Police and Culture

The time has come to rethink how the police operate in Vermont. We have now experienced several deaths at the hands of well-meaning police officers. One took place in the front yard of Montpelier High School in full view of the public. 

By now it is a familiar routine. A mentally ill person is thought to be breaking the law. They are cornered in a field, a church, a high school yard, a shower stall in Burlington. A confrontation ensues. Fear escalates on both sides. The police fear for their safety. A mental health expert is not on the scene. The police have guns.

When the accused – usually in mental health distress and confused – refuses to give up, he makes a threatening move, borne fear for his own safety. 

The police – fully armed and ready – open fire multiple times with enough fire power to kill someone five times over. The police investigate themselves and the attorney general follows suit, generally finding the police response “justified.’’

I asked a former chief of police in VT about this issue. His reply? “Training. The way we train police officers is not working.’’

I would add culture and weapons.

Caveat – I spent two years covering the crime and police in Nashville, TN in the mid-1980s. I saw up close the stress that comes over the police every day. But almost worse, the police see the dark, seamy side of society – the drug dealers, homeless, murder victims, rape, break-ins. They see it every day. I saw it for two years. It is terribly depressing. Cops are like hospital emergency rooms. They deal every day with the flaws of a society and they rarely get thanked. It is a very tough job. 

Culture – Cops are generally politically conservative. They come from law enforcement and military backgrounds. And because they see the underside of society, they are prepared for the worst. One of the pieces of this culture is guns. 

On the other side of the culture divide are minority communities. We now know that people of color fear the police. They live life in constant fear for their safety at the hands of the police. Eric Garner, Donald Neely, Michael Brown. The list goes on. And police are in danger too, especially in dangerous places.

Guns – it is time – at least in some towns in Vermont with little crime – to consider whether police should carry guns. Police in my town of Montpelier carry guns and wear bullet proof vests on their way to get a sandwich. I suspect it is a policy for their safety. 

But the other side is that police – even in tiny Montpelier – look like armed soldiers. And that is increasingly threatening to the people who live here. 

So I ask – why should a police officer carry a gun in this town? The logical result is that the gun is used. And that never ends well. Why not store the gun in the trunk of the police cruiser with other weapons like tasers and shotguns? If the officer is called to a dangerous or unknown scene of an altercation, they can seek to deescalate the situation first. If they believe the situation is dangerous to their life, they can return to the vehicle and get their weapon. 

But to show up to a scene with guns drawn is an unnecessary tactic. Let’s explore changing this training and policy. 

Let’s even explore changing the very term, police officer. In communities all over this country, the police are now feared by people of color and other minorities. Let’s change the very name we give them. They are after all peace officers. 

They should be on foot, not in a cruiser, which threatens people. Why wear military-style uniforms? Dress the police in uniforms that do not threaten people. Their weapons are at hand only in case of a threatening situation. 

I realize this may not be a viable solution to unnecessary deaths in places like New York City. But it is certainly worth a discussion in places like Montpelier and Burlington, VT. 

Vermont’s new Public Safety Commissioner Mike Schirling is perfectly positioned to lead this discussion about training and culture. Here is hoping he does so.

Mueller Hearings

We have now arrived at a place where Congress can no longer perform its duty to oversee the behavior of the executive branch of our government.

Robert Mueller’s appearance before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees were a chance for Congress to explain to the American people the details of the Mueller report. 

Instead, the hearings were a junior varsity sideshow that did not illuminate. Additionally, the media, with a few notable exceptions, fails every day to explain the Mueller report, Russian interference in the election and the Trump role in trying to deep-six the Mueller probe. 

There are notable exceptions. The New York Times and Washington Post, as usual, provide fearless, in-depth coverage of the biggest scandal since Watergate. 

Back then – the early 1970s – Republicans and Democrats fought it out. But when the good of the country was at stake, they came together to fix things. Barry Goldwater, Howard Baker, and others all kept the good of the country front of mind. 

That is now all gone. Republicans banded together to the protect Trump, regardless of the facts. And they are getting away with it.

Why?

Because they can. And I am not at all sure Democrats would not do the same thing. But in this moment, Republicans are backed by a media and Internet landscape that knows no values, just profit. Fox News has become a propaganda arm of the Republican Party and white racism. The party has adopted a strategy of destruction of anyone who gets in their way. They will tolerate racism and violence and do whatever is necessary to defeat the opposition. 

It is time to ask whether journalism can be done via any model other than non-profit.

When the Senate conducted the Watergate hearings in the early 70s they hired special counsels to do the questioning because they knew they didn’t have the chops to go toe to toe with Nixon’s bad guys.  Same thing with the Iran-Contra hearings. Here’s to Sam Dash for those old enough to remember. 

Today’s Congress, driven by the media culture, refused to turn the questioning over to professionals. The result was a forum in which Republicans got away with questioning the integrity of a Purple Heart Vietnam veteran and career prosecutor.  And their media apologists abet that effort. 

With these hearings, the US has now sent a clear signal to the rest of the world that we will tolerate corruption in our elections and will only focus on a civil culture war at home while other countries eat our lunch. 

Whether or not we decide to become the country we can be or whether we give in to being a second-tier, vaguely corrupt autocracy will be decided in the next election. 

If I Were Governor (Part 3)

I saw former VT Governor Madeleine Kunin at an event recently. Sharp as ever and wearing a long, dignified career with justifiable pride as she discussed her latest creation.  

The former governor was pushing the success of Emerge Vermont, which recruits and trains women to run for elective office. 

Emerge Vermont is only the latest in a string of successes for Kunin – refugee, mother, House Appropriations Chair, Lt. Governor, Governor, professor, deputy education secretary, Ambassador to Switzerland, prolific author, advisor to many and so much more. 

One she rarely gets credit for is something called the Office of Policy Research and Coordination. The name sounds really boring but it’s important. 

The office was a crack team of smart policy folks that researched good policy ideas and proposed them to the legislature – a kind of mini-think tank within the governor’s office. 

Sadly, subsequent Governor Dick Snelling ditched that office, I suspect to shrink government and save money. Subsequent governors Dean, Douglas, Shumlin, and Scott never saw fit to re-establish the office. 

The policy office under Kunin was headed by Steve Kimbell, (my former business partner) a well-respected lawyer and for my money the most knowledgeable source on the state budget EVER. Kimbell’s deputy was Bernie Johnson, who held more institutional memory than anyone. 

Other notables in that office were Ken Jones, Rick Minard, Elizabeth Ready, Martha Judy, Art Woolf, and George Hamilton. These people are highly respected in various circles for their policy expertise and government service. 

Here’s the problem. When a governor or the legislature want to propose a new policy – say a tax on junk food (my favorite)  – what do they do? In the days of the policy office, the issue would be researched. Experts from around the country would be contacted, a white paper might be written. A foundation of information would be laid so that the governor could propose the idea and the legislature could examine it. 

Without the office, policy development is anecdotal. When former Governor Peter Shumlin stood up at his inaugural and declared opioids a threat to Vermont, he drew national attention. But a policy office could have helped him improve his proposal and help the legislature examine it more efficiently. 

Today, the governor and legislature rely on friends, lobbyists, personal staff and ad hoc information to develop critical policy for Vermont’s future. That’s not good enough. The legislature has an office of Legislative Council, which advises committees on policy. But it is stretched thin and needs more depth. 

As governor, I would bring back the Office of Policy Research and Coordination to jump-start a prosperity agenda fo the next generation.

You can read the two previous installments in the If I Were Governor series – Part 1 & Part 2.

Transportation Policy (Boring but Critical)

Taking a mini-break from the ongoing “If I Were Governor” series to post my response to a local writer/policy/ex-Reagan guy/ex-VT state senator criticizing Vermont state government’s move toward a cleaner transportation future. He doesn’t like bike paths or solar or spending on electric charging stations. But at bottom (and I should have said this), to say these things is to deny the existence of the climate crisis. So be it. Here’s my piece in the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, my local paper.

If I Were Governor (Part 3) coming soon.

Here is the link so you can enjoy the TA’s work.

https://www.timesargus.com/opinion/commentary/mcclaughry-says-no-we-say-yes/article_b5838582-92d8-5867-b62c-3a55f8a6e9a6.html

 

Here is the text:

John McClaughry’s piece in last Sunday’s edition requires a response for its adherence to a status quo economy that got us in our mess in the first place.

First, let’s put aside John’s sarcastic labeling of boogey men and women as “enviros,’’ his belittling of electric transportation and bike/pedestrian projects and David Blittersdorf as a “solar mogul.’’ I get the strategy – belittle and demonize those you disagree with to diminish their work. It is positively Trumpian – but it is beneath Vermonters.

So let’s take the substance of John’s points. In summary, he says the transportation funding bill just passed by the legislature spends too much money on climate change, bike lanes, electric cars and passenger rail upgrades. He complains that the “basic function’’ of the state Agency of Transportation is to preserve and maintain a network of highways…’’

Wrong. The Agency of Transportation, like all state agencies and government itself, is to provide for the safety and welfare of Vermonters.

And this year the legislature decided to make the agency pay more attention and spend more money on priorities around climate change and quality of life. Vermont spends millions each years maintaining roads and bridges so prop up a highway system that is a critical part of our economy. We are spending about $52 million on road projects alone. I think that’s just fine.

But we are now faced with the asteroid of climate change headed straight for us. The impacts will be severe and life-changing. The maples and ash trees around John’s house in Kirby will be gone and life as he knows it will change forever.

So to ask the AOT, with all of its budgetary muscle, to spend some time and money on ways to live in a climate change world is not too much to ask and the legislature should be thanked, not vilified.

Yes – Vermont should reorient its government policies in the direction of the Paris climate agreement. While Vermont can do little to reduce overall carbon in the world, it can move us toward a resiliency that allows us to survive and prosper via the creation of new businesses.

Yes – Vermonters need to get out of their gas and diesel vehicles in favor of electric. Wait until John takes a spin in a new Ford electric truck. It makes diesel trucks look slow and weak. Oh – and I am getting that from the CEO of Daimler, hardly a member of VPIRG.

Yes – the legislature should figure how to use the tax system to move our behavior in better, clearer economic decisions that benefit all of us. We do that with tax policy all the time – as we do with smoking.

Yes – electric shuttles in Burlington and Montpelier. How bout one from the airport?

Yes – to 77 bike-pedestrian projects around the state. You know why young people are not moving here John? Because of a lack of quality of life and jobs. This generation wants amenities. They are unwilling to settle for the Mad Men generation lifestyle. They are smart and creative. They want electric cars, bike paths and quick access to work. That’s not squishy liberalism. That’s common sense.

Yes – to a commuter rail from Barre to Montpelier, linking those two cities, their people and their history. I don’t much care whether it is done by David Bittersdorf or Howard Dean. I care that it gets done because the people of those two communities will prosper because of it.

And lastly – YES to the Transportation Climate Initiative. Vermont may not be able to stop climate change. But by being a player in the debate, it can prepare its citizens for a cleaner, more prosperous future, as opposed to the dirty diesel dominated economy to which John McClaughry clings.

If I Were Governor (Part 2)

The Commission on the Future of Vermont

In Part 1 we discussed the need to transform Vermont into a modern, resilient state where its people can grow and prosper. We will keep refining that notion, adding issues and challenges to the list. 

Now let’s discuss how a governor would BEGIN. 

We need a strategy to grow Vermont’s prosperity in the next generation. 

The old ways no longer work. The technology that has disrupted our economy in the last 20 years is child’s play compared to what is coming: driverless cars, artificial intelligence, climate impact.

The old: Large conventional dairy farms, IBM/Global Foundries, bad Internet/cell service, shopping malls, incremental change in education models, gasoline engines.

What’s coming can either be good and beneficial for Vermonters – niche retail, trades education, consulting, land-based companies, technology firms, regenerative agriculture,  remote work, vibrant arts/humanities, philanthropy, new forms of connection and community, good health via exercise and real local food, electric transportation.

Or bad: out of control health costs, obesity, dependency, and living at the mercy of a global efficiency economy that doesn’t value human-scale living.

Here’s what I know. The future is small. Big is over. Smaller farms, niche technology businesses, turbo-charged education, and training – based on lifestyle and remote work – all powered by high-speed internet, a regional airport with small air taxis to other cities and a train that gets you to NYC in less than eight hours. 

Vermont is well-positioned to take advantage of its key attributes to build this future – clean air, clean water, creative schools, grass, soil, human capital and imagination, honest government, human-scale communities. 

As I said in Part 1, we need a new generation of Vermonters, some born in this century, who have the skills and the hunger to forge this new society.

HOW?

To that end – as a first step – I would appoint a blue-ribbon panel – The Commission on the Future of Vermont – to explore and debate the future of the state. The commission would write a strategic plan for the future, an economic development strategy for the next generation. 

The commission would have co-chairs, Vermonters with expertise from all sectors and professional staff.  This would not be another report to collect dust and be ignored. It would make hard choices and deliver a series of recommendations to the legislature for action. It would hold public hearings in each county. It would conclude with a two-day conference in Montpelier and Manchester where the commission releases its recommendations and then discusses their deliberations in public. 

The commission members would be volunteers and the staff would be paid. The commission would work for a year, meeting monthly and in committees more frequently. Experts would be brought in from around the country. This is serious work, not a political show. And the report would serve as a roadmap for the next governor to work with the legislature to implement the proposals. Legislators would sit on the commission so they would be ready to lead the discussion in the General Assembly. 

The meetings would be live-streamed and available to the public via the web and social media.

The goal is a plan designed by Vermonters for Vermonters, in community with each other.  We would gather wisdom, knowledge, and expertise from everywhere, from different generations and backgrounds.  My hope is that the report’s impact will last for years and that the commission would serve as a mini-think-tank for the legislature and the governor to pursue the policies we need to attract new Vermonters and grow the economy.

The central question? How do we turn Vermont into a place where people want to live and work, and in turn create a new, modern rural economy that benefits all.

Everything is on the table – except cell phones and political agendas. They are to be left outside the room.

I have a rough draft list of potential commission members that I would suggest, people whom I respect. But my list is limited by my relationships and prejudices. I invite you to submit your own in the comments section of the blog. Every Vermonter has a circle of friends who can contribute. I’ll post my list soon.

Keep reading this series with Part 3.

If I Were Governor

I think often about running for governor of Vermont. 

Why?

  • Because the state where I have lived for 25 years is at a dangerous fork in the road. We can take one fork toward denial, irrelevance, and decay. Or we can take the second fork toward transformation, prosperity, vitality, and resilience.
  • Because the state is stagnating. Our population is shrinking. Our young people are leaving for better jobs and cultural diversity in cities. This trend will leave us in a Vermont of under-educated dependency on the one hand and wealthy retirees on the other. 
  • Because our citizens are increasingly powerless to build lives of prosperity and happiness in the face of the global marketing machine that sells us junk without regard for our health and well-being. Facebook does not care about our privacy. Coca-Cola and McDonalds don’t care about our health. But they are happy to profit from our hard-earned dollars.
  • Because of I have something to say and a desire to give back.
  • Since World War II, we have created the most powerful economic engine in world history. It has lifted millions out of poverty and created broad opportunity. But we have reached a point where that economic engine is too powerful and creates wealth for the few and not the many. 
  • I am not talking about the Burn it Down approach or the nihilistic approach of the Trumps, or the right-wing approach of the congressional Republicans. I have too deep a reverence for the role of state government and the great people who have served to criticize past efforts.
  • I am talking about a return to a market capitalism that creates opportunity and prosperity for all – and regulated by a proper referee. It is the job of the referees to bring fairness to the market system. 
  • Our need in Vermont is to bring more of that prosperity to more people.

HOW?

By transforming this state into a modern example of resiliency in an uncertain world. 

In 1962, Phil Hoff came to office promising a new approach. Vermont was emerging from the  sleepy 50s and needed to move from the poor farm and one-room schoolhouses to a modern economy and a modern government.

So Hoff spent months rethinking how Vermont works and he delivered a new style of activist government – unified school districts and a modern welfare system. We still govern ourselves largely on that model. But the time has come to modernize what Hoff and his generation built. 

At the core of this transformation is resiliency. The climate crisis is real. In everything we do, we must build in resiliency – in our buildings, in our systems of transportation, education, natural resources, energy, and agriculture. We can no longer afford to throw up buildings along strip highways in Barre-Montpelier or Williston Road. These are failures of planning and community building. 

Act 250 must screen all projects through a resiliency lens for how a project would build community and prosperity in a climate change world. 

Our education system needs to get more resilient. Less test-taking, more critical thinking, and team-building. 

Our transportation system needs to get more resilient. Fewer roads, highways, and cars. More bike lanes and smart-transit to move us around in a quality of life we want. 

Our health care system needs to get more resilient – too many hospitals trying to do too many things. 

Our colleges need to get more resilient. Too many colleges with unclear missions vying for student dollars. 

But more than anything – we need to grow Vermont into a place where people will come to raise families and build productive lives. 

How do we do that?

A lot of good work has already been done. Stephen Kiernan’s manifesto on Vermont was a great start. It is a document I signed along with many others of diverse backgrounds and persuasions. It is here:

https://www.stephenpkiernan.com/vermont-to-the-tenth-power

The author Bill Schubart over the last five years has laid out a roadmap. Read Schubart here:

The legislature is trying mightily, although it could take a more holistic approach. And Gov. Scott has rightly sounded the alarm on what is coming if we don’t take action. 

Here is what I would do. (Phase1)

  1. Move beyond the era and thinking of no new taxes to one of investment and innovation. 
  2. Modernize our tax system to stop subsidizing 70-year-olds and outmoded farming practices. Pay for schools, services, and innovation via income – not property wealth. And tell companies that profit from selling junk food, using our natural resources or invading our privacy that they must pay for that privilege.
  3. Open Vermont to new citizens of all backgrounds. These are the next generation of entrepreneurs and job creators. The Syrians in Rutland, the Africans in Burlington/Winooski. These are the Irish and Italians and French Canadians of the last century who built Vermont. We can do that again. 
  4. Execute an economic development plan for Vermont that touts our attributes to the entire world.  This includes bragging about our paid family leave law. (Not yet passed)
  5. Get healthier. We all know our health care spending is out of control. We must revamp the system to promote health and penalize those who do us harm. Junk food companies like Coke and Pepsi are the Big Tobacco of this generation and they need to pay for the harm they do to our health. We successfully made smoking uncool in the last 20 years. Let’s do the same with the latest killer. Same with opiates.
  6. Promote women, people of color and LBGTQ friends at all levels and remove all barriers to their health and advancement. Start with removing the sales tax on menstrual products. 
  7. Reckon with large dairy farms and the damage they do. If we are going to subsidize dairy farms, let’s pay them to stop polluting and stop producing a product fewer people want.
  8. Modernize Act 250 for a climate change world.

Vermont has all the attributes it needs to become the place where people want to live and prosper. Clean air and water, human-scale communities, honest government, community-minded business leaders, real farming, arts, and a strong non-profit sector and on and on. 

Let’s put a welcome sign at each entrance to Vermont and on social media and tell the world we are open for business.  

 Oh – One more thing. Part 2 next week. Part 3 is also live.

Bernie (2)

Because I live in Vermont and work in its political ecosystem, this space will inevitably become a place for many things Bernie Sanders. We began last week with a discussion of whether he should run (yes). Today we share a post by Vermont writer Bill Schubart who raises the uncomfortable question of whether Bernie and others should give way to NextGen leaders – mentor them, fund them, but most of all give them the space to rise to the top as older leaders give way.

This question raises big questions for the coming election (talkin to you Joe Biden) and for Bernie Sanders personally. He has never been one to step aside or train leaders or build a movement. It was always the focus on the urgency of his personal message and policies and getting elected. When he is gone, what will he leave behind?

But the bottom line of Schubart’s essay here is to challenge this generation to step aside for the next. And that is a step that Bernie Sanders – by virtue of last week’s announcement – is not willing to take.

Full Schubart column below.

Aging with Grace

Astonishing what we learn from others when we listen… I was talking with a friend only a few years younger who offered a suggestion that in my self-absorption had never occurred to me.

At our advancing age, she said, it’s important for us all to make way for new leaders and thinkers. When we’re asked to speak, write, or lead an initiative, she suggested we consider suggesting a young person making their way forward in our stead. Her term was “ageing with grace.”

Former Governor Madeleine Kunin has long been a role model in her championing of younger women reaching up and out to win leadership positions, especially in politics. As we age, it’s important that we do this for all younger people, which is not to say that older people should not lead; they should, but we don’t need to take on all leadership opportunities that come our way.

Next time I’m asked to lead, serve, or express an opinion, I’ll take this advice to heart and consider whom I know who might benefit from the leadership opportunities I’ve enjoyed for so long.

Armed with this new sensibility, I cast about for others on whom I could visit my new awokeness. Almost at the same moment, I heard Bernie declare his candidacy for the presidency.

Bernie and I have known each other since our late twenties and have even worked together on occasion. I respect his politics and believe they have added greatly to the national discourse, even as I don’t always agree with his underlying logic or how he expresses himself. If Bernie were elected in 2020 at 79 he’d be the oldest serving president.

Imagine if Bernie were to take the electoral following he’s earned and the campaign war chest he’s amassed and throw his weight behind and put his imprimatur on one of the younger and more diverse presidential candidates whose progressive politics are consistent with his own.

Such an endorsement would serve several purposes. It would advance Bernie’s progressive cause, albeit in a new voice and persona, while addressing growing concerns about his age.  It would propel one of the up and coming candidates into the limelight and considerably enhance their chances of victory and the furthering of the Progressive Democratic agenda.

Finally, it would be an act of extraordinary grace and democratic commitment, reminding us that our democracy is not about any one person but rather about us all.

As individual citizens, we come and go. Our commitment must be to the enduring republic and governance principles our founders had the wisdom to create.

Bernie

Bernie Sanders announced for president today.

We Vermonters get asked a lot about Bernie Sanders – should he run? Can he win? Is it right that he run? Isn’t he too old? What’s he like?

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But what people really want to know is – Should he run again when all these other candidates are running? Shouldn’t he step aside? Hasn’t his window closed?

The question gets confusing and here’s why. The Internet and cable TV have made all of us into instant experts on politics/sports/culture. Suddenly we are all political prognosticators, giving our opinion as if we are David Gergen or Gloria Borger on CNN.

In the end the questions boil down to this: Can he win? AND Should he run?

The answer to the first is I don’t know. Maybe. Answer to the second is – Of COURSE he should run! Let’s all stop trying to play pundit on CNN and assess the chances of any candidate. NO ONE knows what is going to happen. Just read your political history to understand that predicting anything is a fool’s errand. No one predicted Gary Hart would flame out in 1988, or that George HW Bush would win a war and then lose to Bill Clinton with Ross Perot in the race, or that the African American guy would come out of nowhere. (Greatest person ever after Michelle BTW), or that HRC would lose to Trump. No one predicted AOC.

So do yourself a favor and stop trying to predict what will happen.

I will tell you this about Bernie Sanders from years of watching him up close. He is relentless. He has been consistent in his proposals for 30 years. He is singularly focused. He is smart. He is not interested in wealth so won’t steal. He is pragmatic and knows how to make a deal. I think he would make a good president. When the red phone thing happens at 2 a.m., he would be fine. Does he have blind spots? Sure. He despises the media and the inanities of modern politics. He is cantankerous and intolerant. Can he adapt to a younger, more demanding electorate? Maybe. Can he beat Senators Harris, Warren, Booker et al.? Don’t know. But he has been at this for a very long time and it is a mistake to underestimate him. To win, he will have to adjust to a newer world that requires different staff, different strategy choices, and the way he tells his story to voters.

This is a Democracy. Let everybody run. Our crazy, irrational sometimes corrupt system will squeeze them all through a terrible ringer and the best (MAYBE) candidate will come through.

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“In a Written Statement…”

hannes-wolf-74352-unsplash (1)

As the presidential race gets underway, it is time to focus more closely on how reporters do their jobs and how candidates run their campaigns, especially with regard to the media. It is a dicey subject to be critical of the media because they are often hamstrung by a lack of access to candidates intent on avoiding their questions.

I will get into this more deeply as we trudge forward. But for now – THIS.

Dear Media — Please make every effort to NOT accept “statements” from the people you cover. Robert Kraft has “issued a statement.” So has the NFL. So has Amy Klobuchar, Corey Booker, Trump, the owner of Twitter.

This is a classic PR tactic of avoiding the press by NOT answering questions. Bob Kraft issues a statement and then says he won’t be commenting further because it is a “judicial” situation. You publish the statement without any further followup. Kraft has now bought himself precious time to circle the wagons with his lawyers and PR people with his denial on the record.

Kraft wins. The people, including the young women he victimized, lose. At least in the short term.

As a reader, when you see the words, “in a written statement,” you should chill up a bit and realize that it was written by a PR person with lawyer help and that the statement is designed to minimize media exposure and truth-telling.

Public debate by “written statement” is cheap and lazy. Resist it. Keep demanding in-person question and answer sessions. We will all be better off.

Brady/Belichick Part 2

tom-brady-bill-belichick-celebrate

It is so much fun to “do the reading,’’ so you can get beneath the media hype and useless speculation. It’s fun to understand at a deeper level why humans act as they do, what makes them succeed or fail, what drives them to work the way they do.

I do this across all categories – sports, business, culture, politics. It is just fun to go deeper.

So it was with great glee to discover a not-famous book by Michael Lombardi called Gridiron Genius – A Master Class in Winning Championships and Building Dynasties in the NFL.

The book is about the two greatest coaches in NFL history – Bill Walsh and Bill Belichick. If you are interested in how Belichick does his job every day and why he is successful with the Patriots, get the book.

I have some tangential, non-important connection to Belichick, which just makes me even more interested in his work. Our high schools played each other in football. Our coaches were best friends. And Belichick can speak in detail about the single-wing offense, which dominated the college and pro game until the 1950s. I played tailback in that system, which Belichick mentioned once in a press conference to my great delight.

As everyone knows, the coach keeps things private, doesn’t share much and has little patience with absurd, uninformed media questions as in – “How important was it for you to come out strong tonight?’’

Many books have been written about the Patriots and Belichick. But he seldom cooperates. He just likes football, wants to keep doing football and doesn’t want to be distracted from football.

But every once in a while he lets the guard down. The first place he opens up is the regular Friday press conference where he is willing to talk about the history of the game, its players and strategy. These are master classes. And that is where he once mentioned the single-wing offense. It is when he memorably told a reporter that no player EVER is in the same class as the Giants great Lawrence Taylor (Agreed). The clip below is great.

https://www.nbcsports.com/boston/video/belichick-no-one-including-khalil-mack-compares-lawrence-taylor

Watch those Friday sessions and you get a good idea of how Belichick thinks about the game.

Another moment in time is the David Halbertstam book about Belichick called “The Education of a Coach.” For some reason, the coach allowed Halberstam access for a book on coaching.

But now we have another GREAT insight into Belichick in the Lombardi (no relation to Vince) book. Not only did Belichick write the Forward to the book, he clearly allowed Lombardi to use many insights he gained while working for Belichick in Cleveland for the Browns and in New England.

The book is not all about Belichick. It includes big sections about Lombardi’s time with legendary coach Bill Walsh in San Francisco. Walsh was the best coach in the NFL after Lombardi and before Belichick, winning three Super Bowls and transforming the NFL into a passing league. Walsh’s book on leadership and organization are case studies.

But then Lombardi gives us the gold, including:

  1. His word for word analysis of all Patriots playoff performances.
  2. A detailed insider look at the Patriots planning for a playoff game, day by day.
  3. A revealing nugget about how Belichick meets privately with Brady before a game – no assistant coaches, no backup QB.
  4. Why he likes to force returners to run back kickoffs.
  5. Why stretching for an extra yard is wrong.
  6. Why receivers get too much credit. (This explains why Belichick rarely spends big money to get great receivers for Brady)

And then there are some fabulous anecdotes:

  1. The time Belichick, upon meeting Lombardi, handed him a detailed analysis of every player in the Cleveland organization THE DAY HE WAS HIRED.
  2. How Belichick – as a history buff – always asks unexpected questions of his team. What’s the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day?
  3. The inside story of why Belichick wanted to trade Brady and keep Jimmy Garappolo as his quarterback of the future. He doesn’t give us the whole story, but enough to make it interesting.

The big lesson from Lombardi’s book is how Belichick keeps a relentless focus on team-building, always getting better. If he is gruff it is because he doesn’t have interest or time for anything that interferes with the goal of improvement and winning games.

The book is a great read for football and organizational junkies, mostly because Belichick must have told Lombardi it was OK to write about him and the way he does business.