

Instead, competent, attention-to-detail coaching once again prevailed on Sunday -- raise your hands Tampa Bay Bucs boss Jon Gruden, Kansas City Chiefs' Dick Vermeil and even you, Buffalo Bills' Mike Mularkey.

First to Saban, whose Dolphins dead-heated with the San Francisco 49ers win over the St. Louis Rams as the shock of the weekend. Throughout the pre-season, the rookie NFL head coach would have anyone interested enough to listen believe the Dolphins wouldn't have a hope in the NCAA let alone the NFL.

Yet the former coach of the LSU Tigers led the Fish, sans suspended running back Ricky Williams, to a frighteningly easy win over the heavily favoured Broncos.

Saban isn't shy to admit his relationship with Belichick helped prepare him for the pros. Though the two worked together only briefly a decade ago when Belichick was head coach of the Cleveland Browns and Saban was a position coach, the two have remained confidants ever since.

So much so that they would swap strategies in their weekly conversations, trade talk that no doubt helped Saban's Tigers win the NCAA title two years ago and influenced Belichick leading the Patriots to wins in three of the past four Super Bowls.

"You name it, we've talked about it at some point in time," Saban said recently. "We have talked through the years about everything from team building to human behaviour to fire coverage to the best way to play cover two."

The two don't speak so intimately now, of course, considering they are coaching teams that are division rivals. In what is arguably the most competitive division in the NFL, suddenly the Dolphins are not the pushover they were expected to be.

Proving he is no fool Saban, who turned training camp into bootcamp, has mellowed. Following Sunday's home win, he issued 53 game balls for all of the Dolphins starters.

Players are no fools either. And when they trust their coaches, they are far more likely to trust themselves.

"The man has a plan," Dolphins linebacker Zack Thomas said of his new coach. "He knows exactly what he is doing. He has total confidence in his ability to make the right moves."

If it works in New England, why not try it.


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