New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is currently the old guy in the Boston sports scene. He’s the longest tenured coach (next: Claude Julien, Bruins, 2007) or general manager (next: Danny Ainge, Celtics, 2003) in the region and he’s undeniably has had the most success.
It’s fairly typical for the coaches within the same region to interact and it’s definitely common for other coaches to ask Belichick for advice. He’s always happy to give it.
We can see Belichick’s wonderful insight in this great ESPN profile on former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein:
Then [the Red Sox] won the World Series.
Theo called Patriots coach Bill Belichick for advice on how to handle success.
"You're fucked," Belichick told him.
THEY WON TWO titles under Epstein, but by the end of his Boston tenure, the boy who'd fallen in love with the Red Sox had turned into a man who needed to get as far from the team as he could. The Boston sports media machine has written thousands of words about why this rise and fall happened, but the simplest explanation lies in Belichick's warning to Theo. The football coach laid out the conflict between winning and human weakness. Everyone would start wanting credit and feel like the underappreciated key to the entire machine. Theo saw this come true almost immediately.
A cold war broke out between the baseball ops bunker and the second floor, the conflict cutting through every part of the organization. Epstein felt that some of his bosses were obsessed with optics and credit, more worried about personally winning a news cycle than helping create the culture that had developed in Theo's world. "It's rare you can find true togetherness, selflessness, connectedness," Epstein says. "We had that in baseball ops. It was in opposition to what I saw going on in the rest of the company."
Other than Belichick straight up saying, “lol you’re f—ked,” can you see the parallels between what happened with the Red Sox and what didn’t and hasn’t happened with the Patriots?
Winning brings the biggest factor that can lead to a downfall: credit.
Belichick’s teams have prided themselves on putting the team first, so credit is never a problem. When players start saying they deserve more credit- usually in the form of more money for contracts- they are shipped away or put in their place. No one is more important than the team and the Patriots continue to win to prove their point.
And then there is the meddlesome interactions with non-team builders, as Epstein says he signed some of the worst contracts in baseball history because the owners intervened and said the team needed more star power for the sake of television ratings. You’ll never see Robert Kraft strong-arming Belichick into signing any specific player.
There has been friction, of course, and I think friction is a good thing because smart leaders take it as a time for self-reflection to see if they can do anything differently. There’s been Logan Mankins and Vince Wilfork. There was Brian Daboll leaving after he was passed over in favor of Josh McDaniels for the offensive coordinator job.
We’ve seen the Patriots modify the contracts of a few players like Sebastian Vollmer and Rob Ninkovich so they could reach their incentives, and we’ve seen Daboll return to the fold. I believe internal scouting by all parties helps with The Machine.
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens joined Bill Simmons to talk what he has learned from his interactions with Belichick, too.
“I have been fortunate enough to meet with both of them [Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich and Belichick], I would say that every once in a while it’s probably more frequent than actually is. But I have been able to meet with both of them.
I think they’re both at the top of their respective games for a reason, I think that they’re incredible coaches, get the very most out of their people, but also have figured out how to simplify things to just what makes their team go and what they need to do to best coach their team.
“It’s easy to get your focus off of that, and I think that those guys just, it looks like they’re able to operate in this area where they know exactly what needs to be done to be successful and they know when they need to change, they know when they need to stay the same, they know what to emphasize, they know how much to emphasize it. They’ve been doing it for a long time at such a successful level it’d be silly not to pick their brains.”
Focus on the last paragraph and merge it with the Epstein advice. Good coaches know when to change and when to stay the same.
Belichick’s teams have always been focused on being team-first, even if every single piece changes. Two tight end sets, slot receivers, and 3-4 defensive schemes can come and go, but the ethos of the team will be the constant.
Good leaders give credit where credit is due, but in a trophy-oriented industry the team goal is of the greatest import.
And if you ever lose sight of the bigger picture and if you ever lose your ethos, well, then you’re f—ked.
Stevens also had a nice quote on how Tom Brady helped, albeit unsuccessfully, recruit Kevin Durant to the Celtics:
“So, I didn’t even know that [Tom Brady] was going for sure until that morning. … The players and I flew together from Atlanta, because we had met with Al [Horford] the evening before.
“[Brady and Celtics representatives] quickly went out to eat lunch before the meeting, and you know, I think [he is] a great example of a guy that is obviously an incredibly high achiever, has won at the highest level, is totally committed to being the greatest that he can be, and loves being a part of Boston sports. He loves living in Boston, talked about how much his family enjoys Boston … about raising his kids here — you know everything else.
“He really came across as just a normal guy, and I was really impressed with him. It was the first time I had really spent any time with him. I had been to a practice of theirs before where I got a chance to meet him briefly, but he was great and people respect not only the fact that he’s accomplished all that he’s accomplished, but he’s just a really down-to-earth person.”