Two coaches, one goal

ESPN analyst Joe Theismann breaks down the coaching matchups of Super Bowl XXXVIII.

Updated: January 30, 2004, 3:06 PM ET
By Joe Theismann | Special to ESPN.com

Super Bowl XXXVIII is a tale of two coaches. Coaches John Fox and Bill Belichick have reached the pinnacle of their sport with two different defensive philosophies. While Fox's defense rides the success of their front four, Belichick uses a multitude of defensive schemes to confound offenses. But as different as those viewpoints are, both coaches have instilled the same four things in their teams: discipline, direction, toughness and intelligence. Both have these traits in large abundance and it's the reason why they're playing in the Super Bowl.

Belichick and Crennel
Crennel (left) and Belichick make a great team.
Unlike last year's Super Bowl when Jon Gruden dominated the headlines, this one is more about the teams. That's what gives this game such a unique flavor it's not about just one player or coach it's about all the players and coaches … just the way Fox and Belichick want it.

When Fox came to Carolina, they were coming off a 1-15 season with 15 consecutive losses. He immediately went to his new team and questioned the players' toughness, which forced them to do one of two things: either run away with their tails between their legs or prove him wrong. It's obvious what their decision was since two years later, they're in the Super Bowl.

Fox has done a great job building his defense and has put together the best front four in the NFL in a two-year period. What's great about the defense is that it's still a relatively young group. Defensive ends Mike Rucker, Julius Peppers, defensive tackles Kris Jenkins, linebacker Dan Morgan, safety Deon Grant and cornerback Ricky Manning Jr. are all 28-years old or younger. Partially because of Fox's talent recognition and teaching skills, this group is set to grow together.

In addition to the talent that he has on his defense, Fox has talented coordinators working for him. Offensive coordinator Dan Henning essentially came out of retirement to lead this unit and defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac has done a great job this season. Trgovac and Fox have teamed together to ensure they have a physical defense by encouraging hitting in practice. Too often nowadays, coaches shy away from contact in practice for fear of injuring a player. But the Panthers coaching staff realize that hitting gets their guys ready to play.

Meanwhile, Belichick has put together an impressive resume over the past two seasons. He's already won one Super Bowl and is in his second in three years, while also maintaining a 14-game win streak. The pressure is seemingly all on the Patriots because they have the win streak, the quarterback already receiving comparisons to the greats and the genius head coach. Regardless of that, I expect the Pats to avoid the hype and go in and do their job because Belichick expects nothing less.

They may call him the genius, but you can see Belichick's intelligence come out when looking at his talented coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis are two of the best in the business who'll one day be helming their own teams. Belichick gets a lot of credit because of his reputation, but Crennel deserves a lot of the credit for the success of the defense.

I don't think either coach has a true edge in this game, but Belichick has been here before and that may help a little. When it's your first time, it's like a dream come true and there is just a tremendous amount of newness. For Belichick there won't be an unexpected amount of anticipation and that might be enough for the Pats.

Joe Theismann

Football analyst
Former college and pro football star Joe Theismann has served as an analyst for ESPN's Sunday Night Football since 1988. He also is frequently heard on ESPN Radio, regularly contributes to ESPN.com and has contributed to the NFL Draft.

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