The football world looks very different today. Bill Belichick, one of the NFL’s winningest coaches of all time and as permanent a fixture on the New England Patriots as most any coach ever has been for a given team, is moving on after 24 illustrious seasons leading the team. Belichick and Patriots owner Robert Kraft mutually agreed to part ways after a lackluster 4-13 season, which itself came after a few seasons of post-Tom Brady diminishing returns.
While Patriots fans say goodbye to a legend, it’s clear the coach plans to find a new landing spot elsewhere in the league. Still, it’s the end of an era, so we thought it would be a good time to look back on Belichick’s storied career through the lens of the Madden series. Faithful players of the series know all too well that, because Belichick isn’t a member of the coaches union, his likeness is not in the video game series. This has resulted in the team at EA Tiburon coming up with a series of humorous replacements for the legendary coach.
His absence is a point of conversation for new Madden players every season. “Where’s Belichick?” some ask. “Who’s this Chad Masters guy?” others might say depending on the year. And if you’re curious why Belichick isn’t in the coaches union, you’ll have to settle for guesswork, as he’s (characteristically) never expressed publicly why this is the case. Though as you’ll see below, it seems he once was a card-carrying member, if only briefly.
Belichick has worn many faces in Madden, but rarely his own. Let’s look back on all the Not-Bill Belichicks there have been in Madden over the last quarter-century.
Madden diehards may not remember it, but there was a time when Belichick was actually in the game. Just a few months before the coach would lead the Patriots to one of the league’s unlikeliest Super Bowl championships, Belichick was featured in name and likeness in Madden 2002.
I always felt like Belichick was playing a character, and he got deeper into that character as time went on. The curmudgeonly mastermind seemed to come out more with each of his six Super Bowl successes. Here we see a version of him that still smiled. In 2024, it feels like a Body Snatcher version of the man, but as a Boston native, I do have fond memories of him allowing himself to be expressive on those rare occasions over the past two and a half decades.
After this game, the coach disappeared from Madden forever, at least as of the time of writing this.
For players of a certain age, there is no New England coach more legendary than, well, NE Coach. Like the tomb of the unnamed soldier, NE Coach sacrificed it all for eternal (video game football) glory as an anonymous hero. Oddly, the first usage of NE Coach was Madden 2001, a year before Belichick would appear in the game as himself, albeit briefly. He was then quickly returned to NE Coach status for years to come.
It’s worth noting, and it remains true throughout the Madden series, that no matter what name Not-Belichick went by, his playbook always reflected reality. He can prevent his face and his name from appearing, but he couldn’t take the short-passing-as-run-game and exotic defensive playcalling with him.
What’s most interesting, however, is that NE Coach has returned. While the next few coaches you’ll see here were in the game over the last 15 years or so, the Madden team has most recently reverted to the simply named NE Coach for Madden 24.
In seemingly just one version of the game, Belichick went by Josh Moore, whom fans speculated was the name of Madden developer Donny Moore’s brother–though I wasn’t able to verify this in time for publishing. Like NE Coach, Moore had no face in the menus and was instead given the likeness of the ubiquitous sleep paralysis demon–which coincidentally is how the rest of the AFC East saw Belichick for most of his tenure in Foxboro.
Chad Masters was in the game over a decade ago, but he ended up resembling the real Belichick more than any of the game’s many imposters. While Masters seems to be bald under his officially licensed team hat–something Belichick still isn’t today–his elderly appearance and grumpy demeanor very much looks like the skilled septuagenarian in 2024. In years to come, the Madden team would move away from Masters’ elder statesman look in favor of starkly different human beings, perhaps just to make it clear that no attempt to skirt the legal line and bring the real coach into the game was being made.
Around this time (Madden 18), the names and character models seemed to get confused. Some players may remember the aforementioned Masters as looking different, or they may have seen Griffin Murphy here look a lot like the next guy in this list. It seems as though the Madden team would mix and match different fake names with different fake character models, which is largely why I’ve held off on defining exactly when each of these fake coaches was involved in the series–it’s all very muddled.
Suffice it to say, there was a time when this pipsqueak was the Patriots coach in Madden. Chad Murphy looks nothing like Belichick. Where Bill was stocky and perpetually annoyed by his unrivaled successes, Murphy gave the virtual Pats a bubbly, nerdy touch. He honestly looks a lot like Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel, though until McDaniel landed that job a few years ago, I always saw the fake Murphy as someone more akin to a Daily Show cast-off.
More recently, the Madden team stopped rendering fake coaches or using a silhouette in the game’s menus and started dressing up people I presume to be Madden devs as the Belichick stand-ins. While Murphy got similar treatment in years prior, I have to admit Gaffney is my One Not-Bill Belichick To Rule Them All.
The bald head and greying beard suggests a coach who has been around the league a few times–which was true of the real man, of course–but it’s made better by the fact that this is a real guy, out there living his life somewhere, walking around with the unheralded distinction of once having (technically) portrayed Bill Belichick in a video game.
This one was so absurd and previously unknown to me that I had to dig a little extra to make sure it was real. It’s not from Madden, but rather NFL Head Coach, a short-lived sports management sim that was meant to rival things like Out of the Park Baseball and Football Manager. It never really got off the ground and was canceled after just a few entries, but it lives in infamy for this pun-filled stand-in for the future Hall of Famer.
Yes, NFL Head Coach’s Patriots stand-in was Hal Ophamer. I often enjoy when athletes have names that suit their position, such as real-life kicker Ryan Longwell, but Hall Ophamer is even too on-the-nose for my liking.
Belichick isn’t the only coach to have been absent from the game. There was a period during “Bountygate” in which former Saints coach Sean Payton seemingly withdrew from the coaches union, leading to his memorable Madden stand-in Dusty McDonald. And if you go way back to a game like MVP Baseball 2005, Barry Bonds was noticeably a white dude named Jon Dowd who hit dingers at a similarly roided-up rate. Sports games have long had to dance around the unavailability of their real-life counterparts’ most famous faces, but as we look back on Belichick’s reign with the New England Patriots, Madden players are similarly finishing a memorable chapter with one of the best running bits in video games.
Wherever he may wind up coaching next season, let us be the first to wish NE Coach/Josh Moore/Peter Gaffney/Chad Masters/Griffin Murphy/Hal Ophamer the best of luck.