“Am I missing something?” I said to Anthony during one of our regular meet-ups at Starbucks.
Both avid football fans, we were talking about the upcoming NFL Divisional Playoffs, and I was puzzled by the lack of respect the New England Patriots were getting from the sports media.
While it’s true the Patriots were favored to beat the Los Angeles Chargers (by 4 points) in that weekend’s matchup, the vibe I was getting from the “experts” at ESPN and other outlets was that the GOAT – as in Greatest of All Time – was losing his edge. That it might soon to be time to put him out to pasture.
“I don’t know, the Chargers do look good,” Anthony said, and he was right. They were riding high, having defeated the Baltimore Ravens on the road the previous week. Many believed it was finally Phillip Rivers’ turn to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
“They do,” I said. “But it’s Belichick.”
Anthony nodded, as if those three words said it all.
As an admitted sports junkie (I regularly listen to sports talk radio and start my mornings with Golic and Wingo), I thought about what it is that has separated the “coaching genius” from the rest of the pack. I did some digging and, not surprisingly, found quite a bit of material on this topic. And although there is no simple answer, like “he can adjust better than anyone” or “he’s a cheater!” – the battle cry of the beleaguered NY Jets fan – what I found was testimony from those have worked with him on why he’s the best. (And yes, Jets fans, he is.)
Character matters. In an interview that offers a rare glimpse into what makes him tick, Belichick said that when it comes to getting things done, “You have to go with the person who you have the most confidence in, the most consistent,” he told USA Today. “And if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, but I’m going down with that person.”
In other words, dependability over skill.
Of course, as the article noted, smart personnel know that talent is vital to a team’s success. But when push comes to shove, players like Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman (the unlikely Super Bowl MVP) can bring more to a team that a top-flight receiver with diva-like tendencies.
Study, study, study. To say he knows the game is an understatement. He is, by many accounts, a student of the game. He pours over game film on a level rivaled only by Peyton Manning, and has a relentless desire to know everything he can.
Recalling a pregame meeting with Belichick, former Patriots assistant coach Bill O’Brien, said he was in awe of how much his boss knew about everything, from the team doctor to the trainer. “He talked about everything – how to evaluate your talent, how to divide that up in the draft, and all of that. It was just amazing. An amazing thing to look back on.”
To this day, O’Brien, who now coaches the Houston Texans, refers back to those notes.
Culture is everything. Romeo Crennel, who won three championships as part of Belichick’s crew, said the key to his success has been getting his players to perform at a high level, year in and year out. “And it’s not like he has all the same guys all the time,” said Crennel, who now serves as O’Brien’s defensive coordinator. “He trades them out, he moves on from guys, brings new guys in, but everybody who comes in, he can get them to understand the culture, the Patriot Way. They understand that culture.”
And clearly, they’ve bought in. Now, of course Belichick has his flaws, which have been well documented, and he certainly has his share of critics (some of whom believe the six rings wouldn’t have happened without Brady). We can debate that until the next Patriots parade, but to me, one thing is clear.
The guy is a winner. He’s created a pretty solid template for success, and he’s willing to follow it, no matter what others say. And while my opinion of the guy may be admittedly skewed (Belichick was the assistant coach for the first two Super Bowl championships for my beloved Giants, and the coach of the losing team for the second two), perhaps it’s time we stopped doubting him – at least, until he is put out to pasture.