Hackett: Alex Cora, Bill Belichick share similar trait

Jim Hackett
October 25, 2018 - 10:18 am

USA Today Sports


Boston has great coaches right now and for the most part that has been the case for quite some time. I’m purposefully omitting some of the "in-betweens" here, but from Bill Parcells to Bill Belichick, Terry Francona to Alex Cora, Doc Rivers to Brad Stevens and from Claude Julien to Bruce Cassidy we’ve had good leadership in these parts for quite some time. 

While watching Cora move his team closer and closer to a World Series Championship over these many months, I’ve noticed a particularly ‘Belichickian’ trait in the first year Red Sox manager, one that is quite obviously working with his empowered and soon to be championship ball club. Empowered being the operative word…

Pete Davidson, my co-host on the WEEI Fantasy Football Hour and I talk a lot about football players from those at the combine, to the ones drafted, to the yet to be signed free agents all the way up to the top performing skill players in the NFL. Have you ever read an NFL Draft rookie scouting Report? It’s essentially like a pre-arbitration hearing, filled with thoughts on everything a player cannot do and all of his flaws. On the show and on our podcast, we often talk about NFL player evaluators and how they look at a player’s weaknesses while Belichick and his scouting and player development people look at a player’s strengths. They look to see how they can use a specific set of skills a player may have and how to make them successful in their system.

There’s a long list of players labeled as "can’t do its" in the NFL over the course of the last 18 years that have made a real impact on your New England Patriots on the field; a team that is the most dynastic in league history during the toughest era to accomplish such a thing. There are too many to count but Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Danny Woodhead, Anthony Pleasant, Otis Smith, Roman Phifer, Antowain Smith and Mike Vrabel come to mind. 2018 castoff Cordarrelle Patterson has some warts but you very clearly saw some of those skills that can and have made an impact on the Patriots fortunes and in their scheme. You saw it this past Sunday.

When I watch what everyone labels as magic coming out of Cora this postseason, I rather see the sum of eight months of building belief in his players and that faith and strategy coming perfectly to fruition. I see a guy who has built a brick wall of confidence in guys like Brock Holt, Tuesday night’s hero Eduardo Nunez, Steve Pearce and in a bullpen that before October was rendered useless in these parts and with full disclosure by me as well.

Cora doesn’t look at what Ian Kinsler or Sandy Leon can’t do or what they haven’t been doing. Oh no. Cora, like his Foxboro counterpart, looks at what these players can do and thoughtfully places them in positions to succeed at what is consistently turning out to be just the right time. Coincidence? Luck? I think not. These are calculated moves, strategies that have been deployed since the early days of spring training. Cora studies, scouts and processes. He processes player strengths at a similar speed to how Tom Brady processes a defense and where the holes and opportunities are. It’s not magic. It’s skill. It’s the toughest kind to quantify, skill of the mind and with so many half-witted morons in the media feeding the masses these days we hear things like “Magic, Midas Touch and everything Cora touches turns to gold.”

Well there’s a reason for it. Maybe he’s smarter than other managers or more prepared. Maybe he just has razor sharp instincts or perhaps a lucky rabbit’s foot, but I don’t think so.

I think Cora works on looking for the value in each and every one of his players and started doing it the day he was hired. He finds it and lets the player know it. He lets his players know without a shadow of a doubt, that this particular skill or strengths he sees is important and that the team is going to need it.

What happens from there? Magic? No, the confidence in the player builds and builds and when the moment for magic comes, that player is ready. Find it, confirm it, reaffirm it, and use it. Then just wash, rinse and repeat.

That’s why Cora is winning and that’s why every decision he makes seemingly always works, because he was smart enough to seek out those special skills in each of his guys and even smarter to make damn sure they knew how special those skills are. If you ask me, that’s downright Belichickian.

Heck, on second thought it’s downright Herb Brooksian. Whichever your analogy of choice, like the folks in Foxboro, I think the Red Sox got the right guy. All due respect to you magic enthusiasts out there…

Related: How Red Sox fixed Joe Kelly at right time