Bill Belichick has no time for your positive reinforcement

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — For what it’s worth, and it’s possible that isn’t much, there are myriad websites, tutorials and books out there advising bosses on how to effectively manage millennials. Most boil down to a few simple concepts – direct communication, praise at the achievement of a goal, etc.

“They appreciate positive reinforcement and take pride in knowing that they have completed a task with quality and purpose,” David Villa, CEO of a marketing company and best-selling author wrote for Forbes, echoing common advice for workers born roughly between 1980 and 1995.

(As an aside, while it won’t help sell books or generate pageviews, this seems to be a universal idea that would succeed with any generation, which Villa actually points out. “Millennials are just like you and me,” he wrote to his fellow older bosses.)

It doesn’t appear New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, 66, has brushed up on any of these millennial management concepts despite the fact he employs scores of them in the organization, including 52 players on his active roster (sorry Tom Brady, born Aug. 3, 1977).

Belichick continues to take, at least in his public comments, the opposite track by focusing solely, and with almost comic intensity, on the “team,” while eschewing not just virtually any individual praise, but even specific acknowledgement that any individual actually exists.

“A great job by our team today,” Belichick said Sunday after the Patriots manhandled the Los Angeles Chargers, 41-28, to advance to the AFC championship game in Kansas City.

He declined to single out not just any specific person, but even position unit or side of the ball.

“Thought our team played well … Made plays in every area … Give the players credit …”

The media began asking about the victory in greater detail, including specific standout players … the blocking of Rob Gronkowski, the three touchdown runs of Sony Michel, the excellent pass rush against Philip Rivers.

Bill Belichick and the Patriots are on to their eighth straight AFC championship game, an accomplishment Bill Belichick has no interest in talking about. (Getty Images)
Bill Belichick and the Patriots are on to their eighth straight AFC championship game, an accomplishment Bill Belichick has no interest in talking about. (Getty Images)

Belichick would have none of it. He wasn’t interested in “positive individual reinforcement.” What followed was near performance art.

On Gronkowski’s commitment to blocking, generally the kind of non-glamorous aspect of the game and sacrifice-for-the-team attribute coaches love …

“Again we got good performances from every area …,” Belichick said. “We did a lot of good things in all three phases and all of the guys that contributed out there were part of it.”

On Michel, the rookie who had a good, but statistically inconsistent season, delivering in a major game, a sign of staying the course through rough times that coaches generally seek …

“Yeah, again, we got plays from everybody,” Belichick said. “Everybody did a good job. We threw the ball. We ran it. We played well in the kicking game. Played well on defense.”

With the talk of specific players going nowhere, someone decided to ask about the offense scoring 31 unanswered points.

“Yeah, again, we were able to have good balance in the offense. We ran it. We threw it. The red-zone production was good. Defensively, we were able to get some stops, turn the ball over in the kicking game. So good, complementary football.”

How about that pass rush? Belichick wasn’t falling into a trick of discussing just the defensive linemen, who do the majority of it, even if that’s a unit that played so well Sunday.

“I thought our players rushed … we had a lot of guys, linebackers, d-linemen, in a couple cases [defensive backs] … we put constant pressure on.”

Someone tried to ask about Michel again.

“Yeah, we’ve talked about him all year,” Belichick said. “I mean, he’s done a good job. As I said, we’ve got great contributions from everybody today. It’s hard to single anyone out. It was a good team win in all three phrases and from a lot of people in each of the phases of those respective units. Yeah, everybody stepped up today.”

Did Belichick provide other insights? Sure. How about this gem …

“The offense’s job is to go out there and score points,” he explained. “The defense is to take the ball away and keep them off the scoreboard.”

Got it.

Belichick grew up the son of coach, his father Steve was an assistant at Navy. He got his first NFL job in 1975 as an assistant with the then Baltimore Colts. He has won five Super Bowls as a head coach and is considered by many the greatest football coach ever.

He sure as heck isn’t changing the way he is doing anything now, which David Villa actually advises. “If your current method of motivating is effective, continue to use it,” Villa wrote.

That said, there is focusing on the team and there is the Belichickian definition of focusing on the team. Belichick delivered an opening statement and answered 12 questions, speaking just over 1,000 words. He never once uttered the name of a single New England Patriot.

Not Brady. Not Gronk. Not Michel. Not veteran stars or rookie heroes, not unsung depth guys or ever-solid veterans. No one.

He did use the following terms: “we” (25 times), “team” (8), “everybody” (5), “phases/area” (4), “guys” (4) and “players” (3).

“We could list all of the guys that played,” Belichick said. “We got contributions from all of them.”

No gold stars. No gift cards for performance. No mention on the company Slack. At least not publicly, although players say that doesn’t change too much in film sessions or team meetings.

Perhaps that is the secret to New England’s success, a commitment to the team concept that goes beyond what seems possible – practically refusing to acknowledge the team is even made up of individual parts. It’s sort of like how a boxer who delivered a knockout blow wouldn’t speak glowingly of just the knuckle over his ring finger. It’s all just a fist. Except, Belichick might not even acknowledge the difference between the right and the left hand.

Bill Belichick offered some on-field support to his players on Sunday. (Getty Images)
Bill Belichick offered some on-field support to his players on Sunday. (Getty Images)

New England is in its record eighth consecutive AFC title game.

“Yeah, I mean, honestly, I don’t really care about that right now,” Belichick said of the accomplishment.

Of course not, that would mean discussing seven previous teams.

“I’m worried about this team and what this team has done,” he said. “This team has worked hard all year.”

His millennials seem to be getting the message.

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