In a new book about Bill Belichick, author Ian O’Connor explored everything from little known aspects of Steve Belichick’s wartime service to the modern day tension between the Patriots coach and his quarterback, Tom Brady.
“I was told by a number of sources that as late as late March, Brady wasn’t sure he was going to play again for Belichick,” O’Connor told Scott Van Pelt in an interview about the book on SportsCenter.
Titled “Belichick: The Making of the Greatest Football Coach of All Time,” O’Connor says he interviewed 350 people, though Belichick himself was not among them.
Here are a few notable takeaways from O’Connor’s three years of research.
The Belichick-Brady relationship – and tension – hinges on Garoppolo.
When Belichick decided to draft Jimmy Garoppolo with a second-round pick in 2014, a chain of events was set in motion that would cause tension between the coach and Brady.
“It’s remarkable that it took 17, 18 years for any fracture to come into public view,” said O’Connor. “It’s a testament to them that it didn’t happen for so long. But once Belichick drafted Garoppolo in 2014, and said that – he cited Tom’s age and contract status – ‘I’d rather be early than late at that position,’ it made it inevitable and it happened last year.”
Ironically, Garoppolo – the initial source of the split between the two legendary Patriots figures – has now bonded them together for the foreseeable future, according to O’Connor. Once Belichick traded Garoppolo to the 49ers in October last year, it’s now all but forced a continuation of the Brady-Belichick relationship for years to come.
“The moment Belichick moved Garoppolo to San Francisco, and banked on Brady’s oft-stated desire to play at least into his mid-forties, was the moment Brady was virtually locked into suiting up next season and beyond,” O’Connor wrote. “Had he retired or requested a trade, he would have risked turning an adoring New England public into an angry mob.”
“If Tom could, I think he would divorce him.”
Delving deeper into the current status of Brady and Belichick’s relationship, O’Connor’s conclusion was the recent tension between the pair was more than just the drafting of Garoppolo.
“Also, 17, 18 years being coached in an unforgiving way by Belichick wore Brady down,” O’Connor said on SportsCenter. “And then of course the way Belichick marginalized Alex Guerrero, [Brady’s] business partner and life coach. It all sort of came together.”
In the book, O’Connor quotes a source who is reportedly close to both.
“If you’re married 18 years to a grouchy person who gets under your skin and never compliments you, after a while you want to divorce him,” the source claims. “Tom knows Bill is the best coach in the league, but he’s had enough of him. If Tom could, I think he would divorce him.”
Nick Saban was not a fan of Belichick’s media policy.
Current Alabama head coach Nick Saban was once a defensive coordinator on Belichick’s staff in Cleveland during the 1990s.
The two worked together to create one of the best defenses in the league in 1994, but Saban was unhappy in several respects with Belichick’s policies. On the field, it was a difference in style.
“Nick was so pissed with Bill,” former Browns defensive end Rob Burnett told O’Connor. “He wanted to do so many things and he was hamstrung by Bill. I used to meet with Nick all the time, and Bill would not bend as far as changing defenses. He stayed as vanilla as ice cream. … To Nick I was like, ‘Oh, man, remember in training camp when they couldn’t block us on this blitz?’ He goes, ‘I know, I know. But sometimes I put it in the game plan and Bill won’t run it on Sundays.’ … At the end, it wasn’t the best relationship.”
Additionally, Belichick wouldn’t allow assistant coaches to speak with the media.
“One thing [that Saban didn’t like] was Bill’s restrictive media policies, not allowing assistants to talk,” O’Connor said on ESPN. “And Saban wanted to get his name out there, which is kind of funny given the way Saban governs his program now at Alabama.”
Belichick had “serious doubts” during Deflategate.
At the height of the Deflategate controversy, Belichick was reportedly among those in the New England hierarchy who had “serious doubts” that Brady was uninvolved in the tampering of footballs, as the Patriots quarterback claimed.
A friend of Brady’s thought Belichick’s treatment of the longtime quarterback was poor.
“I thought Bill handled it terribly, especially when it involved a guy who’d done everything to help your career as a coach, and you hung him out to dry.”
Urban Meyer was reportedly aware Aaron Hernandez lied to “beat the system.”
Before the 2010 draft, then-Florida coach Urban Meyer warned “at least one NFL team” about Aaron Hernandez.
“Look, this guy’s a hell of a football player, but he f—ing lies to beat the system and teaches all our other guys to beat the system,” Meyer said, according to O’Connor. “With the marijuana stuff, we’ve never caught this guy, but we know he’s doing it. … Don’t f—ing touch that guy.”
That Belichick – a friend of Meyer’s – would end up drafting Hernandez surprised an NFL official, who said he “never understood that.”
Steve Belichick was ahead of his time.
Belichick’s father, Steve, served in the then-segregated Navy during World War II. In one episode on the island of Okinawa, Steve showed how he really felt about equality.
According to O’Connor, Belichick’s father was the only white man to not walk out of an officer’s club when Samuel Barnes, a black officer (and future NCAA executive), walked in. O’Connor spoke with Barnes’s daughter, Olga, who discussed the friendship between the two.
“I think [Bill] came out of a household that was way ahead of its time in terms of black and white in America,” said O’Connor.