Smith vs Belichick: How Would You Run Your Team?
By Luke Sims
When general manager Gene Smith was promoted to general manager in 2009 he took over for a big “swing and miss” type GM in Shack Harris. Smith wanted a vast departure from the paying of talent, no matter the source (Can we say Jerry Porter had talent?) and instead put a focus on high character guys – looking to fill his locker room with players who have a positive reputation on and off the field.
This has led the Jaguars to skipping over quite a few good players in the draft and free agency in favor of other players that seem to have good heads on their shoulders. Kirk Morrison filled middle linebacker, Mike Thomas was moved up the depth chart, and the Jaguars passed on Ryan Mallett (so did everyone else, mind you) for Blaine Gabbert. Were these moves bad moves? No, I don’t think so. Were they excellent moves? I can’t say that with certainty either (I really loved Morrison, but he is not with the team any more).
The reason to argue that the moves to acquire such high character guys is that the Jaguars organization places an emphasis on a ship that is run by its players. A ship that self-polices itself. If someone does wrong (as Justin Blackmon just did with his aggravated DUI), the front office and coaching staff need only bring up the focus on staying a high character team and everyone else does the work to right the ship. This can be seen by Laurent Robinson coming in to talk to Blackmon on Tuesday:
"[I] told him that you’ve got to grow up. NFL players are targets, so you have to stay low key, low profile."
I’m a fan of having a high character locker room. The team corrected its Bengal-like bad boy persona in a couple short seasons by focusing on high character. But what about winning? Can’t we win and have high character? Why can’t the Jaguars bring in problem players and turn their problems into productive play on the field? How does Bill Belichick do it in New England?
Bill Belichick’s rise to prominence is pretty well documented in New England. He has made an impact on the NFL unlike any coach has for a long time. His coaching tree spread far and wide and has helped secure jobs for many new head coaches who have all, curiously, been a lot less successful than their head in New England. While Belichick is a scheming mastermind, make no doubt about it, I don’t think that his football IQ is a million points higher than the next head coach or GM. Yet somehow players just seem to play better for him. Kevin Faulk has carved a niche out in the Patriots offense for years. Troy Brown? Oh he’ll play wide receiver and corner/safety and make it look good. The circus act that is Albert Haynesworth? He won’t make a peep in New England.
How does he do it? It’s not that Haynesworth, Corey Dillon, Chad Ochocinco, Randy Moss, et al are suddenly transformed into paragons of virtue. It’s not even as if they suddenly revitalize their careers with the team. I say it’s due to the management style of Bill Belichick. A management style I like to call the “No Bullshit” style. If there were two words to describe Bill Belichick, they could very well be “no bullshit.”
Let’s look at the Randy Moss case: Moss was a joke when he wound up in New England. After exploding onto the scene in Minnesota, Moss was shuffled to the depressed Raiders where he showed little enthusiasm for the game and looked like his career was more of a flash in the pan. Who picks him up? The Patriots of course. Suddenly Moss and Tom Brady are setting records playing pitch and catch over cornerbacks and safeties. What happens when Moss leaves New England? 19 catches for 254 yards and two touchdowns in twelve games. The year before Moss had had over 1,200 yards, 83 catches, and 13 touchdowns.
Could Minnesota and Tennessee have gotten an inferior product in Moss? The evidence suggests otherwise. While Moss “retired” following the 2010 season, he worked out for teams this offseason and signed with San Francisco, still able to ratchet up an impressive 40 yard dash time. What were the differences in Tennessee and Minnesota? In Minnesota, head coach Brad Childress was a joke. His time was winding down, he had desperately wanted Moss for years, and he was succumbing to the wishes of Brett Favre. Childress would have signed anybody with a big name in his final two years. What about Tennessee? Jeff Fisher was at the end of his tenure. The guy is a genius, but he knew he was lame duck. There was no need to control his team.
Somehow, Belichick gets it done. Problem players come in, Super Bowl champions come out (or Super Bowl participants as of late). Belichick is a no nonsense man. He polices his team. If someone gets out of line, it’s handled within the team. In the rare case that something hits the media, it’s handled with a curt response and a deadpan stare.
While I love the high character, self-policed version of the Jaguars, I wonder if there may have been a chance to become a “no bullshit” team. Is there another man like Belichick that could run such a tight ship? Is there another team that could accumulate so many high quality players like the Jaguars to create a team that does not need such a tight head coach? I’m not certain there are really two other teams that have carved out their niches so securely.
I think the comparisons between the two organizations and their respective approaches will be embodied in the careers of Ryan Mallett and Blaine Gabbert. Gabbert was taken #10 0verall in the 2011 draft to lead the Jaguars. Meanwhile, problem child Ryan Mallett skidded from first-round status to the third round where the Patriots gladly picked him up. While the Patriots can make anyone look like Tom Brady (remember Matt Cassel?) they have to actually replace him with someone eventually. It will be curious to see if Mallett is that man and if he has become the best he can be under Belichick’s tutelage.
– Luke N. Sims
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