By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Bill Belichick is entering his 47th season as a coach in the National Football League. Forty-seventh. It’s rather insane.READ MORE: Red Sox Will Try Kyle Schwarber At First Base
And while he may be old school in some respects and new school in others, it’s obvious that a coach can’t stick around for so long without adapting to the ever-changing sport. Belichick — the third-winningest head coach in NFL history — has certainly done that.
But he’s not necessarily eager to come right out and say it.
The Patriots’ head coach participated in a virtual GM summit on Tuesday, and a comment he made about analytics made the rounds on social media. Apparently, Belichick and Chiefs head coach Andy Reid aren’t big fans of the use of analytics.
“I’d prefer good players, good fundamentals and good execution,” Belichick said, per D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
That is, of course, an old school answer from an old school guy. Because in a sport as physical as football, on a field with one-on-one physical battles from sideline to sideline, there is not necessarily a role for numbers, data, and spreadsheets to overwhelm an opponent on any given play. Belichick, who’s a defensive coach at heart, respects the very real and ever-present physical aspect of football, as it generally plays the most significant role in winning or losing.
That’s being said, Belichick is far from an out-of-touch coach from a different generation who immediately pooh-poohs useful information that can help him win football games.READ MORE: NBA Honors Terrence Clarke, Draft Prospect From Boston Who Died In April
Whether he was relying on data or gut instinct, his infamous decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 in Indianapolis in 2009 kind of marked a cultural turning point in terms of the acceptability of teams trying to gain the first down instead of punting on fourth downs. The number of fourth-down attempts has steadily risen over the past decade, reaching an all-time high last year. That move, obviously, didn’t work out for Belichick and the Patriots, as Kevin Faulk came up about 2 inches too short. But the numbers were in the coach’s favor, even if he was merely following his instinct as to what felt right.
Belichick also leaned heavily on the opinion of Ernie Adams over the past 20 years. While Adams wasn’t strictly dealing in analytics, the information he presented to Belichick and the coaching staff helped shape the way the Patriots game-planned for opponents.
Throughout it all, though, Belichick has insisted that he has no use for analytics. In that sense, no, he’ll never send the field goal unit onto the field in a conference title game to cut an eight-point deficit to five points, thus giving the football back to Tom Brady, thus losing a title shot, thus potentially alienating his quarterback forever. In terms of the painfully, obviously incorrect move, Belichick would never make one just because data might suggest it should be done.
The Athletic’s Mike Sando interpreted Belichick’s comments on Tuesday to suggest that an overreliance on data and numbers can be counterproductive in football:
MORE NEWS: Celtics Pick 18-Year-Old French Pro Juhann Begarin In Second Round Of NBA Draft
Belichick said many decisions are "60-40" (he means closer than that) & the margins are frequently too small for models to override other factors out of hand. I read his dismissive tone as weariness with media fascination he sees as disproportionate to impact. https://t.co/NcWT74aKiv
— Mike Sando (@SandoNFL) June 22, 2021
So perhaps it’s more a matter of semantics. Nobody’s been better at processing and utilizing information than Belichick, who’s had a hand in every part of his roster while roaming the sidelines during a two-decade dynastic run. He might just not like the A-word. It seems as though it’s best not to bring that up in front of him.