Steve Belichick and his wife, Jen, carry on a family tradition on the field and on the island.
The scion of the New England Patriots football dynasty struck an unassuming presence at a picnic table outside the Sconset Market last month. No one was stopping to snap a photo of or even turning a head for Steve Belichick, the bearded, long-haired defensive coach who has helped guide the Patriots to three Super Bowl victories since 2014. But, of course, the son of legendary head coach Bill Belichick seemed just fine with not being bothered by such distractions. Naturally.
Steve Belichick was sitting with his wife of three years, Jen, and their young daughter, Blakely. The village of Sconset has been a getaway for him since he was just a boy, when his father purchased a property that he subsequently expanded and built into a family compound over four decades. “Nantucket has always been my roots. I’ve been coming here every summer of my life,” Steve said. “It’s a really special place for us. It’s a place we can get away; with everything going on in the world, we come into our little bubble and disappear for a bit.”
Being able to disappear, however, may become increasingly difficult for Steve as his role with the Patriots expands and his growing stature within the organization gets noticed despite his father’s long shadow. After his college days at Rutgers University, Steve joined the Patriots in the humble role of coaching assistant. He has since risen to the position of secondary/safeties coach, leading the back end of one of the most dominant defenses in the NFL. There is even speculation that Steve could be named the Patriots’ defensive coordinator this season.
“Whatever role I get, I’ll do the best I can at it,” he said when asked about such conjecture in the simmering cauldron of rumor and innuendo that is the New England sports media. If the response sounds somewhat familiar, it should. Take away the beard and the mullet, or just close your eyes, and Steve’s voice, mannerisms and general demeanor are a dead ringer for his father. It’s uncanny.
Beyond the physical comparison, living with the Belichick name and coming up through the ranks as the son of a legend has been a dynamic Steve has had to handle at every level and in almost every relationship. “I’ve been going through that my whole life, whether it was changing schools when I was young, or going to Rutgers, or being a coach,” he said. “I just try to create my own name for myself. It’s what I’ve done forever. I just try to be myself. I know people will have certain opinions of me coming into the relationship, but I’ve grown to understand that and I just try to be consistent with who I am and eventually people will form their own opinions of me. I can’t be too worried about what everyone thinks about me.”
But after eight years with the Patriots, eight playoff runs and four Super Bowls, has that dynamic become less of an everyday concern as he has established himself within the organization and personally with his players? “Every year I get more comfortable and more confident just because I’ve been doing it a year longer than I had the year before,” he said. “But I don’t think I’ve changed a lot in who I am. I’ll always have my beliefs and what I feel is right and I’ll stick to that.”
Regardless of whether he gets the big promotion to defensive coordinator, the upcoming season— if it even happens—will present unique challenges. At this point in the offseason, Steve would normally be in Foxborough, not Sconset. But the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the NFL schedule like it has every other facet of American life. The preparations for the Patriots’ 2020 season, however, are well underway, even if the team can’t come together yet.
“It’s nothing like I’ve ever experienced,” Steve said. “Everything is done virtually, so it gave me the opportunity to come here [to Nantucket] earlier because we were unable to be in the offices. So I’ve had the chance to spend more time with the family and continue to work. It’s weird not being in the office. We usually have spring practice now but we can’t be there. It’s an adjustment for everyone.”
With a little more time on the island this year, Steve and Jen were able to celebrate their third anniversary with dinner at The Galley last month. They first met while attending Rutgers and are expecting their second child later this year. They share a passion for lacrosse (Jen is better, Steve said with a laugh) and both played at the collegiate level. With a Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy from Tufts University, Jen now works closely with the One Love Foundation, which educates young people about the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships, and helps them to identify and avoid abuse. Serving on the foundation’s Boston Regional Leadership Council, Jen helps advance the mission of the foundation, which was founded after the tragic death of Yeardley Love, a University of Virginia student-athlete originally from Jen’s hometown.
Jen and Steve were married in 2017 at the Sconset Chapel, carrying on the Belichicks’ decades-long connection to the village. “It’s a little surreal,” Jen said. “We see the next generation and it adds a whole other element to how long they’ve been coming here. His parents show us pictures of when they were building their house and Steve was two, running around the site. He looks like a twin of her [Blakely].”
The silver lining of the pandemic has not just been more time on Nantucket and more time with family, but also a greater appreciation for the game that has been passed down from his grandfather and namesake Steve Belichick, to his father Bill, and now to him and his brother Brian, who also serves on the Patriots staff as a coaching assistant. “Going through this experience, it makes me appreciate and realize how much I love and care about football, not that I didn’t before, but now with the threat of it not being there, it really makes me think about how much I love it,” Steve said. “I don’t want it to get taken away from me.”
While the Patriots are famous for their laser focus on the next season, the next game and the next opponent, the ongoing protests over social justice, racial inequality and police brutality in the United States have become a central issue in the sports world, and inside the Patriots locker room as well. Many Patriots players have spoken out, including Devin McCourty, the New England safety whose leadership on these issues is reported to have inspired Bill Belichick to pledge to do more. In June, the Monday Morning Quarterback reported that Belichick brought in Rahsaan Hall, the director of the ACLU’s racial justice program in Massachusetts, to address the team.
Steve, who was McCourty’s teammate at Rutgers University, said he’s been listening to his players, learning from them, and wants the conversations to continue. “They have a lot of great feedback and I have a lot to learn from them,” he said. “I’m just trying to learn and improve the situation that we’re in. I absolutely support those guys and feel they do a great job taking advantage of the platform they have. I think it’s a topic for everybody moving forward, not just me or my team. I think we should all be having these conversations.”
One conversation Steve is not having, however, is anything about the dearly departed Patriots icon Tom Brady, who announced the unthinkable in mid-March when he said it was time to part ways with the organization after twenty years. He later signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, leaving Patriots fans with a gamut of emotions. So how does Steve think the Patriots can begin to move on without their Hall of Fame quarterback? “I just coach the defense,” he said. “I just don’t let them score.”
And what about those rumors that Bill is using Brady’s departure to help motivate the team? “My job is to not let them score,” Steve said. “Whoever the quarterback is—whether it’s me, Jen or Blakely—we’ll just try to keep them out of the end zone.”
Clearly, holding his cards close to the vest in the presence of the media is a lesson Steve has learned from his father. There’s a long list of other lessons he’s taken away from Bill—but only a few he is willing to share. “I learn something from him every day; I just try to apply it the right way,” he said. “Stay in the moment when you’re at work. Work hard when you’re at home, work hard for your family. Leave work at work. And leave family with family.”
Family with family. Does that mean he wouldn’t consider coaching outside of New England if another team came calling? “I’m always listening, but I like working for my dad,” he said. “Until he retires—as long as he doesn’t fire me—I’ll try and work for him.”