New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick joined lacrosse star Paul Rabil on the player’s inaugural podcast to discuss coaching philosophy and general life topics. Rabil attended Johns Hopkins University and was drafted by the Boston Cannons, where he spent the first seven seasons of his career.
An interesting point of discussion was Belichick’s desire to have a smaller coaching staff.
“My philosophy, really, is that less is more, so I’d rather have fewer people doing more work than more people doing a little more work,” Belichick told Rabil on the podcast, via ESPN’s Mike Reiss. “As long as everybody is busy, as long as everybody feels productive, they feel good about what they’re doing and they feel like they’re contributing; I think when people have lag time and kind of not enough to do, that leads to getting distracted and complaining or being less productive. So even though you have more people, sometimes less work gets done.”
I think Belichick might have misspoke, but he’s trying to say that he’d rather have a smaller staff putting in more individual time than a larger staff that allowed for more downtime for each worker.
The Patriots coaching staff has always been one of the smallest in the entire league, ranking 4th smallest in 2013 and 2nd smallest in 2014. Even after adding DeMarcus Covington to the staff, the Patriots are projected to have the 2nd smallest coaching staff in 2017; only the Pittsburgh Steelers have a consistently smaller coaching staff.
“From a ‘getting everybody on the same page’ standpoint, which is critical, the fewer people you have to manage, the easier it is to get everybody on the same page,” Belichick said on the podcast. “So if you’re talking to 10 people, it’s hard to get all 10 people doing the same thing or doing the right thing. Now you make that number 20, instead of 10, it’s even more difficult.
“If you have five people supervising another 15 people, now you have another layer there where you’re not dealing directly with everybody, and now you’re somewhat dependent on other people to relay the message the way you want it done and to monitor it that way. Certainly, there’s a degree of that, but as much of that I can eliminate, I think works better for me.”
While some teams, like the Miami Dolphins, seem to feature an assistant coach at every single positional group, the Patriots coaching staff takes a much leaner approach with one coach for each position, with two reasonable exceptions.
The Patriots have an assistant quarterbacks coach in Jerry Schuplinski because Josh McDaniels serves as both offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, and then Ray Ventrone is the assistant special teams coordinator with Joe Judge in charge of the third facet.
Every other positional group is led by one coach, with a collection of three assistants (Covington, Cole Popovich, and Mike Pellegrino for 2017) tasked with special projects as they are groomed to eventually become a positions coach if there is ever an opening.
Only three coaches on staff did not serve as a generalist assistant under Bill Belichick and that’s because two of them (Dante Scarnecchia and Ivan Fears) predate Belichick, and even Scarnecchia served as an assistant when Belichick was assistant head coach of the Patriots in 1996. Chad O’Shea is the only coach on staff that Belichick hired directly as a positions coach.
But this coaching structure stems from Belichick’s growth as a coach, where he served as a generalist for much of his early career. Belichick takes advantage of these generalists by having them support multiple positional groups to increase their knowledge base, while also inundating these coaches in the Patriots way of doing things.
The Patriots always find a way to overcome the loss of a coordinator or a position coach without skipping a beat. By maintaining a lean coaching structure, Belichick is able to personally cultivate every branch on the coaching tree and ensure a consistent message throughout the organization.