New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft reportedly called Bill Belichick “the biggest f***ing a**hole in my life.” At least that’s according to the new book “It’s Better to be Feared” by ESPN writer Seth Wickersham.
The quote comes from an unnamed friend of Kraft. Belichick shrugged off the book in general on Wednesday as being “a lot of second-, third- and fourth-hand comments.”
Well, it sounds true, if only because how could anyone employ Bill Belichick for 20-plus years and not, at least at one point, call him a “f***ing a**hole”?
That isn’t a knock on Belichick. It’s a compliment.
High-value employees can often be difficult and demanding. Does anyone think Belichick is a daily joy around the office? Even many of his best friends wind up scrapping with him.
Belichick wasn’t hired for pleasantries. His job was to deliver the six Super Bowls and 17 division titles that helped grow a franchise Kraft bought for $172 million into a $5 billion behemoth. There's a pile of nice guy coaches his teams ran over.
Kraft was always rich and already owned an NFL franchise, but Belichick made him the celebrity owner of the Patriots. It’s why, even if Kraft said what he said, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t love his coach, isn’t grateful for his coach, isn’t aware how lucky he is to have hired him. It's just something that got said over the course of a couple of decades together.
Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers visit Foxborough on Sunday night, and the attention on one quote from a 500-page, meticulously reported book seems par for the course in what has become a bit like “Bash Belichick Week.”
Hey, he can take it – and perhaps even deserves it. Belichick clearly thought Brady was at the end of his career (I mean, the guy is 44) only to be proven wrong when Tom went to Tampa and won a seventh Lombardi Trophy, and first without BB. Now he has to try to compete against him. That's a bitter pill.
Still, the criticism runs hollow when it expects Belichick to not only be something he isn’t (emotive, folksy) but something that is counter to some of the very traits that made him a success (discipline, detachment).
You don’t get all those 20 years of dominance if Belichick is treating Brady special or gambling on older veterans or getting sentimental about guys. If he was nicer or softer or less authoritative to Brady, would they still have won like they did? There’s no way to know, but the Belichick Way sure worked.
So why should anyone expect – or want – something different now? He is who he is.
Belichick isn’t going to stand in front of a lectern this week and tell old rollicking tales about life with Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. He just isn’t. Not when they will be across the field on Sunday. He saves those for the retired, and usually the longer the retired the better.
One day those guys will get the Lawrence Taylor or Mark Bavaro treatment, but as for this week, Belichick has been, by his standards, effusive in his praise. Remember, if after any Patriots victory Belichick is asked about a single player playing well, he will almost always answer that "everyone" played well or "lots of guys" played well.
"All three phases," might be his favorite quote.
Yet here he was speaking about his “respect” and “appreciation” for Brady on Monday. He previously mentioned that their partnership was “a great relationship built on love.” On Wednesday, he stated for the second time that Brady (and Gronkowski) didn’t just do a lot for the team, but for Belichick personally.
“Know some of the [Tampa] players well, Tom and Rob, guys like that,” Belichick said. “Certainly Rob and Tom have done a lot for this organization and for me.”
That “for me” at the end may not seem like a lot, but it was. It was an acknowledgement of the personal, a statement that suggests that these weren’t just chess pieces on the board but individuals who propelled Belichick himself to good fortune.
Sunday night will likely be awkward because Belichick can be awkward. Maybe a different coach could bridge the gap – say Pete Carroll sprinting across the field pregame to hug Brady and break the ice.
That’s part of the deal, though. Belichick is the best there has ever been at conveying football strategy and football knowledge and football teachings. The man can go for 10 minutes on the evolution of the long snapper or the offensive philosophy of the 1975 Baltimore Colts.
Everything else can be a struggle. He clashed with players his whole career. Same with team owners, management, refs, commissioners and his own assistant coaches. His feud with his beloved mentor, Bill Parcells, stretched for years. He once quit as head coach of the New York Jets by scribbling on a napkin, “I resign as HC of the NYJ.”
You take the good with the bad (if this is all that bad). Considering the man’s level of social skill, his comments on Brady this week have been pretty nice.
At least for an occasional “f***ing a**hole.”