Bill Belichick isn't afraid to make the tough decisions he feels are in the best interest of the New England Patriots.
One of the reasons why the Patriots have been able to extend their NFL dynasty over two decades is Belichick often moves on from players before it's too late and their performance suffers. We've seen so many examples in sports where a team wins a championship, falls in love with those players and overpays to keep them, and then those contracts prevent the franchise from building a championship-caliber roster long term.
Teams have to be responsible to extend their championship window in a salary cap world, and the Patriots, for the most part, have accomplished that goal in Belichick's 20 years running the show.
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On the latest episode of NBC Sports' "Sports Uncovered" podcast, some of Belichick's former players explain what allows him to make these difficult decisions that other coaches and teams might not.
"There’s a clear distinct line that Bill draws between player and coach," former Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel said. "The respect you have for him as a coach is because he doesn’t blur those lines. There’s not that off-the-field relationship that some coaches have. That also allows him to make those tough decisions when he feels that guys like Lawyer Milloy, Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel, Larry Izzo, and the list goes on and on down the line... When he feels it’s time to move on from a player, he’s able to do that because he doesn’t have personal relationships.
"Where some of these other organizations, you see that because some guy is so tenured with the team, they keep him around although his play is not what it used to be. And they could upgrade that position, but they don’t out of respect for that player. With Bill, due to the way he's able to divide church and state, he’s able to make those tough decisions and move forward when he needs to from an individual player. It allows the team to continue to progress in the right direction."
One of the most obvious examples of Belichick not shying away from unpopular roster decisions — and Cassel alluded to it above — was releasing veteran safety Lawyer Milloy before the 2003 season after he refused to take a paycut. Milloy was a very good player in New England for a long time and played a key role in the Patriots winning Super Bowl XXXVI during the 2001 season.
The move drew further scrutiny after Milloy signed with the Bills and Buffalo crushed the Patriots 31-0 in the season opener. New England got the last laugh, though, and went 14-2 en route to winning the first of back-to-back Super Bowl titles.
Sports Uncovered Podcast: The Bill Belichick You Don't Know | Listen and subscribe | Watch on YouTube
It's important to show a human element, too, and even though fans and the media don't see much of the humorous side of Belichick, his players are adamant it exists. So, while Belichick isn't afraid to laugh and be friendly with his team, when it's time to make business decisions, he seamlessly transtions to that mode.
"Bill is probably the master of understanding balance," former Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich said. "You can’t be too friendly with your players; it just doesn’t work that way as far as the respect thing. I think that he just makes it very clear that, yeah, he can laugh and have a good time, but at the end of the day he’s going to do what he feels is best for the team. And if that’s cutting somebody that has been with him a long time or not bringing them back, that’s his business side that he can easily flip the switch and go into the ‘winning at all costs’ Bill Belichick."
Some of Belichick's decisions haven't worked out, and that's to be expected when you coach one team for two decades. But it's hard to argue with Belichick's methods given the unprecedented success the Patriots have enjoyed since he came to New England. Winning six Super Bowl titles speaks for itself.
To hear more about the "other" side of Belichick, check out "Sports Uncovered: The Belichick You Don't Know" and subscribe to "Sports Uncovered" for free wherever you listen to podcasts.