Bill Belichick is the exception to the rule. You’re not supposed to win six Super Bowls in a league that discourages dynasties. You’re not supposed to be a good general manager and head coach at the same time. You’re not supposed to treat top-end talent like it’s average. Yet, Belichick’s done all those things on his path to becoming the greatest coach ever, and the media has framed his madness as a method.
They call it, the “Patriot Way.” So poetic, so legendary, so marketable. And, according to owners and general managers, so replicable.
We accept that there will never be another Michael Jordan, Pink Floyd, or Howard Stern, but we are always trying to siphon off Belichickisms. Bill O’Brien, Matt Patricia and Brian Flores are the latest examples, and before them came Eric Mangini, Romeo Crennel and Josh McDaniels. My theory? It’s because of the way we’ve packaged his greatness. Jordan, Pink Floyd and Stern are clearly individual displays of greatness. The Patriot Way is branded like a mechanism; A system that can be studied, extracted and implemented.
In their lookalike hires, owners expect a Belichikian skillset, but end up instead with messy caricatures. Like most knockoff brands, these coaches look and feel like Belichick, but lack the innards that make Belichick tick.
The great irony of NFL teams aiming to replicate something so great, is that it often leads to the ugliest whiffs. Josh McDaniels drafted Tim Tebow in the first round. Matt Patricia recently ruined his relationship with Darius Slay, one of the league’s best cornerbacks, because he didn’t like a picture he posted. Bill O’Brien gave the Cardinals DeAndre Hopkins for pennies because he didn’t want his baby mama’s around. All this, in the name of grasping for something, anything, that resembles the Patriot Way.
The truth is, Patriot Way is ever-changing. By the time Belichick walks into the facility, he’s made ten decisions only his brain could conceive. That’s before his first cup of coffee. O’Brien, Patricia, Flores and McDaniels have all witnessed the result of what goes on in Belichick’s mind, but they could never replicate it.
The truth is, outside of media conversations, there is no Patriot Way. There’s only Belichick’s way. He’s a one of a kind, and sooner or later, NFL owners will have to come to grips with that.