Patriots

Sports Uncovered: Learning about the Bill Belichick you don't know

Sports Uncovered: Learning about the Bill Belichick you don't know

It must have been January of 2003. Could have been February. Doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that, somehow, I found myself in Bill Belichick’s office at Gillette Stadium explaining to him the dysfunctional chemistry on my team in the over-30 division of the Lakeville Men’s Basketball League. 

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It was when I was acting out a profane exchange I’d had with a teammate over something that was obviously minor that I realized this story was amusing to Belichick. Or at least seemed to be. 

He had that kind of “Go on…” expression on his face. So I went on. And finished.

And left the office that day with the realization that — at his core — Belichick loves to listen. Loves to know how things work. People. Is relentlessly curious. So curious that he’ll even listen to the lamentations of a C-level basketball hack complaining that having someone come over and set me a pick when I don’t need it only brings two more people into the area and makes it harder for me to drive to the hoop. 

I don’t think our meeting that day helped Bill go on to become the greatest coach in NFL history. But it did give me that small insight into how he is away from the podium, in private. 

“The Bill Belichick You Don’t Know” is the narrative podcast we’ve produced at NBC Sports Boston, part of the Sports Uncovered podcast series from NBC Sports, a series of narrative podcasts that go in-depth on legendary figures, seminal moments and cultural phenomena. 

Sports Uncovered Podcast: The Bill Belichick You Don't Know | Listen and subscribe | Watch on YouTube

 

From the two-word fax announcing Michael Jordan’s return, to a retrospective on the seven-hour Flyers-Penguins NHL playoff game to the way the University of Oregon touched off a “fashion arms race” with its uniforms, these podcasts pull back the curtain by speaking directly to the people involved and letting them tell the story. 

Which is what we found with our Belichick pod. 

It’s well-documented that Belichick is — more often than not — a fairly reticent guy. He can talk a dog off a meat truck if the topic is football history or an arcane scheme or why left-footed punters have an advantage over righties. But for most of his 46 years in the NFL, he’s treated press obligations like drudgery that prevent him from doing more constructive things. 

Like thinking. Planning. Scheming. Learning. Or listening. Even if it’s to a dummy talking about his men’s basketball league. 

So the funny Bill Belichick, the playful Bill Belichick, the Bill Belichick who inspires fear, love, devotion, and loyalty in those who’ve worked with or for him is one we don’t see. 

But in interviews with people like Rodney Harrison, Willie McGinest, Charlie Weis, Rob Ninkovich, and so many more you’ll hear never-before-told stories about the Bill Belichick you don’t know. 

And by the time you’re done listening, you will know a lot more — not everything — but a lot more about the greatest coach in NFL history.

Subscribe to "Sports Uncovered" for free wherever you listen to podcasts. You can also watch on YouTube.

For Josh McDaniels, adapting offense means tapping into Cam Newton's superpower

For Josh McDaniels, adapting offense means tapping into Cam Newton's superpower

Josh McDaniels wouldn’t trade his time with Tom Brady for anything.

But the Patriots offensive coordinator did point out Friday that those times Brady wasn’t at his disposal are very valuable right now as the Patriots offense does its post-Brady pivot.

“I’m thankful for the experiences that I’ve had when I didn’t have Tom,” McDaniels said on a video conference call. “Believe me, no one was happier to have him out there when he was out there for all the years I was fortunate to coach him.

"But I would say I did have some experience with the Matt Cassel year (in 2008), which I learned a lot about how to tailor something to somebody else’s strengths, we had to play that four-game stretch (in 2016) with Jacoby (Brissett) and Jimmy (Garoppolo), I thought that was helpful. And I was away for three years. So trying to really adapt … it’s not changing your system, it’s adapting your system to the talents and strengths of your players.”

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How will the Patriots offense change now that Brady’s gone has been a dominant topic of discussion this offseason. The six-time Super Bowl winners' strengths are well-documented and hard to replicate – absurd accuracy, poise, pocket-presence and the ability to decipher and manipulate defenses at will. Part of the reason they’re hard to replicate is that it took him a dozen years of monkish devotion to get where he was. Nobody’s got time for that.

So, after a couple of decades building a tower out of wooden blocks, the blocks are knocked down and scattered. And McDaniels starts building again. Same blocks. Different-looking structure.  

“(We need to) adapt (the offense) to the players that we have,” said McDaniels. “So, again, you just have to keep telling yourself, ‘Do I really want us to be good at this? Or are we good at this?’ There’s a fine line between really pushing hard to keep working at something that you’re just not showing much progress in vs. ‘Hey, you know what, we’re a lot better at A, B and C then we are D, E and F, why don’t we just do more A, B and C?” I think as a staff we’ve really had a lot of conversations about those kinds of things.”

