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On the day his latest fallen protégé got the Denver boot, Patriots coach Bill Belichick put a foot up the nether regions of Rex Ryan and the hated Jets for all the world to see.
Hours after Josh McDaniels was fired less than two seasons into his reign of error as the Broncos’ head coach and brutally exposed Belichick wannabe, the real thing reminded us that his brilliance can’t be so easily replicated. That’s what the Monday Night Massacre over the self-proclaimed best team in football will do for a man in a hooded down jacket.
In a 45-3 dismantling of the Jets that was so comprehensive, Ryan’s twin brother, Browns defensive coordinator Rob, probably experienced severe stomach pains while watching in Ohio, the Patriots took control of the AFC East, the race for the conference’s top seed and a rivalry that until Monday had seemingly been trending south.
It’s still too early to draw conclusions, but the notion of Belichick and the Pats reaching a fifth Super Bowl in 10 seasons – and winning a fourth – seems more plausible by the week. In a stark contrast to the Jets’ Week 2 victory over the Pats at New Meadowlands Stadium, New England (10-2) dominated on all levels. The Pats were more physical, more disciplined and better prepared than Ryan’s Jets (9-3), and Belichick’s fingerprints were all over a blowout that resonated across the football universe.
Another resounding message was delivered two hours before kickoff, when word broke of McDaniels’ dismissal. The 34-year-old coach was a former Pats assistant who seemed obsessed with imitating his mentor, from the hoodie heavy sideline attire to the overbearing autocracy to, some suspect in the wake of a cheating scandal that helped seal his fate, the clandestine videotaping of opponents.
After landing the Broncos gig on the strength of the Pats’ record-setting ’07 season – a Tom Brady(notes) production, with Randy Moss(notes) and Wes Welker(notes) as co-stars – and a year of surprising productivity ’08 campaign with Matt Cassel(notes) filling in for the injured future Hall of Famer, McDaniels carried himself like a Belichickian figure. The catch was, he hadn’t bothered to accomplish anything in his own right.
Belichick, by the time he took his second head coaching gig in New England, had led a previous team (the Browns) to the playoffs and, as a longtime Bill Parcells assistant, had won Super Bowls and was established as the most successful defensive strategist of his era. McDaniels acted like he had that kind of street cred, immediately clashing with franchise quarterback Jay Cutler(notes) (who he traded three months after taking the Denver job) and soon getting crossed up with Pro Bowl wideout Brandon Marshall(notes) (who he dealt to Miami after his first season). He won his first six games, including a victory over Belichick’s Patriots, and acted like an entitled savant.
Then adversity struck, and McDaniels proved unable to handle it. All of the qualities he thought made him so impenetrable – an inflated sense of self, a staunch refusal to tolerate dissent, the constant need to flex his power – proved to be his undoing. Without a strong general manager to help him grow into his job, McDaniels made mistakes (like trading halfback Peyton Hills and draft picks for third-string quarterback Brady Quinn(notes)) and soldiered on as though his plan was beyond reproach.
On Monday, he was officially informed by the Broncos that his Belichick impersonation had bombed. He wasn’t the first copycat criminal to get read his rights, either.
Eric Mangini tried to be Young Belichick after getting hired by the Jets in '06, feuding with his mentor for effect, and lasted three seasons. Upon getting a surprising second chance with the Browns in '09, he was such a destructive dictator that he survived to coach a second season only after a stripping of his power (with Mike Holmgren coming in as owner Randy Lerner’s well-compensated football czar) and may be gone altogether in a few weeks. Charlie Weis, Belichick’s former offensive coordinator, got a taste of this medicine during his disappointing stint as Notre Dame’s coach, too.
The one prominent Patriots powerbroker who experienced instant and sustained success after leaving to take a high-profile job is Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, New England’s former scouting director. Not coincidentally, Dimitroff approached his new gig without the domineering bluster displayed by the aforementioned Belichick disciples, assuming a media-friendly stance and running the organization with an even-keeled temperament. Dimitroff focused on emulating the less obvious but more important elements of Belichick’s formula, things that have to do with keen talent evaluation and assembling a roster full of players who buy into a proven system, and skipped the grandstanding.
After a rocky start as Kansas City’s general manager, Scott Pioli – Belichick’s former right-hand man with the Pats – has adapted his approach, allowing untested coach Todd Haley to assume a larger public profile and tempering the paranoia and secrecy within the organization. Again, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Chiefs are one of the league’s most surprising success stories this season. It helps that Pioli, unlike McDaniels and Mangini, was a highly accomplished personnel executive who doesn’t need to fake his expertise.
