To anyone who follows the NFL, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is a complete puzzle —a mad football genius who shows close to zero public emotion. Belichick has coached the Patriots to eight Super Bowl appearances and five rings in the past 15 years, yet even Patriots fans know very little about the man.
A fat new 450-page book, “Belichick: The Making of the Greatest Football Coach of All Time,” sheds a little more light. Its author, ESPN NFL reporter Ian O’Connor, did not get access to the tight-lipped coach for the biography, but did interview 350 people around him.
O’Connor infamously wrote a column in 2000, when the Patriots hired Belichick as head coach, arguing that it was a bad hire. (Belichick had not been successful as head coach of the Cleveland Browns.) Naturally, O’Connor has since changed his tune: “I think he’s the most fascinating, enigmatic figure in American sports, and I don’t think there’s a close second,” he said last week on Yahoo Finance’s Midday Movers live show. “I was fascinated with how wrong I was back then, how wrong most of the NFL was.”
O’Connor’s book has garnered attention mostly for its juicy details about the rumored fallout between Belichick and his star quarterback Tom Brady over the trading of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, and indeed it reveals much about that saga.
But O’Connor’s book also digs into why Belichick is such a successful coach, and serves as a retort to those who argue that the Patriots dynasty is mostly thanks to the quarterback, rather than the coach.
Belichick coaches ‘relentlessly, and in an unforgiving way’
In keeping with Belichick’s pet phrase “Do your job,” Belichick treats his players like employees. This is a theme Patriots alumni have confirmed: Martellus Bennett, who won a Super Bowl with the Patriots, told Yahoo Finance that the Patriots were the only team that handed him an actual employee handbook when he arrived; Michael Lombardi, who worked for Belichick as an assistant to the coaching staff, told Yahoo Finance it’s the same exact handbook Belichick has been using since he coached the Browns.
“Bill outworks people, he out-details people,” O’Connor says. “If you don’t want to be coached relentlessly, and in an unforgiving way, do not go there. Tom Brady is probably the greatest football player of all time, but Belichick coaches him every day as if he’s the last player on the roster. And the players at the bottom and in the middle of the roster see that, and they see Brady held to a level of daily accountability that’s extreme, and I think that has a positive impact on the rest of the team.”
Belichick also extends the theme of professionalism to the media. Despite how terse he may appear in postgame interviews, his employee handbook includes these instructions to players, O’Connor relays in his book: “Reasonable cooperation with the news media is essential… Please recognize that each member of the media, like you, has a job to perform.”
And the coach doesn’t raise his voice, O’Connor explained on this week’s Yahoo Finance Sportsbook podcast. Belichick’s approach to criticism is unsentimental. “In the film room, and team meeting room, he will cut you in half with critiques, not with volume, but pointing out your mistakes,” O’Connor said. “And he does that with Brady all the way to the last guy on the team.” (Listen to O’Connor’s podcast interview at the bottom of this post.)
Belichick and Brady: ‘They’ve never gone out to dinner’
You might think that after all they’ve been through together, Belichick and Brady would have developed something of a friendship.
“It was transactional,” O’Connor said. “There was no love there, they’ve never gone out to dinner. But that’s OK, that’s perfectly fine. And it’s really amazing to think that, with the pressure under which they operated every day, in close quarters, it took 18 years until their partnership had a fracture in it that was seen publicly.”
The fracture came after Brady convinced Patriots owner Robert Kraft to trade Garoppolo, basically cementing that Brady will finish his career with the Patriots.
“Every made man in Foxboro, under Bill, has been moved out of there a year early rather than a year late,” O’Connor said. “Tom Brady was on deck, he was next, so he definitely felt threatened by Garoppolo… Brady outperforming the Belichick system, and becoming the first player to force Bill to keep him, maybe a year or two or three or four extra as opposed to one year early, that was one of his greatest accomplishments. Brady outperformed the Belichick software.”
Despite that rift, O’Connor believes that the relationship between Brady and Belichick survived it and is now stable, and will remain so for the rest of their time working together — which could be a long time. “I had a phone conversation with Brady in spring of 2017,” O’Connor said, “where we were talking about [playing at age] 47 and 48, nevermind 45.”
Listen to Ian O’Connor on the Yahoo Finance Sportsbook podcast here: