Patriots

Great Patriots Debate: Who deserves more credit, Brady or Belichick?

Great Patriots Debate: Who deserves more credit, Brady or Belichick?

If there’s a more apt metaphor for building a football team than Bill Parcells’ famous “groceries” line from 22 years ago, I can’t think of it.

A refresher – when Parcells quit the Patriots in January 1997 he alluded to personnel meddling as the main reason, saying, “If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.”

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Makes sense. Players and coaches are the ingredients. The head coach/GM spreads them on the counter and knows in a glance how well he shopped and what he’s capable of presenting.

But who really does the cooking, the coach or his most important players?

And who is most responsible for a perfect dinner, the guy who did the shopping and came up with the recipe or the guy who actually stood over the flame and cooked it?

We close our Great Patriots Debate series with this Gordian Knot question: Who deserves more credit for the Patriots success, Bill Belichick or Tom Brady?

They are strands of DNA joined in 2000 now intertwined for 20 seasons. None of the great quarterback-head coach marriages – Montana-Walsh, Marino-Shula, Starr-Lombardi, Bradshaw-Noll, Staubach-Landry, Brees-Payton, Holmgren-Favre and Manning-Dungy – got to the same plane as Brady-Belichick.

When it comes to longevity, Lombardis and annual excellence – 13 times in the 17 seasons Brady has played more than one game, the Patriots have been in the NFL’s Final Four – it will never be matched.

Chew on this: the Patriots have been so successful in an NFL rigged for parity that the league has intervened multiple times since 2004 in an effort to bring them back to the pack, changing rules, confiscating draft picks, suspending Brady, etc. And still? Same as it ever was.

This is a collaboration like Lennon-McCartney or, maybe even more accurately, like Auerbach and Russell. If Auerbach had Wilt Chamberlain instead of Russell would the Celtics have won eight titles in nine seasons? If Belichick had Peyton Manning would the Patriots have sustained this long?

I would say no in both cases because the vision of Auerbach and Belichick needed the ethos, ego and mental makeup of Russell and Brady to achieve what they have.

But for the sake of debate, let’s try to split this atom.

The case for Belichick begins with the fact he drafted Brady. And, while he took him after 198 other players in the 1999 draft, Belichick, Charlie Weis and Scott Pioli were sharp enough to see what they had.  

Despite having an established, favorite son franchise quarterback in Drew Bledsoe, Belichick did what was best for the football team in 2001 and pried the offense from Bledsoe’s entitled hands and gave it to Brady. In doing so, Belichick had to stare down his Cleveland past and his decision to bench beloved Bernie Kosar and do the same thing again. He had to be prepared to be framed as a cold, out of touch, control freak bent on self-sabotage. And he was framed that way.

“Who benches a Pro Bowl quarterback with a $103-million contract who was forced from the field by a sheared artery in favor of a chubby checkdown expert? Someone who doesn’t learn.”

But the team-building brilliance of Belichick overwhelmed the inch-deep analysis that followed the Brady-Bledsoe decision.
The 2000 to 2004 seasons were master classes in economics, psychology, sociology and management, never mind the sublime, bottom-line, no-frills football Belichick and his staff embraced.

The first five years of this collaboration were all thanks to the architect and that was Belichick.

Those teams were carried by the New England defense. But that’s because they didn’t have the offensive firepower to put the game in Brady’s hands on a week-to-week basis. And maybe he wasn’t quite ready to hold it.

But when the defense sagged in the 2005 and 2006 seasons and Brady’s surrounding personnel got even worse, the team dipped.

Then, in 2007, when Brady was given the toys necessary to excel, he showed he was ready to take ownership of the Patriots week-to-week fortunes by having a historic season.

That’s when he became the straw that stirs the Patriots drink.

And he’s remained that for the past 12 years. He’s the one who takes the personnel equivalent of a poop sandwich with no bread – like last season – and figures it out. He’s the one who can have a player like Randy Moss exiled, see Deion Branch inserted, and be named unanimous MVP as he was in 2010.

He’s the one who can orchestrate 2014 – leading the offense to 14 points in the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl against a generationally great defense to cap a season that began with the stunning trade of Logan Mankins with a championship.  

He’s the one who threw for 505 against the Eagles in SB52, keeping the Patriots afloat while their defense got shredded. And he’s the one who authored the SB51 comeback.

He does his job for less money than the other “elite” quarterbacks and he does it under circumstances that would leave the Rodgers, Roethlisbergers and Mannings in the fetal position weeping about a lack of support or protection.

