In “Patriot Reign”, sports reporter Michael Holley gains unprecedented access into the fortress that is the New England Patriots during the 2001, 2002, and 2003 seasons. Through the ups and downs from the franchise’s first Super Bowl in 2001 – to missing the playoffs in 2002 – to a second Super Bowl victory in 2003, Holley brilliantly details how the New England brain-trust craft a culture leading to sustainable excellence.
As always with the Patriots, it begins and ends with Bill Belichick. This book highlights Belichick’s approach to winning…and winning often.
Here are my three main Belichick take-a-ways for success:
The Intense Appreciation for Preparation
The Ability to Always Find a Way to Do Things Better
The Mantra: “Do Your Job”
1. Belichick’s Appreciation for Preparation
The Patriots are often lauded for their strategy and game-plan excellence. To the casual fan like myself, it seems like every game they out-scheme their opponents. Case in point: Every time Tom Brady gets injured (or suspended), “Quarterback Whoever” comes in and does the job (God-forbid the Bears ever figure this out).
Belichick is obviously an intelligent football mind. But his work ethic and ability to find the weaknesses in the opponent…and craft a game-plan to exploit them…sets him apart from his peers in the league. His staff works to the bone, but Belichick himself sets that standard with his own effort and attention to detail.
Belichick’s genius is that he can take the tremendous amount of data his staff accumulates and simplify it for his players. Yes, his staff knows what the other team runs on 2nd and long, with a lead, in the second quarter, from the left hash in cold weather. But he has the ability to pare down that information and give his players just enough where they can read what the other team is doing – but also react and play instinctively as well.
His players go into every game feeling they are the better prepared team, which allows them to play with confidence in their abilities and their system. That confidence leads to huge individual and team production…and A LOT of wins.
Getting an inside look into the Patriot’s draft and free-agent room is eye-opening. They have a remarkably economical view on player selection and retention, and it starts at the top with Belichick. After all, he was an economics major in college and brought those principles to his football front office.
His knowledge of the salary cap and his ability to put a value on a player is insane. And when he doesn’t see an economical fit within his system, he is not afraid to do the unpopular thing (like letting go of Drew Bledsoe for Tom Brady, which I think ended up working out OK)
I was amazed (but really wasn’t) by how complicated (yet really simple) their methods are. They get down to the nitty gritty on not only who the player is on the field, but what kind of personality and value they could provide to their culture.
Could their skill set fit their system? Could their attitude fit their culture? Do they have the drive to get better? Have they shown the ability to sacrifice their ego? Are they mentally tough and are they able to handle Belichick’s coaching style?
Every draft pick and signee has to fit their mold. And they have to love football. There is a story about a senior college player that skipped a voluntary workout because he had to attend a study group for a test. He had all the physical and mental tools, but the Patriots passed because they didn’t feel football was a big enough priority to him. The kid ended up getting drafted high by someone else and was a bust. THAT is the kind of homework the Patriots do, and that is the kind of preparation that Belichick demands.
2. Belichick’s Ability to Find Ways to Do Things Better
We all know that Belichick flirts with the line when it comes to finding ways to do things better (see Spy-Gate or Deflate-Gate). But that is part of what makes him so special. He is always thinking two steps ahead and never accepts the status-quo. I believe this characteristic is what allows the Patriots to have sustainable excellence. Belichick won’t accept complacency within himself, and it filters through the whole organization. If Bill is still trying to get better, they better be doing the same.
Belichick calls it self-scouting. He is always evaluating how things are being done, the effectiveness of what he is doing, and how the team is functioning as a whole. If he sees something that needs correcting, it gets done expeditiously. There is no B.S. If there is a problem, it gets fixed. If there is a better way of doing something, it gets done.
And it starts with Belichick. He loves debate. He loves confrontation. He surrounds himself with people who think differently and challenge him. Most coaches don’t like being constantly questioned, but he thrives on it. And if he doesn’t feel like one of his coaches has the balls to give their opinion, they probably won’t be there for long.
Everything is about getting better, but at the end of the day it all comes back to their culture. Belichick says in the book that ‘we can’t know what we need, until we know who we are’. They have defining principles that shape the organization, values like toughness and selflessness. And though the Patriots push the limits in finding ways to get better, they never stray from these core philosophies that make TEAM the most important thing.
3.“Do Your Job” Mentality
If you watch a Bill Belichick documentary, the most common phrase you will hear is “Do Your Job”. This goes from the players all the way up to management. Belichick is a master of giving everyone he works with a role, a clear guideline of how that role should be executed, and how that role is important to the team’s success.
This mentality sets a clear standard for each and every member of the organization. Not only does everyone know their responsibility, but they know how and why their responsibility is vital to the team’s success. If everyone does their job to the best of their ability within his system…the reward is greatness.
Belichick puts a premium on rewarding people with the least glamourous roles as well. As an offensive lineman himself, he knows that Tom Brady wouldn’t be Tom Brady if it wasn’t for the people doing the grunt work in front of him. He wouldn’t be Bill Belichick if it weren’t for his scouting staff that spends months at a time on the road and long hours in the video room. He goes out of his way to let these people know that their job is just as important as the people who get all of the accolades. And they are all bought in to the system because of it.
Bill Belichick is a football genius. He’s a genius because he works harder than everyone else and surrounds himself with the best people. He has a system that works, but one that he is always improving. After reading Michael Holley’s “Patriot Reign”, it is easy to see why the football team in Foxboro continues to ‘reign’ as the NFL’s most consistent franchise. And as long is Belichick is at the helm, I can see it staying that way for many years to come.