Bill Belichick, the four-time Super Bowl-winning head coach of the New England Patriots, made his way up the ranks of the NFL by loving and mastering the aspect of analyzing film—which many coaches dislike the most.
His first job in professional football was with the NFL’s then-titled Baltimore Colts (the current day Baltimore Ravens). He volunteered to take the job without pay. His insights, which provided ammunition and critical strategies for the game, were attributed to the more veteran coaches. Belichick thrived on what is known as the “grunt work,” because he asked for it. He thrived because he was doing exactly what other coaches thought they were too good for. Coaches quickly began to understand that Belichick was like a sponge, soaking everything in and never stopping until the task was complete. These are foundational aspects of the job, which he has mastered even further since beginning his journey as head coach of one of the greatest sports dynasties in history. Belichick’s father, an assistant football coach for Navy, taught him a critical lesson in football politics: if he wanted to give his coach feedback or question a decision, he needed to do it in private, so as not to offend his superior. He learned how to be a rising star without threatening or alienating anyone.
It’s easy to see how entitlement and a sense of superiority—the trappings of ego—would have made the accomplishments of Belichick impossible. He would have angered his coach and been benched if he one-upped him in public. He wouldn’t have taken his first job for free, and he wouldn’t have sat through thousands of hours of film if he cared about status. Greatness comes from humble beginnings. It comes with grunt work.
Dissolving the ego is a very valuable lesson for university athletes trying to make something of themselves in school and hopefully beyond in a professional realm. Think about all the superstar athletes and their rise, then look at their fall. Did they rise and fall quickly? Or did they rise and remain there until their body slowly started to dwindle? For example, Tiger Woods was someone who came from humble beginnings. He arguably worked harder in golf before going professional than any other golfer in history. His rise was improbable and witnessed with awe. His fall came when his ego took over. When news of his affairs hit newsstands, his career suffered. He isn’t even ranked in the top 100 golfers, yet he could be in his prime.
This is a truth that Bill Belichick has followed his entire life, and has been represented clearly throughout the countless number of NFL playoff wins, super bowl titles, and classic boring press conferences. He doesn’t believe he’s special, nor does he think his quarterback is special—Tom Brady is arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history. Why do people become successful? Because they originally never thought of themselves as special or successful; they always saw the guy ahead of him as a force to study and challenge. In too many instances, people don’t know how to manage their success and they fall hard. They become complacent and forget that by maintaining the same level of work ethic and empathy for their counterparts, they’ll maintain that greatness.
Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots defeated the Houston Texans in their AFC divisional round in the NFL playoffs on Saturday January 14. Guess who they beat? A Houston quarterback, Brock Osweiler, who got paid elite quarterback status money last spring, when in fact he’s never proven himself to be an elite quarterback. He believed himself to be more than he was and it showed this season.