Bill Belichick's Just Screwing With Everyone NowIn the aftermath of Super Bowl LI, Bill Belichick has discovered a delightful truth about his image. If one has a well earned reputation as an Evil Genius (just Genius east of Hartford), one can use that reputation to confound one's opponents without doing anything evil or genius-y at all.
Item One: In the Monday morning press conference after the game, the Patriots' coach complained that all the other teams in the league had a five week head start on New England in preparing for the 2017 season. Reaction from neutral observers was "that guy, he can't even stop scheming for a second to enjoy historic victory."
Now, this may have been a time, and not the first time, where Belichick's seldom displayed, bone dry understated wit went over the heads of his audience. But his words could have had another ulterior motive. They could have been intended to sow doubt and despair in the three other franchises of the AFC East, a fear that "God damn it, he's never gonna retire. He'll die on the job and we'll never win the division until he does." That's the sort of fear that sends front offices and coaches into scheming frenzies of their own, frenzies which tend to result in overpaying lucky free agents and talking themselves into drafting yet another quarterback who's never run anything but the spread since childhood.
In the event, Belichick did not immediately turn to scheming. He spent Monday evening in New York playing straight man to Julian Edelman as the two yucked it up with Jimmy Fallon. The coach appeared to enjoy himself immensely. Didn't have a care in the world. Or a scheme.
Item Two: The next morning, Belichick participated in the victory parade and addressed the crowd with that odd chant "No Days Off." He repeated it until the crowd responded. It's the new team motto, coming soon to merchandise near you. It's also a crock, a literal untruth.
The Patriots took days off in the 2016 season, all of them did. Those days off are mandated by the collective bargaining agreement, and if the Pats showed up for work on any of them, Robert Kraft would've had yet another unpleasant and losing confrontation with Roger Goodell. Furthermore, while stern, Belichick is not an ogre. All season long, various Patriots (especially Tom Brady) showed up as absent at practice for non-football reasons. Players have families, players get sick, can't get out of jury duty, etc. It's no big deal.
If Belichick meant to say "everybody on this team showed up and gave maximum effort on the days they had to work," that would've been much closer to the truth, but not the sort of thing one can fit on a sweatshirt or ball cap. So maybe he told a fib for the greater glory of the bottom line at Patriots Place.
Or maybe, just maybe, Belichick wasn't speaking to the fans at all. Perhaps his banal slogan was aimed at his peers -- all the other NFL coaches. Could it be his subliminal message to them was "my players get days off, but I never take one!"
If so, that's magnificent passive-aggressive evil genius work right there. All the other coaches know Belichick's the best in their business. If they start to think that's because he never stops working, they're all halfway towards beating themselves, not to mention towards an early grave.
All football coaches work impossibly long hours all year round. As there remains only 24 such hours a day, an attempt to extend such hours quickly reaches the point of diminishing returns.
The reason why Belichick is the best coach isn't that he's the hardest working. It's ability. He is better able to use those long hours to understand stuff about football and then to communicate that understand to his players. Believe me, Rex Ryan could without sleep for a year to look at more film and it wouldn't help a bit. Another hour a day at the office won't improve Andy Reid's clock management.
In a job where long hours are a given, fatigue is also one. Vince Lombardi said "fatigue makes cowards of us all." Don't know about that, but it's bad for the decision-making process. There comes a point where any coach has to stop planning and let the players take over. A tired coach has more trouble reaching that point. I can't prove it, but it is my belief that what fans and media call overcoaching is really fatigued coaching.
In any contest, whether of mind, body or both, if your opponent is more tired than you are, you're also two-up standing on the first tee. Your opponent is fighting you and his own body. He's liable do just about anything -- like passing on your one-yard line, or forgetting to run the ball with a 25-point lead.
I don't know what Belichick is doing as I type this. He's probably at work in his office, as he does truly love his work. But if he's not, his reputation is out there working 24/7. It gets no days off.