A Friendship Forged: Dave Pietramala and Bill Belichick
How Two of The Best Coaches in Their Businesses Met and Now Benefit From One Another
By Kevin Heitz
If our moms were correct -- and they always are, right? -- we are often judged by who we associate with. For Dave Pietramala, that's not a bad thing.
Hardly a day goes by that the 10-year Johns Hopkins lacrosse coach doesn't reach out via text, phone call or e-mail to bounce thoughts and ideas off his friend. And that friend just happens to be New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
Instead of "guilt by association," with these two it's more like "success by association" as they have forged a friendship that spans their personal and professional lives.
(Photos by Sabina Moran/PressBox)
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When Johns Hopkins had a coaching vacancy to fill in 2000, there was only one candidate on the school's list -- a certain former Blue Jay most consider to be the greatest defensive player in the history of college lacrosse.
Pietramala was hired on June 8, less than five months after Belichick was named coach of the Patriots. Since then, the duo has racked up wins, records and accolades like its going out of style.
Pietramala won 106 games during his first nine seasons at Johns Hopkins, while Belichick won 116 during his first nine years in New England. And until the football season starts, the Blue Jays' coach can boast that he is beating his buddy in the win column with 118 (as of May 6).
A two-time National Coach of the Year, Pietramala has never missed an NCAA tournament as coach of the Blue Jays, and he led Hopkins to national championships in 2005 and 2007. Belichick, named AP Coach of the Year three times, is the only coach in NFL history to win three Super Bowls during a four-year span.
In the end, it took more than one Malcolm Gladwell-like connector for this "odd couple" to come together a few years into their current jobs.
Former Patriots tight ends coach Pete Mangurian worked with Pietramala at Cornell before working with Belichick in New England. But perhaps more importantly, one of Belichick's daughter's friends worked for Pietramala as a student trainer and that may have been the true tipping point that brought them together.
"Really, I met him through her," Belichick recalls.
"The first time I ever spoke with him, we spoke on the phone, and our conversation lasted almost an hour," Pietramala said. "All I wanted to do was talk to him about his world, about the NFL, and about the draft, the season and preparations -- how they do things. Interestingly enough for me, all he wanted to hear about was what we were doing -- and lacrosse, our season, the challenges we were facing, games we played.
"I got off the phone, and I could not have been more taken aback at what a regular guy he was."
That regular guy soon became a regular comrade of sorts.
They met in person in 2006. During one of their phone conversations before the initial face-to-face, Belichick asked Pietramala whether he was going to be at the lacrosse Final Four, and understood when the Hopkins coach was unable to go with his team sitting at home after a 9-5 season.
"So what about the All-American banquet?" Belichick asked. "You know, I'm the keynote speaker. Why don't we catch up and maybe grab something to eat?"
When Pietramala saw Belichick at the banquet, the future Canton, Ohio, resident was obviously busy … "he had everybody wanting his time." But afterward, they hopped in Pietramala's truck and headed to a hotel restaurant -- and it was as if they had been friends for years. They talked for hours, to the point that some of the dining room servers tried to shoo the pair away to close up shop for the night.
"They were about to throw us out," Pietramala said. "The host came over and said: 'No, you're fine, coach. You guys are fine.' So I said to coach, 'Thanks for being here because if I was alone, they would have thrown me out.'
"We sat for almost three hours, just talking. There was never a pause. It was about lacrosse, it was about football … and ever since then, we stay in touch."
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Ask Bill Belichick why he loves lacrosse so much, and the answer is classically simple and straightforward: "Well, I grew up in Annapolis."
"I played it from early elementary school on," he said, "and I watched the great Navy teams in the '60s. I just grew up with it."
Like Minnesotans and hockey, or Texans and football, many Marylanders simply grow up with lacrosse sticks in their hands. Belichick was no different -- except, of course, that his father, Steve, had a position as a coach at the Naval Academy, which did give young Belichick extra access to both football and lacrosse at an early age.
Steve Belichick, who played fullback for the Detroit Lions in 1941, was a scout and assistant coach at Navy for 33 years -- and could be seen running the field house stairs well into his 80s. He died in 2005 at age 86, the night before his son coached the Patriots to a 24-17 win against the Saints with a heavy heart. In fact, Steve passed away just hours after watching Navy beat Temple, 38-17, in Annapolis that afternoon.
Growing up, Belichick played football and lacrosse at Annapolis High School, and is a member of the school's Hall Of Fame -- his first, but certainly not his last (he was inducted into Wesleyan University Athletics Hall of Fame as part of the inaugural class in 2008).
Belichick has admitted he "bleeds Navy blue and gold," and he's now a diehard Blue Jays fan, thanks to his friendship with Pietramala. But at the end of the day, he is simply a huge fan of lacrosse.
From those early days hanging around the Naval Academy athletic fields with his coaching dad to being considered one of the best NFL coaches in the game today, Belichick has never been far from a lacrosse field.
When he was an assistant coach with the Lions, he coached lacrosse at Detroit Country Day. When he was with the Broncos, he played for the Denver Lacrosse Club. And he has coached numerous youth teams when his children were younger -- and has been a fan on the sideline for hundreds of faceoffs.
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Issue 161: May 2011