Sunday, April 16, 2017

Stability On The Sidelines, "No Days Off" Crucial To Patriots' Success

"Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary.  It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body; it calls attention to the development of an unhealthy state of things. If it is heeded in time, danger may be averted; if it is suppressed, a fatal distemper may develop." - Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill was, by all accounts, a brutally honest man; transparent in all of his personal dealings and not given to frivolous pandering and patronizing, he told of his own struggles to righteously assess himself each evening before retiring, claiming to hold himself in court martial and hoping to discover that he had used his time wisely and to have been effective in whatever he undertook.

It is this very level of self-assessment that allowed him to be critical of the way Britain was governed, causing him to be viewed as an outcast in his early days of service, then as a revered prognosticator and virtual savior during the darkest days of World War II - and while the sport of American football doesn't have the fate of the free world resting upon it's shoulders, lessons from those truly heroic individuals who stood up to fascism and seemingly certain defeat to persevere can be translated to the gridiron.

Especially the part about heeding the development of the unhealthy state of things, as doing so makes the difference between a great team remaining on top of the football world and a bad team remaining that world's doormat.

Self-assessment is the act of assessing aspects that are important to one's identity, and while this is usually a hellishly introspective staredown with one's psyche in the proverbial mirror, when a person takes it one step further to assess things that are extensions of ones personality, one has the opportunity to either heed the outcome or suppress it...

...and for going on nearly two decades, Bill Belichick has been heeding the painful truths about his teams and his own performance in guiding such, and has been able to avert the dangers inherent in blissful ignorance and passive aggression while many others have fallen to the fatal distemper that arises in team-building.

Team building is more than just identifying talent on the open market and in the draft, it is identifying the shortcomings of a team - both in the short term and in the long term - and addressing those issues so as to not fall into the trap of resting on successes, knowing that the abbreviation for the the National Football League, the NFL, also stands for "Not For Long".

Essential to the team building process is stability in the front office and tenure on the sidelines, and the teams that know this are the teams that enjoy protracted success and, yes, even win championships - while the teams that don't follow those guidelines are the teams that consistently suck.

No?  Take a look at the list of teams that have the longest tenured coaching staffs, and you will see a who's who of success in the National Football League.

Green Bay's Mike McCarthy and New Orleans' Sean Payton are both entering their 11th seasons, the Steelers' Mike Tomlin is entering his 10th, Baltimore's John Harbaugh his ninth and Seattle's Pete Carroll his eighth - all have world championships on their resumes and all but Payton have taken their teams to the playoffs in at least half of their seasons calling the shots.

Coaches such as Jason Garrett in Dallas and Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati haven't won titles yet, but certainly have had stretches of success -  though the Bengals have certainly given Lewis more than enough time to produce a consistent winner (13 seasons), and while they have made the playoffs in seven of his seasons at the helm, his evaluation of talent that exists on his team isn't up to par with the other coaches on this list.

Belichick is, of course, the gold standard

The longest-tenured coach in the league, going into his 18th season - in 14 of those seasons he has led the Patriots to AFC East division championships, also winning seven conference titles and five Super Bowls in that span.

From out of all of this it is reasonable to ascertain stability on the sidelines and in the front offices are a key factor in success of an NFL franchise, but it is not the linchpin that finalizes that statement - that moniker goes to the ability of a coach to self-assess, and to not only scout the talent available to him, but to scout his own team to determine if Churchill's little ditty regarding criticism applies to his team.

Of course, it always does in Belichick's eyes, as he reminded the entire world when on the grandstand immediately after his Patriots completed the most epic comeback in the history of professional sports, starting the new personal axiom of "No Days Off" as a manner of backing up his claim that because of playing in the Super Bowl, he and his staff were six weeks behind in their preparation for the 2017 season... if being in the Super Bowl was somehow a negative thing.  After all, playing in the Super Bowl is the goal of all 32 teams at the start of each season, and the majority of the teams, their coaches and fans would kill to be in the Patriots position year after year.

Predictably, his whining elicited zero sympathy from anyone, but if did raise the fear and loathing among just about every football executive, coach, player and fan outside of New England that took his statement as a hint that he was going to go on a team-building rampage that would ultimately find the Patriots again atop the football universe.

But anyone who thinks Belichick was actually six weeks behind in his preparation for the 2017 season either has road apples for brains or simply hasn't been paying attention.

New England's scouting department is a conglomerate of ordinary football minds being instructed by the most extraordinary of football minds, tasked with finding players - both on the professional and college levels - whose distinctive skill sets Belichick can integrate in an effort to open up his playbook wider than most, in direct contrast to traditional team building, where scouts are instructed to find players that fit their playbook.

The difference is not subtle, and it allows the Dark Master to employ players who have been busts in other programs and to thrive in his, as he brings them in not to fill a requirement to the philosophy, but to morph the philosophy to fit his players skill.  It is this constant evolution that makes the Patriots so tough to defend, and it gives them the ability to transform into whatever it is they need to win games week after week, season after season.

It's a full-time job to be sure, and it causes one to realize that Belichick's seemingly new mantra of "No Days Off" has actually been his philosophy since day one of his tenure.

Just two days after his Patriots scored 31 unanswered points to defeat the Atlanta Falcons in the first overtime game in Super Bowl history, Belichick signed 12 players to futures contracts, then started finalizing deals that brought tight end Dwayne Allen, defensive end Kony Ealy and wide receiver Brandin Cooks to Foxborough to address what Churchill called the "unhealthy state of things", as New England lost tight end Martellus Bennett and defensive ends Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard to free agency...

...and also signed cornerback Stephon Gilmore in anticipation of losing at least on of his own corners to free agency - then started adding weapons by Bringing the speedy human joystick Cooks onboard, strengthening what was already the biggest offensive juggernaut since the allies closed in on Berlin, effectively bringing to fruition Churchill's resolve.

The notion of self-assessment - or in coach-speak, self-scouting - is obviously not new when it comes to success on the field of battle, be it in war or sport, and the best of the best throughout history knew that when change had to be made, the first change came by looking in the mirror.

That's how Churchill did it and that's how Belichick does it - and both were loathed, yet begrudgingly respected, by their opponents - which prompted Churchill to utter another timeless axiom that holds true not just in war or football, but in every day life for ordinary folk.

"To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often."

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