The bottom line, as Belichick learned long ago, is that winning tends to validate almost any leadership style, be it abrasive or passive. By staying true to one’s personality, the prospect of creating a comfort zone that facilitates organizational success increases, and whenever an NFL coach or executive finds sustained success, imitators inevitably will follow.
The problem is that, while some obvious stylistic traits are easy to replicate, true genius doesn’t translate from coach to coach quite so seamlessly. A wise protégé would sense the difference and focus on forging his own path, one that jibes with his personality and philosophical orientation, rather than getting caught up in fashion choices and chest-beating and compensating for insecurities relating to lack of experience by demeaning those around him.
Perhaps McDaniels has begun to learn those lessons the hard way, and if he’s fortunate enough to get another head coaching job, I hope he’ll approach it with more humility and authenticity than he did in Denver.
In the meantime, he can digest the implications of the Monday Night Massacre like Ryan and his twin brother and everyone else in the business. Most glaringly, that there is only one true and rightful Hoodie, and his power is very, very real.
IF I SLIPPED JON GRUDEN SOME TRUTH SERUM …
Late in the first quarter, after Brady found Branch for a 25-yard touchdown on fourth-and-3 to increase the Pats' lead to 17-0, Gruden analyzed the quarterback's skillful adjustment to the blitz: "Just look at Tom Brady seeing the blitz, changing the protection, changing the patterns – and then throwing a bullet for a touchdown. You better know exactly what you're doing when you blitz Tom Brady. And that's a big reason why Deion Branch(notes) is back in New England."
And now, with Gruden's inner monologue magically unleashed:
"Just look at Tom Brady seeing the blitz, changing the protection, changing the patterns – and then throwing a bullet for a touchdown. You better know exactly what you're doing when you blitz Tom Brady. And you know, back when I was coaching the Raiders, I had a guy who knew exactly what he was doing when he blitzed Tom Brady … guy by the name of Charles Woodson(notes). Eight years ago we were beating them in a playoff game in the snow in Foxborough and Woodson came flying off the blindside and absolutely pummeled Brady and knocked the ball loose, and we recovered and had the game won. So what happened? YOU KNOW WHAT THE [EXPLETIVE] HAPPENED? These officials got together and huddled and sent it up to the replay booth to see if there was some way they could screw the Raiders, and they came up with this obscure rule called the [expletive] Rule – I mean the Tuck Rule – and said that even though he clearly wasn't throwing forward, it was an incomplete pass. I'll tell you what it was, it was complete [expletive], and it didn't really change much, other than giving the Patriots a playoff win they didn't deserve, and sending them to the Super Bowl, and sending me to Tampa, and creating the legend of Brady and Belichick, and now he's roaming the sidelines down there with three rings, and I'm sitting here calling the game on [expletive] TV. Not that I'm still bitter or anything. I mean, it wasn't enough that Belichick knew our [expletive] defensive signals 'cause he secretly taped them, right? They had to make up a [expletive] rule, too. I'm gonna be [expletive] sick …
TUESDAY MORNING HAIKU
Somewhere up above
Dandy Don sings to the Jets
The party's over
ONE E FOR FREE
I recognize that you will do everything within your sphere of influence to assure that Andrew Luck enters next year's draft. However, given the labor situation, wouldn't it likely be the case that a rookie salary cap will already be in place before he could sign a contract, whether he goes pro in 2011 or in 2012?
Half Moon Bay, Calif.
Here are the reasons I believe Luck will come out: 1. He's a sure-fire No. 1 overall pick, and his stock can only go down if he stays (Jake Locker, cough cough); 2. I believe there's a good chance his coach will be gone as well – and yes, I'll be doing everything within my immense sphere of influence to exhort NFL teams and/or Michigan to come hard after Jim Harbaugh, though I don't think any further encouragement will be necessary; 3. If Luck wants to get the kind of massive guaranteed money that will likely disappear once a new CBA is signed, he probably has to enter the 2011 draft. It's doubtful that the owners and NFLPA will reach a new deal by April, and even in the event of a lockout, the draft will be held as scheduled. However, a new CBA will almost certainly be in place by the spring of 2012, and it's likely to include an NBA-style rookie cap as part of the deal. So, in summary: Enjoy Mr. Luck in the Orange Bowl one last time … thanks for buying the postgame drinks after one of my least favorite (and possibly one of your top three) Big Games and, as always, beware of charging Bears wielding pigskin.