Bill Belichick understands defenses. He understands Super Bowls. He understands the grand tradition

of football in Cleveland.Just don't ask him what went wrong with the Browns in 1990. He hasn't had time to figure that out yet.

"The last 10 days for me have been a whirlwind," Belichick said Tuesday after he signed a five-year contract to coach the Browns. "I have had no chance whatsoever to evaluate what's been done here in the past year. I'm coming in here strictly on a clean slate. I have no preconceived notions about what did or did not happen in the past."

Belichick, 38, was the defensive coordinator of the NFL-champion New York Giants. He also has a ring from the Giants' Super Bowl win after the 1986 season.

Owner Art Modell rewarded him Tuesday with his first head coaching job at any level, making him the league's youngest current coach. Belichick, an NFL assistant since he was 23, said he's ready.

"There'll be some questions about my age and experience relative to this job and this type of responsibility," Belichick said. "When I came into professional football, I was 23 years old with the Baltimore Colts. I heard those same questions. I feel like all those questions have been met. I'll stand by my record."

Belichick replaces Bud Carson, who was fired Nov. 5 after the Browns lost seven of their first nine games. Former offensive coordinator Jim Shofner finished the season as interim coach but has since moved to the front office.

Cleveland's 3-13 record was the worst in its 41-year NFL history, and Belichick is the Browns' fourth coach in less than three years. The 1990 season, disrupted by injuries, retirements and holdouts, ended a string of five consecutive trips to the playoffs.

Modell said he offered Belichick a five-year deal in hopes of injecting some stability into the position. Carson's contract was for three years, and he was fired with more than a year remaining.

"I wanted to make a statement of confidence in Bill despite his age, and I wanted to make a statement as it relates to continuity and stability," Modell said. "I thought it was appropriate to start fresh and to give him as much visible support going in as I possibly can."

Belichick's father was a longtime football coach at the U.S. Naval Academy, and he also coached at Hiram College, where the Browns used to hold their preseason training camp.

"My father used to take me to Hiram College when I was a boy to watch the Browns practice. I remember seeing some of the greats like Jim Brown, Lou Groza and Gary Collins," Belichick said. "I'm tremendously proud to be here."

Belichick, who has an economics degree from Wesleyan University in Connecticut, began his NFL coaching career as an assistant with Baltimore in 1975. He moved to Detroit as an assistant in 1976, then went to Denver in 1978 before joining the Giants under Ray Perkins in 1979. He remained in New York when Bill Parcells took over as the Giants' head coach in 1983.

Modell chose Belichick over several other candidates, including Los Angeles Raiders quarterbacks coach Mike White, former Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur, Seattle special teams coach Rusty Tillman and Kansas City defensive coordinator Bill Cowher.

Belichick also was a finalist for the Tampa Bay job that went to former Bucs assistant Richard Williamson on Monday.