Bill Belichick is the greatest coach there’s ever been in any professional sport. But he’s put five loaves and two fishes in front of Brady and asked him to perform a miracle several times. And Brady’s the one that ultimately feeds the multitude.

Agree? Or Disagree?

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Agent Don Yee takes aim at the 'collegiate sports industrial complex'

Agent Don Yee takes aim at the 'collegiate sports industrial complex'

Don Yee is well known as the agent for Tom Brady, Julian Edelman, Sean Payton and others.

But his longstanding effort to shine a light on the inequities of what he calls the “collegiate sports industrial complex” may wind up being as impactful on the game of football as the work he’s done with those greats.

This week, I spoke at length to Yee on our podcast about college football at a crossroads in this summer of COVID-19.

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In Yee’s view, the awakening that’s gone on among athletes as they’ve been strung along for months by the Dumb and Dumber coalition of coaches, college presidents and administrators has been building.

“It’s a situation that’s been gaining steam in my view for at least the last 10 to 12 years,” Yee said. “There’s been such a dramatic influx of money into the collegiate sports industrial complex that when you’ve got that kind of money coming in there’s just been a single-minded focus on generating more and more money and that focus unfortunately has taken over … college administrators, college presidents, athletic directors and coaches.

“They’ve actually taken their eye off the ball in that they have completely overlooked the fact that they have a labor force that isn’t being compensated,” Yee added. “In their single-minded pursuit of every single dollar they’ve forgotten about the care and concern of the athletes.”

Patriots Talk Podcast: Don Yee and the remedy for college football’s ‘industrial complex’ | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Everyone knows big-time college sports drips with hypocrisy and greed. It’s a shell game in which literally thousands of people wind up splitting the billions of dollars generated every year and the only ones that never see a legal buck of it are the players.

The pretzel logic used to justify it is laughable. The best way to enjoy the product and the games is, literally, to ignore the reality.

Yee has, over the past decade, forced people to look at it.

“Over the decades we’ve created a unique system that doesn’t exist anywhere in the developed world,” he said. “Nowhere in the developed world does this exist. Where you have a system, a small group of football players every year – there’s 130 Division I schools and among those 130 schools let’s say 50 to 60 are the most critical players to that enterprise for that particular season.

"So it’s a few thousand young men and what they do is strap on the equipment and roll out there for an increasingly long season – now as many as 14 games – and go out there and put their bodies on the line to generate substantial amounts of revenue to support the lifestyles of the administrators, the coaches, the coaches in the non-revenue sports, all the non-revenue sports programs and athletes which then – by extension – helps support the U.S. Olympic program (as a breeding ground for the athletes before becoming Olympians).

“The success of the football program also supports the very existence of the university because if the football program has success, the university can then initiate a piggybacking off the excitement and success of the football team and begin multi-billion capital campaigns to build new buildings on campus etc. So all of this is due to the efforts of a very small group of young men every single year. We tolerate it. Ultimately, we get distracted by the pom-poms and the bands.”

Yee and I discussed so much more, including whether he thinks there will be an NFL equivalent to the NBA’s G-League (yes), details on his new venture which will help teams easily find the players they now have to kick over rocks to discover (like Malcolm Butler) and how the change in college will be shepherded in by the players.

Joe Montana: Tom Brady hinted at displeasure with Patriots at Super Bowl LIV

Joe Montana: Tom Brady hinted at displeasure with Patriots at Super Bowl LIV

Joe Montana has wondered aloud how the New England Patriots could let Tom Brady get away to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Based on the conversation he had with Brady in February, though, maybe he should have seen the QB's exit coming.

During an interview Wednesday on ESPN 97.5 Houston's "Jake Asman Show," Montana revealed he talked with Brady at Super Bowl LIV and got the sense the 20-year veteran didn't like his situation.

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"I spoke to Tom while we were back at the Super Bowl," Montana said. "I don't think he was happy with the way things were progressing there and his ability to have input, and I think that was a big decision for him to make to leave there."

Our Tom E. Curran and others have reported that Brady wasn't thrilled about having less of a say in the Patriots' offensive game plan last season, especially after New England mustered just 13 points in a Wild Card Round loss to the Tennessee Titans.

Montana's recollection of his conversation with Brady -- the two QBs were part of an "NFL 100" pregame ceremony at Super Bowl LIV -- certainly lends credence to those reports and suggests Brady was ready to move on from the Patriots after 20 seasons.

It sounds like the 43-year-old quarterback picked the right destination, too: Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich apparently joked that all he has to do with Brady under center is "get out of the way."