McDaniels has discussed in past seasons how developing an offense is a trial-and-error process. The difference this year is there is no chance for the “trial” portion. No joint practices. No preseason games. Obviously, no OTAs or minicamps.

“We can’t make any declarations about what we’re good at yet because we haven’t practiced,” McDaniels acknowledged. “I think everybody’s chomping at the bit, eager to get out there and start to make a few decisions about some things that we want to try to get good at, and if we’re just not making a lot of progress then we just have to shift gears and go in a different direction.

“But I’m going to lean on my experience and then I’m going to lean on the staff, coach Belichick, just to, (say), ‘Let’s be real with ourselves. Yeah, we used to be good at that. We’re not doing so hot at it so let’s just scrap it for now and move in a different direction.”

Patriots Talk Podcast: Measuring the toll that opt-outs took around the NFL | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Obviously, a direction they’ll move in will most likely be powered by the mobility of whoever the starting quarterback is, Jarrett Stidham or Cam Newton.

McDaniels pointed out that a player with the size, power and mobility of Newton does change things.

“It’s certainly not something I’m accustomed to using a great deal but you use whatever the strengths of your players that are on the field allow you to use, to try to move the ball and score points,” he said. “So whatever that means relative to mobility at the QB position, size and power, quickness, length, height with receivers … you go through the same thing many different times.”

Newton, said McDaniels, is the same as any other player who brings a unique talent.  

“I remember when you get a new receiver group … our receivers have changed quite a bit in terms of some of them were bigger … Randy Moss was a bigger guy and then we’ve had some smaller guys like Wes Welker and Danny Amendola, and then you have tight ends that are more fast straight-line players and then you have guys like Gronk and those kinds of players,” he pointed out.

“Regardless of what the position is, I think you try to use their strengths to allow them to make good plays and if that’s something we can figure out how to do well and get comfortable doing and feel like we can move the ball and be productive then we’re going to work as a staff to figure out how that works best, and try to utilize it if we can.”

In other words, when you have a player with a superpower - Moss' speed, Welker's quickness, Gronk's size, Brady's brain, Newton's power - , you tap into said superpower. ASAFP.

Cam Newton provides update after openly wondering how he'd 'mesh' with Bill Belichick

Cam Newton provides update after openly wondering how he'd 'mesh' with Bill Belichick

How well will Cam Newton and Bill Belichick work together, we've wonderedNewton asked himself the same question when he found out that the Patriots were interested in signing him earlier this offseason. 

He shared his thought process on YouTube during a roundtable discussion with Victor Cruz, Odell Beckham and Todd Gurley: "I said, 'Hold on. How, how is me and Belichick gonna mesh?' You know what I'm saying?"

Well . . . plenty of time has elapsed since then. Newton and his new Patriots teammates have been at Gillette Stadium this week going through what Belichick has compared to the NFL's typical "Phase 1," which usually takes place in the spring and consists of meetings as well as strength and conditioning workouts.

So how has it gone? How have Newton and his new head coach meshed?

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"Listen, listen," Newton said during a WebEx conference call with reporters Friday. "There's a lot of things that I say that there's a perception, but at the end of the day, it's football. I've loved it ever since I've been here. 

"I've been here, going on a week, now and you hear rumors about certain things, but once you finally get settled in on things like that, none of that really matters. It's just all about finding a way to prove your worth on the team."

Belichick has coached all types of personalities, and had success with all types, during his Patriots tenure. Tom Brady was different than Rob Gronkowski, who was different than Randy Moss, who was different than Corey Dillon, who was different than Richard Seymour, who was different than Willie McGinest, who was different than Tedy Bruschi, who was different than Matt Light. 

Newton is a unique personality with a unique skill set who may require a unique approach from the Patriots coaching staff when it comes to drawing out his best. And there may be some bumps in the road as the team finds the right path to maximizing Newton's stay in Foxboro. But for now, according to Newton, everything is going swimmingly. 

It helps that before Newton even set foot inside the team's facilities, they'd established a track record that has him ready to buy into Belichick's way of doing things. 

"I'm still constantly -- I don't want to say in disbelief, but it's just a surreal moment," Newton said. "Nobody really knows how excited I am just to be a part of this organization in (more) ways than one.

"Following up such a powerful dynasty that has so much prestige and lineage of success -- a lot of people would hide from the notion to do certain things, but for me, I think this opportunity is something that I wake up pinching myself each and every day."