Patriot Reign: Bill Belichick, the Coaches, and the Players Who Built a Champion by Michael Holley
Review by C. Douglas Baker
Michael Holly, a former sports writer for the Boston Herald, followed the New England Patriots through the 2002-2003 National Football League seasons. He describes himself as a “fly on the wall” in team meetings, coaches meetings, and seems to have been literally everywhere with the Patriots for those two years. The result is a well done, inside look at the inner workings of what is now considered one of the preeminent sports organizations and teams.
New England Patriots fans have suffered a lot of losing seasons over the years. Painful losing seasons. The organization, the players, and coaches were just atrocious and there was no hope in sight during stretches of the 1980’s and early 1990’s. That is why the Super Bowl victory over the St. Louis Rams after the 2001 season was so gratifying to Patriots fans. The team’s failure to reach the playoffs in 2002 was a big disappointment because it appeared maybe the Patriots where just a lucky underdog with a good run. Michael Holly actually started following the team at the start of the 2002 season and decided to continue on in 2003. He was rewarded with another Super Bowl run that not only legitimized the Patriots as an elite team in the NFL but legitimized the 2001 championship season as well.
So how did the Patriots do it? Holley tells us. It’s through a very well organized sports team from the top down. And it all centers around coach Bill Belichick, who sets the goals and responsibilities of all parts of the organization and then, as a team, working toward that goal, which is of course winning championships. It relies on team work from the owner, the scouts, the trainers, the coaches, the administrative staff, and of course, the players. And it’s important to note the importance of owner Robert Kraft. He has given Belichick the authority to run the football operation as he sees fit and Belichick responds by keeping Kraft fully in the loop and the communication channels open with the owner – something Bill Parcels refused to do.
Probably the two most important functions that are necessary to win championships is finding players in the draft and free agency that fit the system and managing the salary cap. Belichick and the Scott Pioli, Vice President of Player Personnel, and of course the coaches and scouts, have had outstanding drafts and free agent acquisitions since Belichick’s reign. And Belichick and Pioli have done a fabulous job managing the salary cap – a task that led to the release of fan favorite Strong Safety Lawyer Milloy prior to the 2003 season. Belichick and his staff have found players with the character to fulfill their roles on the team with a winning attitude and play team ball. Being introduced as a team instead of individually prior to Super Bowl XXXVI was not a gimmick – they really do play that way.
Holley’s book also includes a lot biographical information about Belichick and how grew up in a football family, his father being an assistance coach for Navy, and his intense study of the game and what it takes to win. He explores Belichick’s decision to leave the New York Jets after being hired as head coach to get out of the shadow of Bill Parcels and run his own show. And we discover that the team won, despite the drama and negative feelings surrounding the trade of Drew Bledsoe to the Buffalo Bills and the release of Lawyer Milloy.
While most of the book focuses on the coach and the organization, Holley does provide the players’ perspective. While Belichick is a bit aloof with his players, the players themselves understand that the system works and winning (and losing) as a team is what they are all about. Of course it’s easy to buy into the system with two Super Bowl rings on their fingers.
This is a very short book and a quick read but is full of insight into the Patriots organization. This is a must read for Patriots fans. Avid football fans probably would also enjoy the book to see how a winning team operates.