Mastermind Behind the Dynasty: Bill Belichick ’71 Leads Patriots to Third Super Bowl in Four Years

After their 24-21 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in last Sunday’s Super Bowl, the New England Patriots are being hailed as a football dynasty. The team has won three of the last four Super Bowls and 32 of its last 34 games. Head Coach Bill Belichick ’71 is the mastermind behind the New England Patriots, the NFL’s model franchise. He is known for his innovative game plans and schemes, as well as his great attention to detail, dedication to his job, and extreme focus on the upcoming football game. Fellow Andover alumnus Ernie Adams ’71, the New England Patriots’ Football Research Director, helps Belichick devise the Patriots’ famously masterful game plans. In his article “Brain Man” published February 3 in the Kansas City Star, Wriht Thompson relates how Adams and Belichick would “sit by themselves in the dining room [at Phillips Academy], more than 30 years ago, drawing up football plays.” Now Adams serves as Belichick’s right-hand man in the Patriots organization. “[Adams’] role to me is not easily defined,” said Patriots Special Teams Coach Brad Seely, as quoted in Thompson’s article, “He’s part statistician. He’s part X’s and O’s. He’s a great sounding board for Bill [Belichick].” Adams, who formerly worked on Wall Street, has developed a chart for Belichick that enables the coach to decide whether or not to attempt a two-point conversion after a touchdown. The chart’s advice is mathematically based on the score of the game at the time and the amount of time left in the game. Adams uses the information he has received from professors and his own football instinct to advise Belichick during a game as to when the Patriots should attempt a fourth down conversion or challenge a referee’s call. Evidently, his research and advice has helped Belichick win three Super Bowls in the five years he has been the Head Coach of the Patriots, and earn a 9-0 record in the playoffs. Other teams in NFL history have achieved success equal to of the Patriots, including the Green Bay Packers of the 1960s, the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s, the San Francisco 49ers from 1981-1989, and the Dallas Cowboys from 1991-1994. All these previous football dynasties possessed numerous future Hall-of-Fame players. Belichick’s Patriots do not. This year, six Patriots were named to represent the American Football Conference in the Pro Bowl, the NFL’s annual All-Star game. On the other hand, the Philadelphia Eagles, who lost to the Patriots in this year’s Super Bowl, are sending 10 players to the Pro Bowl. In 2001 and 2003, the Patriots’ two other Super Bowl-winning seasons, the Patriots sent two and three players, respectively, to the Pro Bowl. Unlike previous coaching legends Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry, Chuck Noll, or Bill Walsh, Belichick must deal with the NFL’s salary cap, introduced in 1993, which limits the amount of money a team can use to sign players. Thus, while previous coaches could stockpile their teams with high-priced, superstar talent, Belichick and the Patriots cannot buy any player they choose. The New England Patriots are the first team to win three out of four Super Bowls in the salary cap era. This makes Belichick’s achievement unique, both as a coach and as a major personnel decision-maker. This past season Belichick’s defensive schemes enabled the New England Patriots to post a 14-2 regular season record and win the Super Bowl with Randall Gay (an undrafted rookie) and Earthwind Moreland (who was once cut from the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes) as his starting cornerbacks for several games. This patchwork secondary also managed to hold the Indianapolis Colts, the NFL’s best offense, and their two-time reigning NFL MVP quarterback Peyton Manning to three points in the divisional round of the playoffs. The previous week the Colts scored 52 points on the Denver Bronchos in the postseason’s wild-card round. Belichick not only creates defensive schemes that flummox opposing offenses, but also is responsible, along with Patriots’ Vice-President of Player Personnel Scott Pioli, for the Patriots’ excellent recent decisions in selecting players through the draft and free agency. These include the acquisition of running back Corey Dillon, strong safety Rodney Harrison through free agency, and quarterback Tom Brady and defensive end Richard Seymour through the NFL draft. Belichick famously values players not only for their talent, but also for their work ethic, intelligence, versatility, and character. In describing the prototypical Patriot player, Pioli said, “He’s got to be a good football player who fits our system and has the makeup emotionally and intellectually that’s going to fit into our system, fit into the culture we’ve tried to build here at the Patriots.” This mentality has resulted in a Belichick-led Patriots team that values the whole more than the sum of its parts. Belichick seeks players who appreciate their team more than individual accomplishments. Just before their first Super Bowl victory in 2001, the Patriots were introduced to the crowd not as individuals, but as a team; this was a Super Bowl first. Several of Belichick’s PA contemporaries attribute the coach’s achievements with the New England Patriots to his experience at Andover. H.G. Bissinger ’72, the writer of the football-themed feature film “Friday Night Lights” said, “I think there’s this almost academic mentality that [Belichick] brings to football, exploring every possible option, being creative. I think Andover played a seminal role in that.” Another classmate, Chris Brescia ’71, said that at Andover Belichick was “taught critical thinking skills. [He was] not taught just to memorize and regurgitate. That lends itself to the success that Bill [Belichick] is having right now. That’s Andover 101.”