Bill Belichick: Below The Line

Jack Dorsey recommended “The Score Takes Care of Itself” as one of his top business books. I think Keith Rabois referred it to him. Even if you don’t like sports, it’s a fascinating read into how Bill Walsh transformed a dormant loser into a durable franchise.

I’m from Boston and am an insufferable Boston sports fan. So I put Bill Belichick in the same category as Bill Walsh. The fact that the New England Patriots have always been one of the top 5 professional football teams over the past 10 years in a salary cap era that discouraged such longevity is a pretty incredible managerial feat. As a sports fan, studying long-term, durable franchises like the Patriots or 49ers is as interesting as studying Amazon or Google.

From ESPN today, here’s how Bill Belichick talks about ‘below-the-line’ mistakes. He categorizes those as mistakes that you just can’t tolerate. They are different for each function. The stuff reads like fortune cookie message wisdom but as Ron Conway has said, “execution is the trade secret.” Sometimes the simple stuff isn’t so easy.

“Everybody has to understand that there’s a ‘below-the-line’ level,” he said. “When it’s below the line, we can’t live with it. It hurts the team. Now we’re all going to make mistakes, and nobody makes more of them than I do. I understand that mistakes are part of the game. I’ve been in it long enough to know there’s no perfect player, no perfect game or practice. If you go out there and compete against high-level competition, they’re going to make some plays, too.

“But there’s a below-the-line [level] and we just can’t live with that and expect to win,” he continued. “That’s the bottom line. Things are going to happen that are below the line that we have to correct, but we have to stay above the line. It’s as simple as that. That line is drawn at every position with various criteria. It’s not scientific, there’s no textbook on it, how to handle each situation. … That’s a critical part of coaching in any sport. Particularly football, but any sport.

“The things that cause you to lose, you have to eliminate. Before you can win, you can’t lose. When you do things as a coach or as a player that cause you to lose, then you won’t be in this job long.”

Belichick was asked how a player might elevate from being below the line to above it. He cited current Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome as a classic example.

“When he was rookie, he fumbled, lost the ball, team lost the game, [then] never fumbled again the rest of his career,” Belichick said, starting to shift into more of a motivational speaker-type mode.

“Why is Ozzie Newsome in the Hall of Fame? That’s why. That kind of commitment, that kind of performance. It was important enough to him. Fumbled once, didn’t fumble again the rest of his entire [13-year] career. Now think about that. Want to know how a guy gets in the Hall of Fame? That’s one reason.

“Lawrence Taylor. How many sacks did he have? How many times was he offside? Go back and look how many times he was offside. It wasn’t very many. There’s a guy that hit the quarterback, made as many plays defensively as any player in football, certainly any player I’ve ever coached but any player in football – I’d put him up against anybody in terms of big plays, hitting the quarterback, tackles beyond the line of scrimmage. I don’t care what the stats are, a lot of plays that he made, that somebody else made, but he was an impact, dynamic, as disruptive a player defensively as there’s probably ever been in the National Football League. How many times was he offside? Was he offside? Yeah, but he was a pretty disruptive player without doing that.

“I think those are examples of what I’m talking about – for all of us. We all make mistakes, even the great ones, but they don’t repeat them, they don’t make very many of them, they correct it, it’s important enough to them to move on and get it right. That’s how you do it. You get it right.”