Breaking Down Belichick

| Boston Magazine |


3. Militant Excellence
By Senator John Kerry, former U.S. Navy lieutenant

I don’t think what motivates Bill Belichick is much of a secret: He hates to lose, and he wants to be the best.

Belichick spent his childhood among patriots at the Naval Academy and is driven by the legacy of his father, who was on the Navy coaching staff. There is an expectation of excellence in Annapolis—excellence in the classroom, excellence on the athletic fields, and excellence in every aspect of life. If your chosen path might someday lead to a moment when every decision and every action determines whether you and those around you live or die, there’s no room for second best.

No wonder, then, that today Belichick surrounds himself with team-first players eager to embrace the mantra we all heard again and again as kids on our playing fields: "There is no ‘I’ in team." Pursuing excellence, refusing to be second best, demanding more of yourself and those you surround yourself with—those are good things. Those are American ideals. Those are the principles you build your life around when your role models are from the U.S. Naval Academy.

4. He Cheats. I Cheat. We All Cheat.
By James Frey, author of the memoir A Million Little Pieces and the novel Bright Shiny Morning

In most sports, industries, and businesses, there are the rules, and there are the unwritten rules, and there are the things that everyone knows that everyone does, but nobody discusses, because they’re doing them, too. Is Floyd Landis really the only cyclist to be busted for performance-enhancing drugs? Is Bill Clinton really the only politician to have been unfaithful in his marriage? Am I really the only writer to have made shit up in a book? Is Bill Belichick really the only coach to have taped an opposing team’s signals? If your answer to these questions is yes, then come to New York and I will sell you a bridge.

Belichick got caught. Sucks for him. It was probably embarrassing, and he was probably upset, but who cares? He’s still the best there is, and his team is still the best in the league, and he’ll still be remembered as the best, as far as I’m concerned. Though I despise his team, I respect him and think he got screwed in the scandal and wish him all the best in the future. Except when he plays my hometown team, the Cleveland Browns, which was stupid enough to let him go.

5. Writing His Own PR Playbook
By Doug Rubin, chief of staff for Governor Deval Patrick

In a political crisis, the goal is to limit the damaging story to one or, at most, two 24-hour news cycles. This is done by getting all the details, good and bad, into the public realm immediately. The playbook also calls for lining up surrogates to support your side of the story. If that fails, the traditional fallback is to attack the source of the scandal in an attempt to divert attention and discredit the original allegation.

Bill Belichick did none of this. During Spygate he refused to discuss in detail the issues surrounding the scandal, angering pundits and adding fuel to the story. Bits and pieces of news dripped out on a regular basis, extending the story through the football season and into the off-season. But Belichick never organized a concerted effort to build public support, and he steadfastly refused to criticize the NFL. (It wasn’t until after all the games were over that he even talked openly abou
t the controversy.)

So why was Belichick right? He is paid to do one thing: win football games. By making himself the issue, he took the pressure off his players and, in fact, allowed them to use the scandal as a motivating tool. He coached the team to within one freak catch of the greatest NFL season ever and also managed to keep the heat off the team’s owners, the Kraft family, a move that helped preserve the Patriots brand and protect the Krafts’ impeccable business and charitable reputation.

The funny thing is, conventional wisdom is often wrong. During the 2006 campaign for governor, conventional wisdom called for Deval Patrick to listen to his Democratic supporters and respond in kind to the negative political ads of his opponent. Patrick chose not to fire back, and the voters rewarded this decision with a landslide victory. The amazing season by the 2007 New England Patriots proved that Bill Belichick played his cards right as well.