Before the Patriots' season even started, the retirements of Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison, and the trades of Richard Seymour and Mike Vrabel made fans and media alike wonder if this year’s team had enough leadership to be successful.
Those same people continued to wonder throughout the season when four players were sent home from practice for being late and one of them, linebacker Adalius Thomas, responded by criticizing the methods of venerable coach Bill Belichick.
Following the Patriots’ 33-14 season-ending loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the wild-card round of the playoffs last weekend, quarterback Tom Brady confirmed what many already suspected.
“The reality is obviously the leadership on our team wasn’t where it needed to be, and I’m speaking for myself, that I was one of those leaders that certainly needs to do a better job of getting everybody on the same page and filling the void left by those key players,” Brady said in an interview on WEEI.
The criticism continued Sunday when Willie McGinest, one of the team’s more prominent leaders during its run of three Super Bowl victories, sounded off on the issue in the Boston Herald.
“I don’t think there’s enough [emphasis] put on the leadership role, in not only having players being productive, but respecting and cherishing those leaders that you have,” McGinest told the Herald. “I think it’s a great example not just with the Patriots, but with a lot of teams in the NFL. There’s a distance between the coaches and the players. And regardless of how a coach’s relationship is with his players, there’s always a small buffer there.
McGinest also said that when he was on the team from 1994 to 2005, there were never any instances of players publicly questioning the head coach like Thomas did because the player-leaders held their teammates accountable for their actions.
“I don’t think we would have had that issue,” McGinest told the Herald of Thomas calling out Belichick. “He’s a grown man, he’s entitled to his opinion and whatnot. But those rules have been in place since I’ve been there.
Much of the Patriots’ success in the last decade has been credited to Belichick and the organization’s “system,” one that has repeatedly managed to turn perceived problem children like Harrison, Corey Dillon and Randy Moss into model citizens.
McGinest, however, thinks the Patriots became overconfident in their ability to stay the course regardless of who was on board.
“When teams and organizations start getting arrogant, and think, ’Oh, it’s all about our system, and it’s all about us,’ and they start getting rid of those … key players in the locker room, they aren’t going to be winning the same,” McGinest told the Herald. “Things aren’t the same. The locker room changes. And the kids that are coming in now are a little different than what we were when we came in. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s fine. But you need those leaders in the locker room to guide them to where they need to go.”