An Evening with Bill Belichick
After realizing that the tickets had sold out quicker than any speaker before, or so it seemed, I had to join the majority of students that had missed out on what should be a once in a lifetime experience.
However, as Sports Editor at The Salem State Log, I was fortunate enough to find my way into the lecture, in the top balcony with the rest of the local media. In accordance with Coach Belichick's contract, there were only local credentials in attendance. This wasn't the only thing Belichick had termed into his deal. Photography was only allowed for the first five minutes of the lecture, and only from your seat.
The capacity crowd at Rockett Arena was first greeted by new president of Salem State College, Patricia Maguire Meservey, Ph.D., R.N. She proclaimed that she 'deeply treasures' her new position as president of the college, and received a loud cheer from the crowd upon mentioning the Patriots' prefect 16-0 season.
Following the president was a short video collage of the Patriots and coach Belichick accompanied by Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir". The video covered all the major accomplishments of coach Belichick's career, which are numerous.
Bill Belichick is a 33-year veteran of the NFL, and is the only coach in NFL history to win three Super Bowl titles in a four-year span. In 2007, Belichick led the Patriots to the fourth perfect (no losses or ties) regular season in the NFL's 88-year history, and the first since the NFL established a 16-game schedule in 1978.
He has led the Patriots to the Super Bowl four times in the last seven seasons, and he has produced five straight AFC East titles and six division championships in the last seven seasons.
Belichick's Patriots own the all-time NFL records for consecutive total victories, 21 from 2003-04, consecutive regular-season victories, 19 from 2006-07, and consecutive playoff victories, 10 from 2001-05. Belichick owns the second-best postseason record in NFL history, 15-4, and is the winningest NFL head coach since 2001 at 100-29.
Belichick has spent more seasons in the league than any other current NFL head coach, and in that time, he has been a part of five Super Bowl championship teams. His overall record of 105-40 with the Patriots gives him the most victories, and the best winning percentage, of any head coach in franchise history.
This man is truly a football genius, but his humor is probably what makes him such a great coach. After a roaring ovation, coach Belichick commented on his apparent 'genius',
"I've been called a football genius, but I've also been called a moron by my kids; when I forget to take out the trash or I let the dogs off the leash...so that kind of goes both ways."
Coach Belichick also offered some kind words about the City of Salem.
"We just finished the college draft last weekend and it seems like, in those later rounds, your always looking for those gems; similar to what Salem is to the state of Massachusetts." Take that Mass. Belichick thinks Salem is better than you. At least that's what he told us.
Next, Coach Belichick reminded students to "Follow your heart, do what you love, and take a shot at it." He warned that years from now the things that you want most will only be yours if you get out there and make it happen. He says that you have to "Give it a chance to work out."
Then, Coach touched on the old cliché, "There's no 'i' in team; but there is an 'i' in win." The 'i', he says, stands for 'individuals'. He says "if you want to win, then every one has to do their job, and go out there and out perform the competition..."
In the Belichick dictionary, under 'Leadership', it reads 'Attitude'. Attitude is the number one quality of leadership according to coach Belichick. A leader does the following things:
1. He does his job.
2. He puts the team first.
3. He works hard.
4. He pays attention to the details, trying to get everything right.
A perfect mold for a perfect player, according to Belichick. Coach goes on to talk about Troy Brown and his leadership on the Patriots. He says that Troy is a quiet captain, but he just goes out there and 'does his job', a leader in Belichick's book.
The Coach admits that his weekly meetings with the captains, where they "talk about things that are important for winning," is the most helpful thing that he has done here in New England. Something that he admits he did not do while he was a coach for the Cleveland Browns.
These meetings allow him and his coaches to let the captains know what the coaching staff needs from the team, but it also allows the captains to let the coaches know what the team expects from them. The captains then convey what needs to be done to the rest of the team, acting as liaisons to the coaches who are too busy to meet with every player about every problem. This is just one of the ways that the organization tries to be better prepared to do the best job possible.
A funny moment with Coach Belichick followed. When speaking about discipline, he spoke about how sometimes you need to punish the whole team instead of punishing just one player to make a larger statement. "When a player goes out there and makes a mistake, the team can suffer from that mistake. Conversely, when a player goes out there and successfully executes a play, the whole team benefits from that."
He recalled a time on the practice field, when he was a defensive coordinator with the New York Giants, and the line continued jumping offsides. He started out by talking with the team, telling them how bad it was for the team to get the offsides calls. When that didn't work, he pulled guys out separately to tell them about it. He said he'd yell at 'em, and swear at 'em, and that didn't work either. Coach Belichick finally found his solution to the problem.
"If we jumped offsides, then the whole defense would just run a lap all the way around the field. And while they were running that lap, all the guys that didn't jump offsides were letting the guy who jumped know about it. And it really helped take care of the offsides problem, not that we don't jump offside, but I'll tell ya there's not a lot of it; and whenever it happens, they're running."
This was just the first comical story that coach Belichick would share with the crowd. Next, he recalled a time during training camp, where Matt Light kept asking for a night off for the team during August practices. Belichick says that he looked at Matt like "You gotta be kiddin' me!" which garners laughter from the crowd.
He believes that training camp is the time where you need to be working everyday, in order to be ready for the late-game situations. This is where you build your stamina. He jokes with Light though, and says "You don't get something for nothing." Belichick challenged Matt Light, having him stand down field and catch a punt. If he catches it, then they get the night off; if he misses it then they will double the number of sprints they have to do that day.
"To make a long story short, there was a lot of team building that went on in that next minute or so," he said, "Troy Brown was showing him how to shield the sun from his eyes, and Kevin Faulk was teaching him about rotation. Well, Light caught it." This was met with another booming applause from the crowd, but this story wasn't over yet.
