The only thing not progressive about the Patriots: Their coach's apparel choices.(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
This Sunday, the Patriots have a chance to win their fifth Super Bowl of Bill Belichik and his burlap-sack-hoodie’s twelve year reign. Most non-front-running NFL fans that aren’t from the Boston area despise everything about the franchise and the man (now completely inalienable). But as a forward-thinking Cowboys fan tired of the consternation of mediocrity, I have a confession to make.
I’m obsessed with, in love with, and in awe of the Belichick/Patriot machine.
Or, as some call it, “The Patriot Way.
” That’s what I’m so intoxicated by. Why? Because when I think of what has become “The Cowboy Way,” I’m picturing Roy Williams flashing the “hook ‘em” sign after a meaningless first down – a player they overvalued who underperformed while over-celebrating.
Many focus on the mental, attitudinal aspects of the Pat’s approach, asserting that the success is a result of players shelving their egos and completely “buying in.” They point to previously problematic players finding new temperaments in Foxborough as evidence that the culture is just different there, and it’s different enough that the coaches get more consistent effort from those players.
Now, it wouldn’t be possible to just 'Next Day Red' this environment to Valley Ranch, because as the cliché goes, winning breeds winning. The “team over everything” mantra – while cheesy – enables the Patriots to do a lot more than just teach Chad Ochocinco to “shut the (expletive) up.” (ESPN article). It also allows them to take football players out of their comfort zone.
For sad, pathetic, academic-related reasons, I am far too familiar with the jargon and theories of “good management.” If there hasn’t already been a Business-school case study written comparing Belichik’s Patriots to Google, Apple or some other swift, adept, highly innovative company, there will be. Time and time again
, the Pats take a player that no one else wanted and make him a contributor or solid backup, quite often at a position the player is not entirely familiar with.
I had a high-school basketball coach once who told us “find one or two things you’re good at and then excel at them.” The Patriots have an uncanny knack for finding coachable players that can excel in well-defined (but at times non-traditional) roles. They focus on the needs of their gameplan and finding square players for square pegs, etc.
And oh my, those gameplans. Not only does Belichik excel in creating a culture that more often than not gets the most out of each player, he also keeps the innovative tech company metaphor rolling by always being in tune with the next evolutionary steps in the game of football. By doing this, he constantly puts his players in positions where they have the upper hand and can succeed, and that breeds confidence, and that fuels the buying-in, and…you get it.
Maybe they’ll trade for an undrafted receiver and then essentially create a new position that facilitates him becoming one of the most prolific pass catchers of all time. Or maybe they’ll give a tight end five carries
(which he turns into 61 huge yards) in a playoff game after giving him eight in two years.
Or maybe when they bring in they try to give the disgruntled, out of shape d-tackle another chance and he doesn’t fall in line, they cut him and flash the Men In Black pen in front of our eyes. They are not afraid to (at least in behavior) admit a failed decision and correct course.
The Patriots are constantly engaged in this scanning/matching/redefining mode, and the result is a regular season record of 139-53, a playoff record of 16-5, five conference titles and three (or four, pending Sunday’s results) Super Bowls during Belichik’s tenure. The Patriots are nimble, consistent, and focused (and they have Tom Brady, undoubtedly one of the best to ever do it, but this Machine is much bigger than Brady).
During this same twelve-year run, the Cowboys have put together a comically symmetrical display of mediocrity: a regular season record of 96-96. Four postseason appearances, just one playoff win.
To be certain, it is unfair to look at this era of Cowboys football and call it a disappointment because it doesn’t measure up to the Pats success. After all, there are exactly 30 other teams that share this characteristic with Dallas. So, the Cowboys are not on the complete opposite end from the Belichick Patriots as far as success goes. However, no team is more known for an approach considered to be the exact opposite of “The Patriot Way” than the 2000s Cowboys.
If the Pats are Google or Apple, the Cowboys feel more like AOL. Now, things do seem to be changing under the Red Ball Regime (as evidenced by the Great Veteran Purge of 2011), but it’s still far too early to tell. The next two off-seasons will be very telling for the future of the franchise. Here’s hoping they keep turning the roster over, and stop sending out those 75-hour trial CDs.