It was July 23, 2000 – and the car was packed for a Marcantonio summer tradition. We were heading 50 miles south to Smithfield, Rhode Island, to watch our New England Patriots start training camp practices at Bryant College.
This year was different. Not only had our uniform changed, but we also had a new head coach.
As a 10-year-old, I felt this was probably a good thing. A few months prior – the day after Christmas – my grandpa and I were walking back to our car after the Patriots lost their third game in a row to the Buffalo Bills. When we crossed the street, Patriots coach Pete Carroll was stopped at a red light.
My grandfather crossed the road screaming a few choice words at our coach. So, yes, even as a 10-year-old I knew a new coach was probably good – especially for grandpa’s sake as he spent many days complaining about good ole’ Pete.
We got a new coach, Bill Belichick. I was upset we traded our first-round draft pick for him, but my grandpa and uncle insisted he was a great coach. We also took him from the Jets – so that wasn’t a bad thing either.
New coach. New uniforms. A new season. We arrived at training camp excited.
We noticed there were more fans than normal. We were so close we could all hear the players breathing. I intently watched QB Michael Bishop – my favorite Patriots player. I was hoping a rookie QB named Tom Brady wouldn’t beat him out for the No. 2 QB spot behind Drew Bledsoe.
We left that day with a new level of expectation. Seventeen years later from that coaching change, and that expectation and excitement remains strong. With football season approaching and the game in the fore-front of our minds, I can’t help but reflect on that day in Rhode Island.
Since Belichick became the Patriots coach, I’ve watched 306 games. I’ve attend 40-50 practices. I’ve listened to hundreds of press conferences and have read thousands of articles.
Belichick quickly became a part of many New Englanders families. He wasn’t just a coach anymore. Although I’ve never said a word to Belichick, he has been a constant leader in my life for almost two decades.
Naturally when you’ve been around (listened, read and observed) someone for 17 years, you pick up on a few things. Here’s what I’ve personally learned from Bill Belichick.
1. Consistency breeds success.
For 17 years, the Patriots have been one of the most consistent teams in the NFL. Not only have they had the same head coach and quarterback for that length of time, but the entire staff has been fairly consistent.
You can breakdown Belichick’s staff into three categories. While some positional coaches have overlapped these time frames, the core assistants and high-level staff transitioned out (most to become head coaches themselves).
2000 – 2004: Won three Super Bowls.
2005 – 2011: Lost two Super Bowls.
2012 – Present: Won two Super Bowls.
In 17 years there has been only three major staff adjustments and even still – the Patriots made Super Bowls within those transitions.
What’s been the consistency? The main leadership (owners, head coach) and the system. Belichick has created a system of operation that’s consistent. No matter who is calling plays on offense or defense – no matter which players are playing – the system remains.
This inspirational longevity has shaped the way I look at the local church.
As a general observation, the local church is pretty inconsistent. A pastor or staff members leaves every few years. When a new pastor arrives, they try to implement new structure and strategy and in the end, see little results. They get discouraged and try it again at a new place.
The churches that have long-lasting impact have the most consistency in leadership. They also have strong systems – when one employee leaves another (likely developed internally) comes in and doesn’t miss a bit.
2. Don’t rest on your past achievements.
Seven Super Bowl appearances and five Super Bowl wins in 17 years on top of countless division titles and AFC championships, yet Belichick keeps moving forward.
You never (never) hear any member of his coaching staff or players talk about the past. They never settle on their previous achievements – it’s always the next one. Winning alone in the NFL is difficult, but doing it at a high-level consistently is almost impossible.
There were about fifty future graduates at an LSU award ceremony during my senior year. These were top-level students who had high-level internships and developed a voice in the student body through different media over the four years. As we were sitting at the table, student after student had little thought about what was next.
They were so fixated on graduating and celebrating that they had yet to send out resumes one week before entering the ‘real-world.’
Whether it’s in the churches we attend or individually speaking, we all will have seasons of victory – but what’s next? Celebrating is great, but we can’t stay locked into what we accomplished years ago.
