Some of Bill Belichick’s best work doesn’t come on the field, it doesn’t come in the film room, it doesn’t come in the locker room and it doesn’t even happen in the coach’s office or on his trusty treadmill, slaving over game plans, scouting reports and game film.
The New England Patriots head coach often saves some of his best work for a nondescript, run-of-the-mill hotel conference room.
Belichick and his Patriots on Sunday will play in the Super Bowl for the seventh time in his historic tenure. Regardless of whether Belichick walks away with his fifth Super Bowl ring as Patriots head coach, one thing is certain: Belichick’s team, as they have for his entire time in New England, will be ready to play — both mentally and emotionally.
Belichick will undoubtedly arm the Patriots with a plan for battle that would make George Patton smile, but it’s also what Belichick will do to inspire his players (the David Pattens of the world, if you will) for the biggest game of their lives.
Belichick the tactician gets the praise, but history will show Belichick the motivator is no slouch. If it tells us anything, it’s Belichick will leave the Patriots highly motivated when he and his team meet one final time on Sunday morning at the team hotel.
“Anything less than that, you feel like you let yourself down and you let him down.”
Part of Belichick’s brilliance as a motivator actually comes from what he’s able to do over the course of a season. If he’s your head coach, you know that when you go to work, you’re probably going to have the better plan of attack.
“He’s not going to stand up there and give the big motivational, Marty Schottenheimer speech,” former defensive end Rick Lyle, whom Belichick drafted with Cleveland in 1994, told The Boston Globe in a November 2013. “You’re motivated in that you want to play good for him just so that he’s not disappointed. We know that nobody works harder at preparing for games than he does. And so you feel like you need to prepare the same way. Anything less than that, you feel like you let yourself down and you let him down.”
Belichick doesn’t have the reputation possessed by more oratorically gifted coaches like Sean Payton or Rex Ryan. But that works in Belichick’s favor. Because he doesn’t talk a lot, it means more when he actually does speak.
And when Belichick addresses the team, more often than not, he makes it count.
“It’s very matter of fact. He does all of his preparation during the week, so by the time you get to the locker room before the game, (it’s) maybe a little bit motivational — it’s never rah-rah,” former Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson told NESN.com this week on Radio Row. “You watch those football movies and you see guys jumping up and down on chairs and banging their heads on lockers, that’s not what the New England Patriots are like.
“They are prepared throughout the week. Then Coach Belichick simply goes over the things they need to do win, says go out there and do it, and you go out there and do it.”
He doesn’t try to be something he’s not, but for a lot of his players and coaches, it might be the biggest game of their lives, which doesn’t seem lost on the head coach, no matter how many times he finds himself on football’s’ biggest stage.
“It’s nothing where it’s going to get you overly motivated,” Patriots Hall of Famer and three-time Super Bowl winner Troy Brown told NESN.com on Radio Row. “It’s a speech that usually comes Sunday morning during the morning meeting when he’s getting you ready and then he sends you back to your room. But it’s just to kind of motivate you. … It will be delivered in a low-key type manner just to give guys something to think about and sleep on for a little bit before they get ready for the big game.”
That’s not to say he’s not innovative. Belichick’s creativity can manifest itself in how he addresses his team before a championship showdown. Like before the Patriots’ first Super Bowl win in 2002, when he showed video of how forcing turnovers early in the game against St. Louis made the Rams vulnerable.
“If you can get through those first two minutes,” Belichick told his team, according to a 2002 Sports Illustrated story, “you’ve got a fighting chance.”
The Patriots forced three turnovers — including a 47-yard interception return for a Ty Law touchdown — and a dynasty was born.
The more obvious example, of course, came before Super Bowl XXXIX against the Philadelphia Eagles. With the prospect of bringing a title back to Philly for the first time since 1983, the Eagles reached out to the Boston Red Sox for advice in planning a championship parade.
And wouldn’t you know it? That parade-planning effort got back to Belichick.
“Either they kick your ass, or you kick theirs.”
He’s also unafraid to get a little mean. Belichick’s quick-witted sass is a weapon in his motivational arsenal at practices and inside the Patriots’ complex, but he’s also unafraid turn it on the opponent behind closed doors.
In 2004, the Indianapolis Colts went 12-4 and won their first two playoff games behind an offense that scored 79 points over those two games, setting up an AFC Championship game in Foxboro.
“We keep playing like this, they might as well just hand us the rings,” Colts tight end Marcus Pollard said in the week before the AFC title game.
Publicly, the Patriots shrugged it off — “We don’t need to go out and talk,” Tom Brady said — but privately, Belichick centered his Saturday night speech around the comments.
“Nobody hands you a ring. I don’t care how much money you have, you can’t (expletive) buy one. You have to play, and you have to earn it,” Belichick said, according to Sports Illustrated.
Then came Belichick’s crescendo, as the coach revealed his 2001 Super Bowl ring.
“This has to be earned, and there’s only one way to do that. Either they kick your ass, or you kick theirs.”
The Patriots punched the Colts in the mouth, forcing three first-half turnovers (five on the game) and cruised to a 24-14 win.
Belichick famously sings the praise of his opponents in the week leading up to kickoff, but he also pays attention to what’s being said about his own team. As pundits compared his team to the Carolina Panthers before Super Bowl XXXVIII, Belichick quickly became irritated.
An anonymous Patriots player told The Boston Globe that Belichick’s speech went something like this: “Everybody’s talking about the how Panthers are similar to us. They’re not us. They’ll never be (expletive) us. They’ll never be champions. We’re the (expletive) champions, and the trophy is coming back where it belongs.”
The player added: “It was the most emotional I’ve seen him. He let it hang out. It was real. We wanted to go out there and kill somebody.”
“In the end, the reason why you won is because you identified the situation, you heard the call and you did your job.”
We really have no way of telling what Belichick’s final message to his team entering Super Bowl LI will be. Quite frankly, Belichick might not even know yet. He revealed, a few years back, that a lot of times his pregame message is a “gut feeling” and he goes from there.
“Leading into a game there are a number of thoughts going through your mind, but sometimes you can nail down one specific thing,” he explained, “and sometimes there are a collection of thoughts and you pick out one based on the way you feel at that particular point in time or maybe it’s combining a couple of things together. There’s no set formula.”
There’s a good chance, though, Belichick’s message, as it often does, will center around doing one’s job. That’s been his go-to mantra since joining the Patriots, and it’s what he preached before Super Bowl XXXVIII.
“What this trophy stands for,” Belichick said, hoisting the Patriots’ first Lombardi Trophy up in front of his players, “is for the team.
“That’s what it symbolizes. Not the guy who leads the league in punting, not the guy who has 15 sacks, not the guy who has 1,200 rushing yards. … It represents the team that’s the toughest, smartest, most confident team. If you think back on our season, no matter what tough spot you’ve been in, in the end, the reason why you won is because you identified the situation, you heard the call, and you did your job.
“That’s what execution is about. This game is about execution. There’s one champion. It will be us if we play well.”
No matter what Belichick settles on, one thing will be certain: The Patriots will be ready to play on Sunday, in more ways than one.
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images