Friday, October 08, 2010

CSI: Foxboro

Former economics major Bill Belichick could give any Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board a run for their money when it comes to answering questions in a public forum which leave the questioners with less information than they had before. Yesterday's press conference in which the Pats' coach discussed the trade of Randy Moss was a splendid example of Belichick's ability to offer content-free information in a blandly reassuring manner. Ben Bernanke should have been taking notes.

Belichick was happy to say what WEREN'T the reasons Moss got traded. It wasn't because he and Randy were on the outs, or Moss was a discipline problem. It wasn't because of Moss' contract status. It wasn't about anything that would have made for more than a minute's worth of sports talk radio.

OK, then Bill. So why was Moss traded?

Here's when Belichick's inner Fed chair kicked in. It was a "complex" decision involving many different factors. Too complex, in fact, to be explained, at least in public.

The coach's reluctance to be specific is nothing to fret about, or even really to make much fun of. For one thing, better to have an evasive coach than a flat-out liar. Many an NFL mentor past and present would have created a feature-length fairy tale to explain a decision is big and controversial as the Moss trade. For another, Belichick actually was in roughly the same position as Bernanke is when he testifies before Congress. Neither man's real audience, Wall Street in Bernanke's case, the Patriots franchise and its fans in Belichick's would take well to actual candor.

Imagine the headlines if Bernanke ever flatly said, "The economy's screwed, and there's only so much the Fed can do about it." Better yet, imagine the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Same thing with Belichick. Imagine if the coach actually went through the decision making process as to why he traded Moss. It would be a lengthy discussion in which he would have to acknowledge (because you know he thought about them), the deal's manifest risks and chances of negatively affecting the 2010 season. People would HATE knowing that stuff, and many of the people who'd hate it most are Pats players.

Belichick gets paid to consider all the angles and make the 51-49 calls as he sees them. He also gets paid to suppress the idea his calls have a 49 percent chance of being wrong, or even a one percent chance. This is especially true for Belichick, who is very willing (it's one of his major strengths) to go all in on a decision even if he knows its not an odds-on value bet. For such a gambler, the projection of serene self-confidence is more than half the battle.

It's not that hard to deconstruct the Moss trade. Evidence of the first four games suggests quite strongly the Pats were in the process of reducing Moss' role in the offense to that of a decoy and red zone option. Wide receivers in contract years as a group don't take kindly to the decoy role, and Moss has a history of, uh, call it woolgathering on the field and wallowing in self-pity off it when he feels less than a vital part of his team's offense.

So Moss was traded. A possible problem has been avoided at an acknowledged cost. What earthly percentage was in it for Belichick to discuss either the theoretical (at this point) problem he acted to prevent or the costs of doing so? For that matter, Moss, the other party in this affair, looked at exactly the same set of facts and came to the same conclusion as to how to describe them to the public. Randy's bland diplomacy at HIS press conference was a match for Belichick's. In fact, if anyone wanted to tell me that the two men spent their meeting after the trade getting their stories straight, I wouldn't argue the point.

Look, Belichick knows this trade has big-time potential blowback built into it. He made that clear at his press conference by doing something he hates almost as much as lying -- bragging. The coach cited the Patriots' won-loss record over the past decade to make the point that he knows what he's doing, and is entitled to the benefit of the doubt when he makes another big bet on the future of his football team.

He does and he is. But as Belichick knows and didn't say, even people who know what they're doing never have a perfect record.


At 1:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr Gee, two questions for you: 1) Why do we have all these noisy sportswriters on paper, online, on the airwaves (and cable), and not you? and 2) would you consider joining twitter? Even just to tweet to point out when you have new posts?

Thank you for your writing and notable sanity. @gravitymonkey


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