The Education of a Coach and the Education of a President
February 9, 2017
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The Patriots’ amazing comeback Sunday evening was further proof that Bill Belichick is in a league of his own.
The combination of Belichick as coach and Tom Brady as quarterback has become the most successful pairing in NFL history. It helped lead Brady to his fifth Super Bowl victory – an all-time record not likely to be met or surpassed for a long time.
The astonishing comeback against Atlanta was almost unbelievable. Callista and I were pulling for Atlanta. We went into halftime confident that the Falcons offense, which had crushed its opponents by historic margins all season, would continue to score points.
We watched in disbelief as the Patriots adjusted to stop the Atlanta attack. Then we felt helpless as Brady began to shred the Falcons’ defense. For any other team, making two 2-point conversions to get into overtime would be almost implausible – but the Patriots did it. Winning with the first touchdown in overtime seemed almost inevitable, because the momentum had so decisively shifted.
Belichick and his team did not panic when they faced a 21-point deficit at halftime. They methodically worked their way back into competition and then to victory. Belichick and the Patriots are used to close victories – an amazing share of the time, they win.
Because of Belichick’s extraordinary record, I wanted to better understand how he thought about football and coaching. In particular, I was curious to know what has made him such an extraordinary leader.
David Halberstam was a great researcher and writer. He is known for writing The Best and the Brightest. Halberstam knew Belichick because they summered near each other. Halberstam became intrigued and wrote the kind of insightful, deeply researched, and enlightening book that was his specialty.
The Education of a Coach carries us up through Belichick’s third Super Bowl win. Sadly, Halberstam died and couldn’t write a sequel about Belichick’s continuing success.
While reading the book, several things struck me about Coach Belichick that relate to the emerging Trump presidency. President Trump and Belichick are similar in several ways. But there are a few ways Trump could benefit from spending time with his good friend Coach Belichick.
Both work very hard.
Both are driven by a deep determination to win.
Both are comfortable having to come from behind (compare Belichick behind 24-3 at the half Sunday night with almost everyone predicting in early October that Trump would certainly lose the election).
However, Coach Belichick has three big advantages.
First, Belichick has had years to build his system. The current Patriots structure includes assistant coaches and players who thoroughly understand Belichick’s philosophy, values, and principles. It’s also a relatively small organization.
President Trump is now more like Belichick when he was first head coach in Cleveland. And President Trump has no offseason to think and regroup. He will be in the Super Bowl every day of his presidency. Trump has to act, think, train, and grow people simultaneously. Where an NFL team is made up of a few hundred people (counting support personnel), President Trump has to find more than 4,000 appointees and lead several million civilian and military staff members.
Second, Belichick has a constant emphasis on the team, which has a huge impact on morale. The Belichick system is bigger than Belichick and bigger than Brady. It would help President Trump to have Coach Belichick spend one day a week during the offseason teaching team building, team thinking, and the principles of mutual support. Trump ought to start team building with the White House staff, then the Cabinet, and finally the leadership of each department.
Having a football coach advise the President of the United States may seem like an odd idea, but it actually makes sense. Imitation is always easier than invention. The scale of change President Trump wants can only be delivered by a team. The most visibly successful team builder in America today is Coach Belichick.
Third, Coach Belichick and President Trump are both very smart. But Belichick began learning football at the age of nine from his father – the greatest scouting coach of his generation. So, Belichick has a lifetime of mastering his field. Trump has just begun to lead the free world.
Trump’s next hurdle will be to develop a way to quickly learn what he needs to know in order to run the country in the best way possible – the way Belichick led the Patriots in the second half on Sunday. That is a tremendous challenge given the size and complexity of the country – and the speed with which the world can change.
Leading the United States of America is clearly more difficult and more important than winning the Super Bowl, but it requires the same fundamentals – smart strategy, a strong team, and a keen understanding of the game.
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