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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Belichick Snub

Readers of this blog know that I am an admirer of the coaching savvy of Bill Belichick, the head coach of the New England Patriots. It's easy to get on that bandwagon, isn't it? He's only won three Super Bowls, so he should be admired, shouldn't he?

For his sideline brains and preparation, absolutely. For what happened after the AFC championship game against the Colts, absolutely not.

In case you missed it, Peyton Manning approached Belichick after the Colts' victory and tried to congratulate him. It could have been a warm moment between the coaching maven and the "best quarterback not to have won a major, err, championship game", but Belichick ruined it. He walked away from Manning, leaving him hanging. The act was akin to not acknowledging someone who is waving hello to you, so that the waver is forced to comb his hand throw his hair to preserve his dignity.

What Belichick did was inexcusable. He embarrassed the best quarterback in the game right after his finest hour, a reminder that you can't always confuse great coaching with leadership. Most apparently, they're severable.

Those who defend him will say that the rest of us in the chattering classes don't know what it's like to lose a big game like that, to come down after the heat of battle, and that because he's such a competitor, Belichick just wasn't ready for that type of moment. But that's a lame excuse, and everyone knows it. What Bill Belichick made people wonder is that despite his talents as a coach, what is he like as a human being? Miserable, without grace, without class? What happened to the dad who was hugging his kids a week earlier after his team's upset of the San Diego Chargers on the road? Why couldn't he have stuck out his hand, put an arm around Manning, and said, "Hey, great job. You deserved to win. Good luck in Miami"?

Would it have been that hard? To stop for a moment and do the right thing?

It's easy to be a great guy in victory, isn't it? You can run up and down the sidelines, looking for someone to hug, you can embrace your longstanding assistants, look for your kids to join you, hug your teammates, whatever moves you at the moment. But how you celebrate isn't really the measure of a man, is it? All of us can be great guys in victory, because that's pretty easy to do. What's much more difficult is how we handle defeat and disappointment, and what we do to rebound from it. Our leadership is measured, in part, on how we handle the difficult situations in life, such as losing.

And Bill Belichick failed this past Sunday after his Patriots lost to the Colts. Sure, it's hard to lose, but you lost to a Hall of Fame quarterback who played a great second half and who got a big monkey off his back. Did his team do its best? Perhaps yes, perhaps not (giving up 32 points in the second half couldn't have been the Patriots' best, and letting the Colts come from 18 points down to win wasn't their best, either). But the point is that Belichick put a cloud on the post-game because of his lack of magnanimity.

That lack of grace won't diminish Belichick's on-the-field accomplishments. He's a great coach, no doubt about it.

Whether he's a great guy is open for debate.

And it's one, which, right now, the graduate of prestigious Wesleyan University probably would lose, at least for now.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't forget that he pushed the photographer out of the way after a recent game (maybe against the Jets). He did later apologize though. It seems to me that he has significant anger problems in post-game situations.

10:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's 3 "incidents" this season... hmmm... stress? Though, I would say it's two -- what I saw after the Jets/Pats playoffs was him fighting his way to get to the Penguin. Same feeling I get, sometimes, trying to get out of a NY subway car when the "coming in" crowd won't wait.

Sometimes you just want to swing those elbows.

1:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Manning showed his class last year when he blamed his offensive line for the "protection problems" in the loss to the steelers. And he had time to think that comment over before making it.

His brother Eli showed HIS class by thinking his skills warranted special draft status.

Their dad leads by example by often pointing out that he was a great player on a bad team and would have been better had he played elsewhere.

Methinks Belichicks team-first coaching attitude and desire to give the credit to everyone else is a bit more important than who gets what kind of hugs at the end of the game.

4:42 PM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Sorry, Anonymous III, but I can't agree with you. First, you're taking my commment out of proportion. What any of the Mannings did in the past had nothing to do with Belichick did on the field that day. Second, are you responsible for what your brother or dad does or says? I don't think so, so it's not fair to tar Peyton with the alleged transgressions of Eli and Archie. Third, while Belichick is a great coach, my point is that perhaps that's all he is. He's certainly not the best sport and he's not an overall leader in terms of showing class. Dean Smith, for example, won a lot, and he didn't pull anything like that. Belichick's actions don't dilute any praise he deserves for being a great coach, but they most certain take away from arguments that try to deem him a great person. Those are two different things.

9:27 PM  
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