How Would Bill Belichick



How Would Bill Belichick
Belichick would understand the
similarities between sports
management and business
management. Both have time and
resource constraints, financial
sponsors and customers. Most
importantly both require the
aggregated output of all
individuals combined for the
highest level of performance.
Belichick would first define the
“people skills” he cherishes
above any and all technical skills.
Regardless of aptitude or talent
levels, if the recruit doesn’t fit the
team mold, they aren’t asked to
Belichick wouldn’t have just 1 or
2 team captains; everyone is
expected to contribute and
everyone is expected to be a
APRIL 2010
How Would Bill Belichick
Coach Your Project Team?
Bill Belichick is the current
head coach of the New England
Patriots. He has, by his own accounts,
been involved in the sport of football for
nearly his entire life; his father Stephen, a
college football scout and former NFL
player, introduced young Bill to “breaking
down” film at the age of 5.
Belichick’s merits and accolades
speak to his coaching legacy:
• The only head coach in NFL
history to win three Super Bowl
championships in a four-year span
• In his nine seasons as Patriots head
coach, Belichick has won 116 games which is already more than any other
head coach in NFL history has achieved
through his first 10 seasons with a team
• In 2007 he became the first NFL
head coach to guide his team to a 16-0
regular season record
• Coach Belichick's career winning
percentage of .630 (153-90) ranks fourth
all-time among head coaches with 150 or
more wins, trailing only Hall of Famers
George Halas (.682), Don Shula (.666)
and Curly Lambeau (.631) 1
I have personally never met Bill
Belichick, and he did not contribute to
this discussion paper. But in the spirit of
learning from undoubtedly one of the
best in his profession, this paper will
examine how Belichick’s principles of
building and coaching a premier sports
franchise can be applied within your
How is a football team similar to a
business team?
Before we examine how Belichick’s
principles can be applied, let us first
discuss the similarities of a football squad
and a project team. A definition I like of
a project is as follows: A project is a
temporary endeavor, having a defined beginning
and end (usually constrained by date, but can be
by funding or deliverables), undertaken to meet
unique goals and objectives, usually to bring
about beneficial change or added value. 2 The
definition of a team is straightforward, a
group of people working towards a common
cause. In the case of a project team, the
“temporary endeavor” is that common
cause. A football squad is ideally working
towards a common goal each season; the
championship title.
In what other ways can we draw
parallels between a football squad and a
business team? Both have definitive start
and end dates. A football team has a
definitive season start and end date,
while a project also has clearly defined
kick-off and conclusion phases.
A project needs to be unique,
meaning it produces a unique product,
service or result, and then completes.
Strong similarities can also be drawn with
a football squad. Each season, they are
asked to produce a unique result, many
times with different organizational
structures and players.
An NFL team has budgetary
constraints, just as a project will have a
set allowance of monetary resources.
Both groups report to stakeholders.
Just as a project team would report
milestones, earned value and issues to its sponsors, a NFL team
has to answer for its performance to its financial sponsor, the
A project’s customers (or users) can clearly sway the results of
a project’s successful outcome, just as the customers of a NFL
team, its fans, can stop using the product all-together, severely
impacting ongoing franchise operations.
Finally, and most importantly, the greatest results are
dependent upon the aggregated performance of the team, not
individual performances. Clearly, brilliant talent can create an
anchor on any team, but star power is limited and can not
produce the total aggregated results of a well formed team.
Why is it important to draw these correlations? Because in
project management and management in general, you are
effectively the coach of your own sports franchise. Each and
every day you are trying to maximize and develop the talents of
your team by better preparing and coordinating the personnel.
Project and business management is not an individual sport, and if
run by a group of individuals, rather than a collective team, your
results will be dismal.
Applying Belichick’s Coaching Principles to Your Team.
Belichick is known to be a great strategist, to have an
amazingly tenacious work ethic, is extremely well studied (both
inside and outside of football) and is an extraordinary manager of
talent. In this article, we will focus on the last of these, and
examine how his leadership and “people principles” can be
applied to a project team.
Team Makeup. Teams are both born and made. Clearly,
understanding what project skills are needed within your team is
critical to its makeup, but remember skills should come secondary
to building a team of like-minded members with defined core
team values. Are you bringing on talent with whom you and your
team can work side by side during long stressful periods of the
project? Pepper Johnson, the Patriot’s linebacker coach expressed
Belichick’s view on the topic, “We personally interview
prospective players now, and it really doesn’t matter how much
talent each one has. If we don’t feel he can be one of our guys, a
guy who can fit in with our overall concept, we won’t sign him”. 3
A project manager often has the responsibility of building
his own team, and should take a similar approach. Examine
deeper than only technical and functional skills. First develop a
list of “key scouting attributes” and decide what the most
important are, to this team’s makeup. Don’t waiver on your
standards or bury the “people skills”. Belichick also understands
this importance. He lists the physical traits of his players, secondary to
their mental traits. Things like coachability, work ethic and intelligence are
rated as more important than strength, speed and endurance. 4
APRIL 2010
Why do the most competent leaders focus first on building a
cohesive team atmosphere? Because a group of individuals,
without like minded values and ethics, will not produce a
combined output greater than their individual talents, but may
often be worse. Compare the results of the 2004 U.S. Olympic
basketball “Dream Team”, and the 1980 “Miracle on Ice”
Olympic gold medal hockey squad. Here is what U.S. basketball
coach Larry Brown said of his team’s embarrassing loss to Puerto
Rico that Summer, “They (Puerto Rico) played as a team. They
played so much harder and so much better than we did that the
result isn’t a surprise at all. I don’t know what we can take from
this. The only thing we can do is find out what we’re made of.
