Bill Belichick talks leadership, philosophy and 'ridiculous' deflate-gate

Who knew? All it takes to get Bill Belichick to open up when cameras are rolling is a BBQ joint in his hometown of Annapolis, Maryland.

On Thursday, CNBC debuted an exclusive interview Suzy Welch did with the New England Patriots head coach, which was done at the location of Belichick’s choosing: Mission BBQ, which does a lot to honor military members like those at the Naval Academy in Annapolis.

We posted video of the full segment above, but here are some highlights from what is one of the most expansive interviews I’ve seen Belichick give (I sat in the media room at Gillette Stadium for nearly every news conference he gave for nearly a decade, so I’m speaking from experience on this one), and he gives a glimpse into his leadership style and philosophies.

Bill Belichick. (AP)
Bill Belichick. (AP)

On the Patriots’ win in Super Bowl LI, when they overcame a 25-point third-quarter deficit to win in overtime, Belichick smiled and said he’s gone back and re-watched the game “just to make sure it came out the way I remember it.”

He repeated an analysis that he’d given in the aftermath of the game – that while the scoreboard wasn’t in New England’s favor, he never felt the team was out of control of the game and always felt they had a chance as long as time allowed – but called the way things played out, “close to a miracle.”

Welch points to a sign in the restaurant that reads, “Every battle is won before it is fought.” It’s from ancient Chinese general Sun Tzu; Belichick is a follower of Sun Tzu’s “Art of War,” and the coach has a sign with the same quote in the Patriots’ facility.

“It’s all about preparation,” Belichick said. “You know what you’re doing and you have an idea what the opponents can do, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and once you get into the game those adjustments will be – I don’t want to say easy – but relatively easier, more manageable, when everybody knows what to do.

“Because our game is so fast, things happen so quickly, so you review the situation, you review the communication, you try to make sure everybody is on the same page. If it’s too complicated, it’s probably not going to work, if it’s too simple that might not work either, because it’s too obvious, so you try to find that fine line in the middle where it’s challenging enough for your opponents but something you can execute.”

Asked about his defining moments and where he learned the most, Belichick quickly points to his first season in the NFL, 1975, when he made $25 a week doing just about everything for the Baltimore Colts, including driving head coach Ted Marchibroda to and from the Howard Johnson’s hotel where he was staying every day.

“After that year, I went to Detroit (as assistant special teams coach), we were 1-4, we were playing the Patriots, who were 4-1, they had a great team,” Belichick recalled. “And I went back to an experience that I had in Baltimore and I went to our offensive coordinator at the time and I said, ‘look, I know we’ve never used this formation before, but I studied this formation when I was in Baltimore last year and I think this is really going to give the Patriots a problem. Can we look at this?’

“So we went through it, we looked at it, we used it, and we won the game by three touchdowns. It was a huge upset. That was kind of one of those [moments] where I was like, OK, I can coach in this league.”

Belichick said that specific experience taught him never to be afraid to use a good idea. “Just because it’s unconventional, just because somebody hasn’t done it, if you believe in it, it’s a good idea, don’t be afraid to use it.”

There was, of course, some discussion of Tom Brady and Belichick’s relationship with the record-setting quarterback. Not much of this was new ground for those who have heard Belichick talk about Brady previously:

“Really special player to coach. Works very hard, he’s very smart, he’s trained hard, he’s worked hard on his throwing mechanics, he’s worked hard on his mental understanding of the game and process,” Belichick said. “He’s earned everything that he’s achieved. It wasn’t always there – he’s not a great natural athlete, he’s a very smart, instinctive football player … ”

Welch interjected that Brady may finish as the best quarterback ever. “Yeah, absolutely. It’s not all about talent, it’s about dependability, consistency and being able to improve. If you’re coachable and you understand what you need to do, you can improve.”

The topic of retirement came up, and Belichick was non-committal, saying he’s good “for a while” and that he still enjoys all of the parts of being a head coach. In years past, Belichick, who will celebrate his 65th birthday on Sunday, has said he doesn’t see himself like Marv Levy, coaching at 70; if he still feels that way, that puts us at four to five years max before he steps away from coaching.

About the only time the flat Belichick seen frequently in interviews showed up was during a word-association game posited by Welch and she brought up deflate-gate.

Football: “More sport than business, but it’s a business. But I respect the game for the game and for the sport,” Belichick said.

The media: “It’s how a team connects to its fans.”

Deflate-gate: “Ridiculous.”

Aaron Hernandez: “Tragedy.” (Heartbreaking, Welch whispered.) “Yes. That would be another word.”

Winning: “The goal. This isn’t like 8th grade where everybody gets a trophy. We’re in a pro sport and it’s competitive. To win, that’s what we do.”

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