Leadership in professional sports is one of the most daunting tasks for a coach. Very rarely is it the Xs and Os that lead a team to succeed or fail; generally it is the overall vision of the coach and the buy-in of the players. No one has navigated these waters better than Bill Belichick.
In a league that promotes parity with a hard salary cap and reverse finish drafting, maintaining success and continuity is nearly impossible and yet Bill has managed to be the class of the NFL for 18 years. Sure, having the game’s greatest player in Tom Brady helps, but he is only one of 11 that play roughly a third of the game. Nine Super Bowl appearances with six wins in under two decades is an achievement that will likely never be bested.
Having played for Bill in my final season in the NFL, it was an experience unlike I’ve had with any other team. Most coaches and front offices will build a team and then let it sit. They talk about making the playoffs and winning Super Bowls in April and May. That’s not how it’s done in New England. Belichick might be the smartest football mind to ever coach the game, but that is only scratching the surface of his greatness.
On the doorway where the players routinely enter and exit through, there are a few brief printed statements. Some are placed on the side when entering and some on the side when exiting, but three of the most prominent ones are:
“Ignore the Noise”
“Do Your Job”
They seem simple, but very few organizations use them in practice. When you are having success, the outside world will talk. When you are failing, the outside world will talk. People outside of the organization will always have an opinion of what should and shouldn’t be done. Their opinions don’t matter one iota. Except that’s not how human nature works. The noise begins to infect your mind and plant seeds of doubt. It gets you to think that maybe there could be a better way to operate.
In the 24-hour news cycle, there will always be opinions; no one drowns them out better than Bill. He makes sure there is one voice, one message and one mission echoing throughout the organization, and because of that there is no room or any outside influence to take hold.
Managing expectations is one of the hardest parts of life. So often everyone wants to skip the hard part of the task that is seemingly right in front of them and fast forward to the instant success that lies at the end of the journey. Teams and organizations always talk about how this will be their best year yet, and they have illusions of grandeur very early in the process. The Pats players don’t talk about the future and how good they need to be. They simply speak about themselves and today because that’s really all that matters. Never will you hear bold proclamations of success that will be a distraction to the process. Let others talk while the team works.
Doing your job seems simple, and it should be the goal of everyone in every organization. Rarely that’s the case. So often teams become caught up in what’s going on around them. This includes a team member not doing what they should’ve and how this leads another player to complain he has been placed at a disadvantage as a result.
Bill Belichick is huge admirer of the military. Most of it stems back to his father working for the Navy football team and it’s this commitment to fulfilling your orders that allows every player to execute their part while on the field.
When you do your job every day, amazing things can happen. Most professional teams fail to improve throughout the season. A team is constructed and that is seemingly the end of it. Very few have a vision of where they would like to go by increasing and expanding the roles of certain players by developing their skills through daily training. The New England Patriots are always a better team at the end of season than the beginning. Rarely is that the case in the NFL due to the propensity of injuries and that leads to the inability to continually expand and grow.
The last piece, and quite possibly the most critical, is that despite Bill Belichick being the oldest coach to every win a Super Bowl, he is constantly reinventing himself. The NFL is a copycat league and once something is successful, everyone jumps on it. Not unlike the stock market, when there is a rush to one sector it quickly becomes overpriced and there are bargains everywhere else. Most people are just too blind to see them because they are chasing the crowd.
In a league that is constantly getting younger and not paying mid-level veteran players, Bill has realized their value. He understands that those players will be fully invested in the system because this is their last chance. Bill preys on this and subsequently builds a team that is prepared, smart and experienced.
There are no tricks to the way Bill Belichick leads. He isn’t a charismatic personality or a great natural orator, but he is true to himself. Each day he sets the example by practicing everything he preaches. “No days off” means no time off ever for Bill, and it’s this attitude that forges a bond with his players that convinces them to believe whatever he says.
Image credit: Keith Allison [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons