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.
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:
- His word for word analysis of all Patriots playoff performances.
- A detailed insider look at the Patriots planning for a playoff game, day by day.
- A revealing nugget about how Belichick meets privately with Brady before a game – no assistant coaches, no backup QB.
- Why he likes to force returners to run back kickoffs.
- Why stretching for an extra yard is wrong.
- 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:
- The time Belichick, upon meeting Lombardi, handed him a detailed analysis of every player in the Cleveland organization THE DAY HE WAS HIRED.
- How Belichick – as a history buff – always asks unexpected questions of his team. What’s the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day?
- 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.