Bill Belichick On Leadership, Winning, Tom Brady Not A ‘Great Natural Athlete’ (Exclusive) | CNBCOn August 29, 2019 by Raul Dinwiddie
I think I know a little bit about competition. I think I know a little bit about leadership. And I think I know a little bit about football. “Bill Belichick, the greatest coach of all time.” We’re at mission BBQ in Annapolis Maryland your choice why are we eating here? Well, first of all I love Annapolis this is home and I love what the mission barbecue stands for I love their message the fact that they support the people that serve. When I was here last night they were packing up a few hundred pounds of their BBQ to ship off to Iraq. Is it true that at twelve noon and mission barbecue they stand up and sing the national anthem? You’ll see for yourself. There’s a sign over there that says every battle is won before it is fought. You said that’s one of the few signs you have in the Patriots headquarters. Sun Tzu, “The Art of War.” It’s all about preparation you know what you’re doing and you have an idea what the opponents can do what their strengths weaknesses are. Then, once you get into the game then those adjustments will be I won’t say easy but relatively easier more manageable. How do you know when you’re well enough prepared? When everybody knows what to do because our games are so fast, things happen so quickly. So you review the situation to review the communication, you try to make sure that everybody’s on the same page if it’s too complicated it’s probably not going to work. If it’s too simple that might not work either because it’s too obvious so you try to find that that that fine line in the middle where it’s challenging enough for your opponents but something you can execute again it comes down to execution. Let’s talk about the Super Bowl for a second. It’s been two months and it was amazing. Are you still processing it? Yes I have to go back and watch it every once in a while just to make sure it came out the way I remember it. Was there any point where you thought you weren’t going to win? It was funny this is one of those games where we didn’t have control of the score, but I didn’t feel like we had lost control of the game. We could move the ball, we were able to stop on third down we were able to do things but the scoreboard was very much against us. As long as there was still time I felt we had a chance. Were you scared? No, I just tried to take it from play to play and make, you know, the best decision we can for the next play you know it all fell in place for us at the end which it had to if one thing had gone wrong we would have probably come up short. What did it feel like? Close to a miracle. I think we had one of those great catches go in our favor and we’ve seen him go the other way in other games, so you know that was a kind of a miracle. What’s fascinating about your job and what the world watches you do is you make decisions and have plays before the game but then you get out there in the field and the entire game is making a decision after decision in the moment I mean this is sort of like leadership on steroids. I think General Eisenhower put it pretty well a battle plan is great until you actually get into the battle then it doesn’t mean anything. So, that’s the way it is in football, you have a game plan you go into the game now you start playing you see what your opponent’s doing or they make an adjustment to what you’re doing and then you have to change so my job as a coach is to make good decisions it’s not to go out there and block or tackle thank God that wouldn’t be very good. To take information, calculate it, put it through some kind of process and figure out what’s the next thing to do and so that happens from really the first play of the game. I want to play a little word association game. Okay i’m gonna say word and just want your immediate snap reaction. Sure. Football. More sport than business but it’s a business. But I respect the game for the game and for the sport. The media. It’s how a team connects to its fans. Deflategate. Ridiculous. Aaron Hernandez. Tragedy. Heartbreaking. Yes, that’ll be another word. Winning. The goal. There’s no medals for trying. This isn’t like eighth grade where everybody gets a trophy. We’re in a professional sport and its competitive to win that’s what we do. Well you’ve been called the chief economist of football you were the person who saw the financial value of undervalued players I mean it’s considered one of your great skills and you always had incredible financial discipline as a coach. Right but none of us got into football to be a professional football player none of us got into professional football to be a professional coach or to manage a cab or manage a team all of us that got into football got into football because the game because we love to go to practice we’d love to play the game when we were eight, nine, 10 years old. It’s hard to even think about your story without without thinking about your dad although he’s never the head coach in Annapolis but he was an assistant coach was enormously respected wrote a book about football. Was football a calling to you? Absolutely and my dad had great relationships with other members of the staff I learned coaching at an early age, how coaches think, how coaches… you know what bothers them what doesn’t bother i’m kinda then just a lot of coaching styles. But again, that was part of it too is you can learn like look all ten of these guys are good