That mentality will render us ineffective to move forward. We’ll end up talking and wishing for the past that we alienate the now and the future.
I’ve lived in Louisiana since 2008 – it’s been eight years since the New Orleans Saints won a Super Bowl. But, I promise you – have one conversation with a Saints fan and by the way they talk you’d think they just won it all last year!
Don’t get me started on LSU …
3. Preparation never stops.
In February, the Patriots pulled off the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history against the Atlanta Falcons. Days later in one of his first post-Super Bowl press conferences Belichick seemed discontent:
“As great as today is, in all honesty, we’re five weeks behind in the 2017 season.”
On a micro-level the continual statement from opposing players and coaches is that no one prepares like Belichick and his staff. The incredible thing is their willingness to adjust their game plan depending on situations. Antonio Brown, WR for the Steelers, applauded how the Patriots can do this -- when he cited most teams prepare all week for one game plan and when it doesn’t work, they can’t function.
It’s one thing to adequately prepare, but it’s another to be quick to adjust. In any leadership capacity, we need to make the choice that we will prepare better than anyone around us.
Let’s say you lead multiple staff meetings every week. You may have been doing this for five years. You could probably hold those meetings with your eyes closed. But, are you still preparing like you were in the beginning?
My wife Kayla openly talked about her struggle with this. Speaking, or any form of communication, has always come easy to her, but because it was comfortable she failed to prepare or develop adequately. (read here)
The next level of preparation is quick adjustments. If we fail to become adaptable because of our preparation it serves us no good.
Have you ever spoke in a church service and in a moment, you felt prompted to say something not in your notes? Have you ever lead worship and sang that song a little longer than usual. Have you ever had a conversation with someone you’ve been preparing for, and the dialogue went a different direction?
I’m sure, we’ve all experienced some form of spontaneity. The key is to be in balance where we’re not solely dependent on preparation that we can’t adjust (like most NFL teams), but we also can’t fly by the seat of our pants and not prepare (probably like the New York Jets).
4. Don’t tell everyone everything.
In Developing the Leader Within You, John Maxwell mentions the Pareto Principle. This suggests that 20 percent of the people in an organization will be responsible for 80 percent of the company’s success.
Belichick has made a history of communicating using the Pareto Principle. If you’re not within his tight circle, you have no inclination of what he’s thinking. This is where we get the hilarious quirks to the way he handles the media.
He’s never shown his hand publicly or been swayed in any direction. He’s been consistent in the way he’s communicated publicly for 17 years. In the midst of controversy (and there’s been a few things …) he’s always remained focused on his organization while handling conflict internally.
Everyone in our lives doesn’t need to know everything.
There are specific dreams and goals God has given each of us. Some of these seem out there to most, but the minute we engage everyone on our dreams is the moment doubt and insecurity can creep in.
We need to be confident in what He’s called us to do – involve a few people in that process – but ultimately protect it from everyone. As exampled in Genesis 37, we see that Joseph’s dream wasn’t exactly well received when he shared it.
When I dreamed of working at Sports Illustrated I didn’t tell that to my peers or professors. When I felt called to ministry I didn’t make a post on Facebook saying – “Hello world. I’m called to ministry.” I told a few people, kept quiet, and pursued what God was telling me to pursue.
Leaders and mentors are not always those closest to you. Believe it or not, there are people in your life you’ve learned from (good and bad) for over a decade. I want to encourage you to identify who those people are and reflect on what you’ve learned from them.
I can assure you that if you closely follow them, you’ve likely picked up on some of their habits along the way.
Take the good, and leave the bad. I’m sure by now you’ve thought of a witty comment toward if I’ve learned cheating from Bill Belichick!
The reality is there are a lot of things he does poorly – like cheating in football and in marriage, along with his abrasive tone to his players (he is a football coach after all) -- but I can still take the good and leave the bad.
So, who are you watching and learning from? It will only sharpen us as leaders.