Hackett: People are talking, and they're all stupid

Jim Hackett
September 13, 2018 - 8:07 am

USA Today Sports

So much to write and so little space ...

After four-plus decades on the planet, I’ve gotten used to stupid takes particularly when it comes to perceived "hot takes" on sports, politics or celebrity. Typically it doesn’t bother me too much. I just laugh it off or grumble aloud to myself like Bill Belichick answering a fear-filled, trepidacious question. It’s all part of being a sports fan or a fan of anything for that matter. However, there are a couple of topics that have been fanning the flames over here for a while that I just have to unload on. The opinions of the reactionary, uninformed and great unwashed are making me a little crazy these days.

I would like to start with the Belichick coaching tree.

Let’s begin with Josh McDaniels. Back in February, a great deal was made of McDaniels turning down the Colts head coaching job after formally accepting it. The national yakkers pets’ heads were falling off at the mere thought of it. Oh, the horror! Granted he left them at the altar and the aftermath negatively impacted the lives of several people including assistant coaches who made significant life changes for themselves and their families based on his initial commitment. That was a really unfortunate consequence, one I assume McDaniels considered and struggled with when he reconsidered what he was getting into. But let’s get serious, it’s his life, his family, his decision and his decision was a good one by the way. 

People went crazy over this for months and I would just ask this simple question: have you ever had a lousy boss? I have and it’s not fun. Instead of being some grand conspiracy or a last minute Hail Mary by the Patriots to desperately keep some organizational continuity, couldn’t it just been an aha-moment where he said ‘do I really want to work for this guy?’ I wouldn't bet against it. Jim Irsay is clinically insane, runs a lousy organization and around February of this year, nobody was confident that the one legitimate asset they have, Andrew Luck, could even play! Controversial? I guess. Smart? Hell yes! 

Regarding the much-ballyhooed dinner meeting between Robert Kraft, Belichick and McDaniels at the eighth hour; everyone had a spin and I’ve got to tell you, I don’t think anyone had it right. Couldn’t it just have been this?

Act 1:

Kraft: “Look Josh, I know this guy, he’s a mess.”

Belichick: “Errr… grumble, grumble…cough…clear throat….grumble…I’ve ah… worked for an organization with unstable ownership ... snort ... it’s not a good situation ... snort ... This is a good stable situation ... over there its different.”

End Scene.

I would also like to add that their quarterback was literally soft-tossing Nerf balls at the time. Hmmm ... Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, Robert Kraft, job security with a winning organization or Jim Irsay and an injured quarterback throwing Nerf balls for a pathetic organization? Case closed. I honestly believe it’s no more than that and I’m not even accounting for the fact that McDaniels is the likely successor to get the keys to the Cadillac.  

Now that that ridiculousness is settled let’s move onto the lack of success of the Belichick coaching tree. There hasn’t been any success that’s for sure. The collective records of Belichick’s pupils is no better than the first 30 years of the LA Clippers' existence, but the lack of depth to this conversation is maddening. 

The five most prominent Belichick head coaching disciples that landed NFL coaching jobs are Bill O’Brien (currently leading the Houston Texans), Josh McDaniels, Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini and Matt Patricia --  whose debut with the Detroit Lions on Monday night was an absolute dumpster fire. The collective NFL won-loss records of these five is 103-154, a whopping 40 percent winning percentage. Ugly indeed. However, the narrative that this concretely means that Patriots assistant coaches under Belichick can never be successful head coaches is rubbish. Just genuine frontier gibberish. 

First of all in some of these cases, like that of Crennel the landing spot matters and cannot be understated. Crennel took over the lowly and perennially pathetic Cleveland Browns for example. I’d extrapolate on this but I think we all know what that represents. Until just now in 2018 (maybe), Cleveland hasn’t had a quarterback since the Bernie Kosar/Vinny Testaverde era of the early 90’s. Neither of them were perennial Pro-Bowl caliber either. If you take a job built to help you fail then you will likely fail. In the NFL, a job without a quarterback is a death sentence as we know. 

Landing spot was less of an issue for McDaniels in Denver who came in to replace Mike Shannahan after a disappointing 8-8 season in 2008. To me, this appears to be a case of readiness or lack thereof. McDaniels needed more seasoning at that time, and still may by the way. I mean who wouldn’t want to work for a jewel like Jim Irsay?  Regardless, he still may not feel ready just yet. Readiness is a funny thing because sometimes we think we’re ready at a certain time in life when an opportunity is afforded to us. As years go by you look back and realize you weren’t even close. My feeling on McDaniels’ first stint in Denver back in 2009 was exactly that. He simply wasn’t ready.

Lastly, but importantly, the allure of the Patriots organization across the league is a major factor for teams targeting, choosing and eventually hiring their coaches. I think this contributes to some of these failures that Patriots assistant coaches have had in the big chair. Think about it, if owners from fledgling organizations like the Cleveland Browns or New York Jets look at the success of the Patriots they are going to want a piece of that action. It’s a classic quick fix, magic pixy dust mentality, one that has been prevalent in the copycat NFL for a long time. The problem is, there is no magic pixy dust. It’s an idea people have, a flawed one, that if they can get a piece of what has worked somewhere else that they can easily replicate it and that has proven hard to do. 

People can’t be cloned. Mangini tried to clone Belichick in his failed head coaching career. The problem is he took all of the surly stuff Belichick publically presents without any leadership credibility or track record to back it up. After some modest success during year one in New York with a talented Jets roster, the wheels started to fall off the wagon. Mangini’s act grew tired among the players and he lacked the depth and credibility to ever really get them back. Mangini was shallow in his attempt to replicate the winning traits of Belichick and like McDaniels, he probably wasn’t ready to lead either. 

Here is some advice I would have offered Mangini on his way out of town back then: if you’re going to try and impersonate Belichick, take the good stuff like the football knowledge, leadership, attention to detail and preparation tactics, not just the salty attitude. Mangini’s earlier proximity to greatness certainly wasn’t enough to help him when he left the nest.

From what I’ve heard so far in reports out of Detroit, the erudite Matt Patricia could be making the same mistake. Here’s hoping he learns after his week one disaster. Certainly, it’s way too early to start making snap judgments, though that hasn’t stopped many from doing it. He may be ready or he may never be ready. Some people are better lieutenants, most are actually. Time will tell, but please people, time is the operative word. I think the people of Detroit and the NFL pundits across the country need switch to Sanka.

As we enter the 19th season of the dominant era of the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady Patriots many victims of their success have been collected over the years. If you want to count the bodies, it's 242 to be exact. Two hundred and forty-two victories to just 84 losses over these 18 plus years. Absolutely incredible. This success has also created some other victims, guys like Crennel, Weis and Mangini who were tapped rightfully or wrongfully because of that very success. Just because somebody may have made a misjudgment or even a bad hire at the time doesn’t mean that a capable Patriots assistant can’t someday be a successful head coach elsewhere. Nor should it be an indictment on the Patriots organization and their ability to ready assistant coaches for the next step. 

Imagine what it would be like around here if either Bill Parcells or Kraft never called Belichick after going 36-44 in Cleveland? Myopic thinking like that is why the Patriots and their coaches are where they are and everyone else below are always looking up for answers.