When you arrive in New England as young player like myself or Jimmy Garoppolo, you’re absolutely intimidated by the fact that you’re coming to the Patriots and playing with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
So I just shut up and listened, basically. My approach was to absorb and learn as much as possible and try to figure out how to be a professional.
Bill’s approach with me as a backup was the same approach he has with all of his players: How do I get the best out of this guy? He was a teacher -- and he took every opportunity he had for teaching moments.
I vividly remember my first preseason game where I got to play the majority of three quarters. We won, and there was a play at the end of the first half where I recognized a blitz, checked out of what we were running and threw a hitch route on the outside. The guy broke a tackle and scored a touchdown.
After the game, I did a quick interview and told them what the play was, how it all came about, why I checked because they were blitzing -- all that.
The next day I hear, “Bill wants to see you in his office,” and I’m thinking, “Nice, maybe I’m getting a little pat on the back.”
I sit down and he immediately says, “Cassel, look, you don’t have to tell everybody what you did and how you did it.”
He used some more colorful language, but he basically told me, “Nobody understands what you’re talking about with blitzes and checking and talking about our scheme. Just shut up and move on and do your job."
A lot of Bill's teaching took place on the practice field, as well. He'd come over and make a comment like, “Running backs and tight ends have larger pads, so your target area has to be below those pads. Even if you think it’s an accurate throw and you throw it high, it’s harder for them to get their hands up, so a lot of times that will create tipped balls.”
He's been exposed to these interesting nuances throughout his career, and he would impart that knowledge on us to make us better football players. He'll help you learn the offense, but then he'll take the extra step to help you understand the pivotal impact of little stuff you don’t even think about.
When I became the starter, he was very supportive. Even when we struggled, he gave me confidence that I didn’t have to play perfectly, and that I didn’t have to worry about my job from one week to the next.
The year I got traded to Kansas City, there wasn’t a ton of discussion between me and Bill leading up to the deal. I got a phone call while I was sitting in a parking lot outside Whole Foods, and he just laid out that they were trading me to the Chiefs.
He was very clear that he was excited for my opportunity and that I was joining a guy I was familiar with in Chiefs GM Scott Pioli. He thanked me for my time there and the work I put in. It was a nice conversation.
As the season went on, he would text me occasionally. He would text me after the season and just check in. I even got a text around Christmas and Easter a few times throughout my career – “Happy Easter to you and the family,” stuff like that – so he’s always been there.
There was also a situation where I was about to sign with the Bills, and he called me and said, “I don’t know what the situation is, but depending on what happens, if you don’t re-sign with them, we may want to bring you back here.”
He always was there for me when I was going through those situations, so I felt like I could pick up the phone and call him at any point.
I think he respected my ability to grow within the system, and I’m sure it’s similar with Jimmy: He grew up in that system and they kind of molded him into the player he is. Sometimes you can’t keep all those guys.
He did right by Jimmy by sending him to San Francisco with Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch, and I think Bill definitely was looking out for Jimmy in that circumstance, just like he looked out for me.