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Before Bill Belichick became one of the winningest coaches in NFL history, he spent two years as an assistant with the Lions.

Belichick has coached the Patriots since 2000 and won three Super Bowls with New England. Including his five years as head coach of the Cleveland Browns, Belichick has 207 career wins, fifth in NFL history.

But when the Patriots host the Lions Sunday in Foxboro, Massachusetts, the game could jog memories of Belichick's early coaching career. After his first job as a defensive assistant for the Baltimore Colts in 1975, Belichick joined the Lions' staff, coaching special teams in 1976 and wide receivers and tight ends in 1977 under head coaches Rick Forzano and Tommy Hudspeth.

For Belichick the experience was even more special because his father, Steve, was a fullback for the Lions in 1941.

"Those were two good years, and I was proud to be there just on a personal note because that's where my dad played in '41," Belichick, 62, said on a teleconference this week.

Belichick's father's career was cut short after he joined the Navy and left to serve in World War II in 1942.

"That was still kind of a special spot of his life and ultimately of our relationship that we were kind of able to share that, working for the same professional team," Belichick said.

Belichick said when he was coaching the Lions he lived in Birmingham, and called it a "fun place to live." He had a chance to coach Hall of Fame tight end Charlie Sanders and was glad the Lions gave him a chance to coach offense after his first job was on the defensive side.

"It was a big part of my life and development and career, and I'll always be appreciative of that opportunity, like I said, that was given to me by (then-owner William Clay) Ford and coach Forzano," Belichick said.

After his two years in Detroit, Belichick spent a season with the Denver Broncos before joining the staff with the New York Giants, where he spent a decade coaching under Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells and won two Super Bowls. In 1991, he earned his first head coaching job with the Browns, but was fired in 1995 after a 36-44 record.

Belichick then spent a year with the Patriots, three with the New York Jets and New England brought him back as head coach in 2000, and he's had a Hall of Fame career ever since.

He still looks back fondly on his time with the Lions, but he was quickly introduced to the brutal business of coaching. After a 1-3 start in 1976, the Lions forced Forzano to resign, and the team went 12-16 in Belichick's two years as an assistant. The Lions fired Hudspeth, who took over during the 1976 season, after 1977.

"I just wish we could've won more games during those two years and stayed longer, but that's the way it worked out," Belichick said.

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

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