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The Making of a Coach
October 17, 2005
WHEN THE CLOCK was finally winding down, the seconds ticking off, with the Philadelphia Eagles unconscionably slow in getting their plays off, Steve Belichick, always in the background whenever there were television cameras around, left his place behind some of the New England Patriots, back around the 35-yard line. Moving quickly, he headed toward the 50, wanting to share this glorious moment with his son, Bill, the New England coach, about to win his third Super Bowl in four years. Bill himself was puzzled by the almost languid way the Eagles were running their plays, as if they were the ones with the lead, and they wanted to burn the clock. He kept checking the scoreboard, which said 24-14, as if perhaps he was the one who had the score wrong. He called his assistants, Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini, on the headphones to make sure the Patriots did indeed enjoy a 10-point lead. "Have I got the score right?" he asked, and they assured him he did. "Then what the hell are they trying to do?" His assistants did not know, either. The long, slow drive finally culminated in a Philadelphia score, on a 30-yard pass play, because of a blown defensive coverage. Seeing that his players were in the wrong coverage, Belichick had tried desperately to call time out, but he had been too late. Belichick was momentarily furious, mostly at himself, because he demanded perfection first and foremost of himself. But the Eagles' touchdown would not affect the final outcome.
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October 17, 2005

The Making Of A Coach

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The connection among the three of them-- Belichick, Adams and Bonds--was immediate and lasting; they were a club, although it became increasingly clear that Belichick and Adams were more committed to becoming football coaches and that Bonds, by their standards, was a bit soft and given over to interests in other things. They were inseparable that year. "Others would be at the library doing trig or history, and the two or the three of them would be off to the side in a corner, and you'd look and they'd be X-ing and O-ing," said Bruce Bruckmann, the halfback on that Andover team. For a time Bonds thought about trying some coaching. When he graduated, he went off to Duke, but he discovered that he was just as passionate about music as he was about football. Eventually he became a music professor at nearby Chapel Hill.

Adams went to Northwestern, a Big Ten program then enjoying some of its better years under famed coach Alex Agase. Agase was a little surprised when he received in the mail, unsolicited, an unusual document, beautifully bound as if it were a college senior thesis. It turned out to be a treatise on the importance of the drop-back quarterback in T formation football. It was written by a young man then 18 years old named Ernest Adams, who had been one of the team's managers earlier that fall. He mentioned in the letter that he would like to help coach at Northwestern in some form or other. Most coaches would have thrown it away, but Agase gave it a quick glance and then handed it to Jay Robertson, a young assistant on his staff, who read it and thought it could have been written by any number of rather distinguished college or professional coaches. When Agase told Robertson that it had been written by one of the managers, Robertson remembered a very young-looking freshman with curly hair who always seemed to edge his way close to the huddles so he could hear everything that Robertson said. Agase told Robertson to go out and talk to the kid and find out the depth of his knowledge. "That was 33 years ago, and he was 18, I think, and I still don't know what it is, what the bottom of his knowledge is, what it is that he doesn't know, because he knows so much," Robertson said recently.

They decided to let him break down film, which he did with great skill in the catacombs of the football offices in a dark, grim little converted ticket room they called the Dungeon. But it was one thing to analyze film in the Dungeon with the luxury of time and quite another to scout a game live. Soon they sent him out on the road to scout an upcoming opponent and found, to their delight, that he could get it all down quickly, accurately and perceptively. That made Adams, at only 18, a full-fledged scout for a big-time team. For the Andover trio it was a marvelous moment: The first one of them had gotten his foot in the door in coaching. Adams was a very successful scout and was soon a de facto coach as well, coaching the scout team as it ran opponents' plays in practice--in effect coaching his classmates.

BY HIS senior year it was clear that all Adams wanted to do was be a football coach, that nothing else interested him. In those days it was part of the Northwestern assistants' responsibility to do some recruiting in the Chicago region, and something that Robertson sensed the shy Adams was extremely uncomfortable with. He was not a person who liked to go around selling anything, particularly himself or his school. Football to him was a great chess match. One Friday they had visited a local high school, and, driving back to Evanston, Robertson saw that Adams, normally quite ebullient, seemed rather depressed. Robertson finally said, "It's the pro game or nothing, isn't it, Ernie?"

"Yes," Adams answered.

Adams finally landed a job in New England, even though it was without pay. The Patriots' head coach at the time was Chuck Fairbanks. The way Steve Belichick, with his ear to the ground in the coaching world, understood it, someone had told Fairbanks that Adams was really smart, and he would work for free, and Fairbanks had replied that he had coached for some 30 years and that anyone who would do anything for no pay was not worth a goddam. But what Fairbanks told Adams was that they were glad to have him, and while they were not going to pay him, they were not going to carry him either. If he could do the work, he could stay; if not, he would be out of there very quickly, because no one had the time to teach him.

By chance it was mid-June, the one time in pro football when almost everyone takes a vacation. Adams had the Patriots' facilities all to himself and spent the next two weeks studying their playbook and their films, so that by the time they returned, he knew it all, as if he had photographed it and then computerized it. Soon after, Fairbanks called Adams up to the blackboard and asked him to draw up one of their more arcane coverages. He did it flawlessly, of course.

When Adams was hired by the Patriots, he immediately called his pal Bill Belichick. At that moment Belichick, newly graduated from Wesleyan, was living with his parents and hoping to get a job as a graduate assistant in the college ranks. Adams suggested that Belichick try for a professional job, which he did, ending up as a virtually unpaid assistant with the Baltimore Colts.

NOW, 30 years later, Adams and Belichick were flying south to play the Rams in the biggest game of the year. The two teams had met earlier in the season, and the Rams had handled the Patriots easily. The score was relatively close, 24-17, but the game was not. � Afterward Belichick believed that he had coached badly. He had been preoccupied with too many other issues that week, his game plan had been flawed, and the Rams had parried it all too easily. The Patriots had blitzed, but because the Rams had picked up the blitzes, nothing had broken Warner's rhythm, and he had enjoyed something of a free-fire zone. Belichick had gone back and looked endlessly at the film of that game and of all the other Rams games, looking for a way to throw them off stride. Forty-two Patriots blitzes, he saw, and they had handled them all.

This time Belichick intended to make it different. He was all too aware of the vast imbalance in talent between the two teams. The key, both he and Adams decided independently, was stopping Faulk. That Adams agreed with him was comforting to Belichick, but stopping Faulk was much easier said than done. The game plan was to key on him on every play and wear him down. They were going to hit him every time he had the ball and hit him every time he didn't have the ball. The phrase they used was "butch the back," which meant, as Belichick later said, "knock the s--- out of him."

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