It’s a chance for us to come together and see if we really are a
team”. 5 Clearly no one can question that the U.S. team had an
incredible amount of individual talent that Summer, but only
managed to squeak out a bronze. Contrast that episode to the
1980 mens’ hockey gold medal team, here is what coach Herb
Brooks had to say about his leaving some of the “best” players off
his final Olympic roster, “I’m not looking for the best players, I’m
looking for the right ones.” 6
Plan your team building strategy around your core people
values defined by your “key scouting attributes”. Next, focus on
the functional and technical skills needed for the team to finish
first. “You try to bring people together that have the same
interests and the same values and the same point of view. Not the
same, but similar. That has a way of coming together." 7
Everyone is a contributer, everyone is a leader. If
you want to achieve the greatest results from any project team, its
contributions must be garnered from amongst the entire team.
Belichick's teams have relied on a versatile and deep roster, consistently
overcoming injuries and setbacks while using contributions from the entire team
to perform at a high level. Since 2001, New England has used an average of
40 different starters per season and set NFL records for most starters by a
Super Bowl champion (42 in 2003) and most starters by a division champion
(45 in 2005) in a 16-game season. 8
Agile project management practices have similar teachings.
For example, Agile SCRUM project management (in which the
author is certified and has been applying since 2002), empowers
the project team to be much more self organizing and self
managing than other more traditional project management
• The team makes delivery commitments and together work
to meet the promises
• The team is ultimately successful as a team or fails together
as a team
• The team has joint ownership to collaborate and solve
• The team reports on progress, plans, and obstacles
• The team is accountable to each other
In the bulleted list above, I’ve
repeatedly underlined “the team”. In
more traditional forms of project
management and organizational
management, the word “team” is replaced
with: project manager, lead, technical
architect, or any one individual leader.
Interestingly while some have devoted
tomes to the topic of leadership, Belichick’s
definition is quite simplistic and can be
applied broadly. “When a player comes to
work in the morning, he is prepared, ready
to go, ready to improve as a player, ready
to help the team, alert, awake, and has a
good attitude. You couldn’t have any more
leadership than that. That’s what a true
leader does.” 9 A great manager of talent
like Belichick doesn’t require his one or
two captains to make speeches and talk of
upcoming opponents. In fact he decentralizes the leadership amongst the
entire team by expecting each member to
be a contributer with his basic expectation;
Show up with a good attitude, be prepared
to improve and help the team.
Challenge yourself and your team’s
behavior on this topic. I believe it is a
great paradigm shift that could lead to
powerful results within your organization.
In February 2002, ESPN
commentator Trey Wingo remarked “the
coolest thing I’ve ever seen in 36 years of
Super Bowl history”. During player
introductions before Super Bowl XXXVI,
the St. Louis Rams were introduced the
traditional way: one by one, each of the
team’s offensive starters emerged from a
tunnel and jogged onto the field to
applause as an announcer blared his name
over the stadium’s sound system. The
Patriots were give the same choice:
introduce your offensive or defensive
starters. They defied tradition, demanding
to burst onto the field together, so the
announcer simply introduced them as “the
APRIL 2010
AFC Champion New England Patriots”.
Patriots cornerback Ty Law remembers
“they tried to tell us we couldn’t do it..but
we did it anyway”. 10
• A great book on the upbringing and life
of Bill Belichick; I recommend the unabridged
version: “The Education of a Coach”, by David
Halberstam, 2005, Hyperion.
• To learn more how Belichick and the
Patriots apply their hiring and team
management principles: “Management Secrets
of the New England Patriots: From “Patsies” to
Triple Super Bowl Champs, Vol 1”, by James
Lavin, 2005, Pointer Press.
(1) Stats from The New England Patriots, as of April 1,
(2) Definition of a project from, as of
April 1, 2010,
(3) Patriots linebacker coach Pepper Johnson, Won For All,
Chicago: Contemporary Books, 2003, p.5.
(4) Bill Belichick quoted in: Ethan J. Skolnick’s, “Patriots
are best because they’re the smartest”, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 4
February 2004.
(5) Coach Larry Brown, quoted in: David DuPree’s,
“U.S. Men’s Basketball Falls Flat on World Stage”, USA
TODAY, August 15, 2004,
(6) Herb Brooks quoted in a dialogue with Craig
Patrick, The Herb Brooks Foundation, as of April 02, 2010,
(7) Quotes from: All Things Bill Bilichick, “Team
Chemistry”, August 6, 2007, http://
(8) Stats from: The New England Patriots’ website, “Bill
Bilichick: Head Coach”, as of April 1, 2010, http://
(9) Bill Belichick quoted in: Alex Timiraos, “Pats coach
talks to leadership at BC”, The Heights, April 9, 2004.
(10) Lavin, James. Management Secrets of the New
England Patriots: From “Patsies” to Triple Super Bowl
Champs. Vol 1. Stamford, CT. Pointer Press, 2005. p.73.
Kyle J. Heppenstall (PMP, CSM) is
the Managing Director of
CompassX Group; a consulting
and call center firm. Kyle’s
passion is helping organizations
deliver their strategic goals with a
“back to basics” approach.
Please visit
to learn how we can assist
your organization
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