Next year, Vince Wilfork was the one who had to catch the punt. He caught it. So this past year, Wilfork was made to do it again; but this time he had to hold a football in his hand and catch the punt.
"We won 18 straight games last year," Belichick said, "but when Wilfork caught that punt, that was one of the high points of the entire season." Even pros like the New England Patriots know how to have fun.
Belichick went on to say, "When you are in charge of a group of people, like a team, first thing you do is put down some ground rules. And if they don't do it, then you immediately know that this guy is not part of the team, and that this guy is going to be a problem."
Belichick says that everyone should have the attitude that Randy Moss brought to New England. He came to the head coach and said to him, "Just tell me what I gotta do." Belichick called it the 'Randy Moss Attitude'. So that's what it is from now on, add it to the Belichick dictionary.
The coach went on to talk about how football has changed in his long time with the game. He talked about the different changes in formations and technology that have taken place during his career. 'It's like that in every other job too," he reminds the crowd, "the landscape is going to change." He says that learning to change and adapt is vital to making it in the work place, as well as on the football field.
Next, coach Belichick spoke about a specific play that had received a lot of coverage the past season. It was a double-reverse pass ran against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Brady laterally passed the ball to Moss, who dropped it (which he was not supposed to do) and picked it up and laterally passed it back to Brady, who found Jabar Gaffney deep into the Steelers' end zone.
"We initially put that play in against the Ravens," coach said, "so we called it 'raven.'" He finished tapping his shoulder to emphasize how clearly things need to be stated in the football world. He says that they had been working on this play in practice, and it had been going pretty well, but they realized that the play would work better if they flipped it over.
So they practiced it until they had it right, and when they ran it in a game, it worked just as they had planned. 'Practice makes perfect,' is the idea here.
This is where the evening got monumental. Coach Belichick began to break down practice and game films with the crowd at Salem State. "I know this is a little unconventional. Not like what President Clinton or President Bush or all those guys did," he claimed.
He started with some punt-coverage formations. A "picket fence" move that he describes is supposed to trap the ball deep in the zone, before it gets to the goal line. He shows this play a few times through in practice films, then he shows it during game situations against the Redskins, the Chargers, and the Jets, where it is clear that practicing the play makes it easier and more likely to happen during a game.
"Practice preparation become game reality."
The next video cues up, showing a bunch of large men jogging slowly around a football practice field. "Tell me what you think happened here," Belichick says, evoking more laughter from the crowd. Then he showed the clips of Light and Wilfork catching the punts at training camp; the catch by Wilfork with the ball in his hand created the loudest cheer, and the biggest celebration from the Patriots on the practice film. This was priceless stuff for a fan of the organization.
Next, he showed the "raven" play. He started breaking it down in the game film, rewinding constantly with his hand-held remote to make sure everyone sees what he is talking about. It went like this.
"Moss drops back, so it's a lateral, and Gaffney lined up right here is gunna go down and fake like he is going to block. See, this adds a lot of draw to the play when Moss drops it. We were planning on having him run around right over here for a little but and then throw it back but it all happened too fast. Nice perfect throw (from Moss to Brady)." Followed by loud applause from the crowd when Gaffney caught Brady's touchdown bomb.
Then Coach Belichick went back to practice, noting that they had been practicing the play from the other side of the field. The Patriots' defense covers the play well the whole time, making Brady find other options than Gaffney's deep out. "Because the defense has seen it too many times," says Belichick.
Finally, coach Belichick runs the Steelers tape again, with the final result of Jabar Gaffney striding into the end zone in front of the trash-talking Anthony Smith, who had "guaranteed" a victory over the Patriots and he wasn't sorry he had. "There's our boy Smitty," joked Coach Belichick, showing that he does take some offense to the trash talk that goes on in the game.
After this, coach Belichick mentioned Super Bowl XXXVI, where the Patriots team chose to be announced as a team. Which has become common practice for both teams in the Super Bowl.
To end the evening, Belichick fielded six questions that were previously submitted by Salem State students and one from faculty/staff. They went as follows:
1) Who is the most talented athlete you have ever worked with? Why?—Lawrence Taylor. "Coming out of college, at North Carolina, he could run the 40 in 4.6. That's really good for a guy his size." Brady would have to be the best football player though.
2) After things didn't work out in Cleveland, were you ever worried that people might think of you as a defensive coordinator not a head coach?—"I didn't get into football to be a head coach. I just love coaching."
3) How much of your success is attributed to you knowing someone rather than knowing something; in other words, how does "it's not what you know, it's who you know" pertain to your career?—Belichick agrees with this statement. "Relationships that are based on respect are going to be the most meaningful to you."
4) What was the purpose of drafting Jerod Mayo in the first round of this years NFL Draft, and coach please don't tell us that you couldn't pass on the Mayo?—"We just try to do what is best for our football team." Belichick refers to the incoming rookie as a "four-down player" who is very "versitle."
5) Does your uncanny ability to breakdown offenses stem from your patience on the golf course?—"Definitely not. You obviously haven't seen me golf."
6) Has the media ever tried to get you to say things that would compromise your image as a head coach?—Coach Belichick says that he meets with the media six times a week, "everyday but Thursday", and that he has "a lot of respect for what they do." He sees the media as the connection between the team and the fans.
7) What do you predict for the 2008-09 season?—"We just try and keep short-term focus." He says that there is no need to think about the future. Training camp comes first, and then they take it one game at a time.
That was the perfect way for coach Belichick to end this amazing and exciting evening with probably the smartest football mind ever involved in the game. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I am so grateful to have been there for it.
I would just like to thank Jim Glynn of College Relations at Salem State College for allowing me the credentials.
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