coaches they each have different personalities they each have different styles what does that mean you figure out what works for you I took a lot from everybody and somehow figured it out. I think that’s kind of I think to me in business or in life there’s a like “just figure it out.” Your dad taught you a ton about football but what did your dad teach you about life? I learned a lot from my dad. He was the was the youngest of five grew up in a poor environment. His big break really was football. He worked his way through college, lived in the gym and a closet of summer jobs and all that. He made a career out of football and ultimately ended up here at the Naval Academy where I think he was destined to be because he loved his country and the quality of people that come here because of their toughness their work ethic and their devotion to the country and their duty. So that’s really what he’s about or what he was about and so many of those lessons I learned either from him or from my association with the academy or from my association with the people at the Naval Academy which represented the same values. What would you call your most defining moments of your career? Where I probably learned the most is my first year in 1975 because I took a job, was given a job with the Colts and I didn’t have any experience and they were very understaffed. I wasn’t getting paid anything but I had a lot of responsibility for that position and so I was able to learn a lot it was like having two or three graduate courses in one year. After that year when I went to Detroit, we were one in four we were playing the Patriots who were four in one. They had a great team and I went back to an experience that I had and I talked to our offensive coordinator at that time and said, “Look I know we haven’t ever used this formation but you know I studied this formation while I was in Baltimore last year like I think this is really going to give the Patriots a problem. Can we take a look at this?” So we went through it we looked at it we used it and you know we won a game by three touchdowns it was a huge upset. That was kind of one of those where I’m like okay I I can I can coach in this league. What did you take away from that? Don’t be afraid to use a good idea just because it’s unconventional just because somebody else hasn’t done it. If you believe in it’s a good idea then you know don’t be afraid to use it. Fast forward I take the job with the Patriots in 2000. The first meeting we have in the spring this is back in the old Foxboro Stadium so it’s kind of a small room for squeezing the whole team in there. Here comes yeah the guys first round draft pick from a prior year walks into the front of the meeting not into the back walks into the front and kind of sits down and I’m already I’ve already started the meeting. I’m 3-4 minutes into it and you know I just look at him like, “What are you doing?” He said, “Sorry coach.” “Just get out of here.” We’re not gonna start this program off with you walking in whenever you feel like walking in. I don’t care if a guy’s a number one draft choice or not a number one draft choice. We’re just not going to run a team like this. If you had to describe the principles of your leadership style or approach what would they be? Do your job, be attentive. Pay attention to details and put the team first. In football to be successful as an individual player you need your teammates and the better you connect with them the better you interact as a team the more successful you’ll be individually and I’d say we try to do things to help the team building process. Like what? Well, you know, on the field if one person does something particularly good then everybody receives the benefit. So now you’re counting on that other person even though he not might not be in your side of the ball. You might not even really like the guy but if he does the right thing, we all get something, well you’re pulling for him and then off the field again we do team building things where we get to know each other. We throw away the cell phones and just do things that we’re together as a team and we’re experiencing together whether it be you know going to a movie or we play games or do trivia or do something like that it just kind of brings everybody together to have fun to take all the outside distractions out of us. Speaking of distractions you’re not a big fan of social media? Yeah that would be put it mildly. I think I do all I can to fight it. You know we have rules that you know prohibit our players from you know posting things on Insta and Face and all that we don’t and I think it’s important for us to as a team to know each other know our teammates and our coaches to interact with them more than it is to be liked by you know whoever on chat room. So we try to encourage the interaction and the personal contact and experiences and not really pay attention of what if people are saying out there who don’t even know. Look I understand not going to eliminate it don’t even care whether people go on it or our players go on it or not I don’t really care about that. I care about as a relates to our football team and as much as I can eliminate it on our team, I’m gonna try to stamp it out. Talk about how you think about what the right relationship is with your with your subordinates really. There’s a couple elements to it. One is coaching and just from a pure coaching standpoint I try to coach all the players the same. Don’t you have favorites like