Patriots' Belichick - the NFL's Alex Ferguson

Houston (AFP) - A workaholic who has repeatedly rebuilt his team across multiple decades to create a widely disliked dynasty that has enjoyed unparalleled success.

It's small wonder that New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick has been described as the Alex Ferguson of the National Football League.

Whether it's his often dour, taciturn news conference demeanour or his relentless pursuit of silverware, the similarities between Belichick and the iconic former Manchester United manager are striking.

In terms of longevity, Belichick, like Ferguson, who spent 27 years at Old Trafford, is in a league of his own.

Since joining the Patriots in 2000, dozens of Belichick's coaching rivals have been and gone, casualties of a brutally demanding profession where the average length of tenure is just over three years.

The fact that Belichick, 64, has survived so long owes everything to his phenomenal record.

Four Super Bowl wins and two more Super Bowl appearances ahead of Sunday's Super Bowl 51 showdown between the Patriots and Atlanta Falcons, plus 14 divisional titles, are remarkable statistics in themselves.

That they have been compiled in an era of salary caps and more intense competition, where NFL rules effectively seek to make it hard for one team to dominate, are a minor miracle.

- The Greatest? -

Phil Simms, the former New York Giants quarterback who worked with Belichick when he was an assistant coach to Bill Parcells, believes the Patriots coach can already lay claim to being the greatest coach in NFL history.

"Is he going to go down as the greatest?" Simms says. "I don't know how you can even argue it."

Belichick's coaching philosophy has been based on a simple guiding philosophy -- offenses should seek to exploit an opponent's defensive flaws; defenses should aim to nullify an opposing offense's principle weapon.

It was a principle learned from Belichick's father, Steve, an assistant coach at the US Naval Academy who wrote an acclaimed 1950s book on scouting methods.

Belichick Sr. compiled a vast library dedicated to the game that remains housed at the elite academy in Annapolis, Maryland. No doubt Ferguson, a passionate history buff, would approve.

- Master man-manager -

Like Ferguson, too, Belichick has earned a reputation as a master at man-management, tailoring his style to bring the best out of his players.

"The thing about Bill is that he not only knows what kind of players fit his system, he can get in people's heads," Patriots scout Lionel Vital said in the recent book "Belichick and Brady" by Michael Holley.

"He's the best in the business at working with personalities. Bill can work with anybody. He'll reach you."

Perhaps the biggest similarity with Ferguson, though, has been Belichick's ability to regenerate the Patriots while remaining consistently competitive, unafraid to jettison popular players deemed surplus to requirements.

Tom Brady, the star quarterback who has been integral to the success of the Patriots in the Belichick era, says the head coach's consistency is what sets him apart.

"Whether that's April or whether that's early February, his attitude is the same," Brady said.

"He's trying to coach the best way that he can in order to get us to go out there and execute at the highest level possible.

"He's certainly a disciplinarian, so in that sense, it's great because when you're the quarterback and your coach does that for you, I don't really have to do any of those things. I can be just like one of those other guys.

"I'm yelled at just like everybody else."

The only question now is how much longer Belichick plans to remain in the sport.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft says Belichick can remain in his place for "as long as he wants."

Publicly, Belichick has given no inkling that his passion for the job is on the wane.

"I don't see this as work," he said. "It actually beats working."