It’s well known that Bill Belichick often ripped into Tom Brady during film sessions. But there was a calculated method to his austerity.
Belichick joined Brady on the latest edition of his “Let’s Go!” podcast, as the two all-time greats explained the inner-workings of the most successful partnership in NFL history. Their relationship’s core tenant was their mutual obsession with winning, which meant that Belichick couldn’t spare Brady from his acerbic tongue.
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If Belichick was going to demand excellence from his players, then he had to ride Brady, too.
Belichick says Brady not only understood that, but embraced it.
“That was as much a part of Tom as it was a part of me. There were a couple of meetings where I would say something to Tom after the meeting, ‘Hey, I didn’t really think that was that bad, but I just wanted to include you with everybody else,’” said Belichick. “Tom would say, ‘Coach, you have to. If you don’t yell at me, then what am I gonna do with all the rest of my teammates? I’ve got to be there with all the rest of them and say, ‘Hey, he’s yelling at all of us, and we’ve all got to do better. But if you leave me out of it, then I don’t really have a platform to work from. So go ahead, rip my ass, too.”
Belichick says he never gave Brady preferential treatment, which set the tone for the rest of the team.
“I got the green light on that, and I went ahead and took it. Players always come back to me and say, ‘Hey, the first meeting, Belichick got on Brady. I’m like, Christ, if he’s going to talk to Brady like that, I better be straight. I know what’s going to happen to me,’” said Belichick. “Tom’s acceptance of that, and also then his ability to lead his teammates by putting himself in the same boat with everybody else like, ‘We’ve all got to do a better job. He’s after me, just like he’s after everybody else. Let’s go.’ That’s a tremendous platform to lead from, and Tom recognized that. Yeah, was he our best player? Did he make the fewest mistakes out there and all of that? Yeah, but everybody can do better, every coach, every player, no matter how great they are. If you’re really looking to strive for perfection, then we all want that. I want to be a better coach, Tom wants to be a better player, and so does everybody else.”
Belichick’s revelation adds important context to the reports over the years about his relationship with Brady. Towards the end of Brady’s Patriots career, it was reported that he grew disillusioned with Belichick’s style.
Brady acknowledged they had their disagreements, but says the conversations were always productive.
"He and I always had a great relationship. We met all of the time. Did we always see everything exactly the same way? Who does in life? What close relationship can you have where everything goes like a bright sunny day?,” he said. “There were moments, it was never intolerable, but it was always just, I would say healthy debates about certain things. We always talked it face-to-face. If there’s one thing I appreciate about Coach Belichick in life is, he’s not afraid to have a hard conversation, too. We didn’t always agree, but we always respected each other.”
Belichick isn’t the first coach to rip an all-time great player. In fact, he says he got the idea from Bobby Knight, who rode Michael Jordan when he coached him in the Olympics.
“Where I got that from was Coach Knight, because Coach Knight told me that’s what he did with Michael Jordan on the Olympic team,” said Belichick. “He said, ‘You know Michael, I’m going to rip your ass, because I can’t rip some of these other guys without ripping you, and Jordan said, ‘Hey, bring it on. I need that, and that will help me with my teammates.’ It was kind of a similar thing with Tom. He told me he appreciated it. I don’t know if that’s really true or not, but he told me he appreciated it.”
The U.S. won gold in the 1984 Olympics, and Brady and Belichick won six Super Bowls together. It’s hard to argue with success.