everyone else? Honestly I like all the players that we have I respect all of our players and if I favor one that’s not favoring 52. The way I look at it is I give everybody what they earn. He tries to make it harder for us in practice than it is in the game. You’ve had a long and unbelievable partnership with Tom Brady. What are your thoughts on Tom Brady? A really special player to coach. He works very hard he’s very smart he’s trained hard he’s worked hard on throwing mechanics he’s worked hard on his mental understanding of the game and process. He’s earned everything that he’s achieved. It wasn’t always there, he’s not a great natural athlete. He’s a very smart instinctive football player. But he may end up in the greatest of all time. Yeah, absolutely. It’s not all about talent. It’s about dependability, consistency and being able to improve again and if you work hard and you understand your coachable and you understand what you need to do, you can improve. Let’s talk about mistakes. Leadership mistakes, your career mistakes. Any stick out? After every game I look at the mistakes that were made in that game by me, by the coaching staff, and you know we need to address those and correct those. Good players can’t overcome bad coaching it’s impossible. On a personal level, the one thing that I’ve definitely learned is you’ve got to count on your most dependable people. I’ll put it this way if we’re going to lose I’m going to lose with that guy or that person’s mistake or coming up short in that area and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, but I’m going down with that person. Might not be your most talented person that you count on your most dependable people. There been times when I put I would say too much responsibility on people that weren’t dependable and they didn’t come through and so whose fault’s that? Mine. When you’re the head coach, you can only do so many details and I would say at times I was too detail-oriented in some of the tasks that I was on and didn’t have enough breadth or give enough leadership in other areas. I mean, every team has young players and they have wives and girlfriends and they had babies and they have parents that are sick. All that somewhere or other you know all runs in together so the more you can handle those, the more that you can help take care of those as an organization as a head coach, then the smoother the the ship runs on the football end. Was there ever a plan B? What a football hadn’t worked out? So, what I want to do is be a graduate assistant and go and get a business degree or an economics degree, post-graduates. And maybe become a professor? No, I think go into business. Go into business. Does that thought keep going through your head for a while or when did you sort of let go of that? Coach offered me a job in Detroit so I went to Detroit so I went from twenty-five dollars a week to ten thousand dollars a year plus a car Detroit. That looked pretty good at that time so I’m like all right I’m in. I’ve heard you say that it’s not what you know it’s who you know. So true, so true. In life it’s so much of you know the opportunities that you get from people that you know, the opportunities that those relationships give you as opposed to you know what’s in a book or you know what you’ve studied. You have three children and they are following in your footsteps two of your boys are working with the Patriots organization now. Your daughter is the coach at Holy Cross, the women’s lacrosse coach. How do you feel about them going into the same world that you were in? I’ve told them kind of the same thing my dad told me which is follow your heart you know if there’s something that you love then and that’s your passion when you’re young, do it and let everything else take care of itself don’t don’t do it for you no money or some other motivation do it because it’s what you want to do. Bill, this is my dad’s jacket he wore as a physical education instructor at the Naval Academy and I feel like this is where it should be in this restaurant and he’s one who served. Coach, thanks. I know what Annapolis in the Naval Academy meant to the Belichicks. We will so probably display this and we’re humbled. Do you foresee yourself coaching for the indefinite future? Retirement does not beckon, apparently? Yeah again, I’m kind of short-sighted here so I’m good you know certainly good here for this year, good for a while. I like what I’m doing I enjoy all parts of the game. The team building, training camp, game days. It’s still the excitement of Sunday. It really is. Is the goal to go back and win the Super Bowl again? Well that’s too far away. The goal right now is to put a good competitive team together, then the goal would be to have our team compete and work the way it needs to work to have a good Spring, then to have a good training camp than to be ready for the start of the season. So, we can only control what we can control in the short term: this week our next opportunity. So that’s where we’re at. “Not one, not two, not three, not four. This is number five. How do y’all feel about number five?” Where are all the rings? In a safe. I’m not a big jewelry person. You know they’re there, right? Right and they were earned. You can’t buy them in the store. They were earned, they’ll never be able to take them away. That’s a proud feeling to have. That’s an achievement that was competitively earned and that ring symbolizes achievement and accomplishment. So, very proud.