The defining narrative of Tom Brady’s final seasons with the Patriots wasn’t his incredible on-field success; but rather, his supposed rift with Bill Belichick. Brady added to the palace intrigue, too, famously pleading the fifth when asked about his relationship with his longtime coach.
But years later, Brady is pushing back on the notion that Belichick’s austerity drove him out of Foxborough. Belichick joined Brady on the latest edition of his “Let’s Go!” podcast, and the two explained their complex relationship.
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While they sometimes clashed, they both strove for excellence, and understood that tension isn’t always inherently bad.
“There’s nobody I’d rather be associated with. I think it’s always such a stupid conversation to say ‘Brady vs. Belichick.’ In my mind, that’s not what partnerships are about,” said Brady. “Coach couldn’t play quarterback, and I couldn’t coach. The best part about football, and coach says it a lot, is ‘do your job.’ He asked me to play quarterback. He didn’t ask me to coach. And I didn’t want him playing quarterback. I just wanted him to coach. I’d seen him throw, so he definitely wasn’t playing quarterback.”
Brady’s last three years with the Patriots were filled with Super Bowl wins and non-stop drama. The surprise Jimmy Garoppolo trade in 2017 sparked an avalanche of speculation about whether Brady forced out his younger protege, and just a couple of months later, Bill Belichick reportedly banned Alex Guerrero from the sidelines and locker room. The episodes provided the media with plenty of ammunition to theorize about Brady’s seemingly frayed relationship with the organization.
That January, ESPN’s Seth Wickersham came out with the defining piece about the Patriots’ palace intrigue: “For Kraft, Brady and Belichick, is this the beginning of the end?”
Looking back, Brady says those reports were exaggerated.
“In my view, people were always trying to pull us apart. I don’t think we ever even felt that with each other. We never were trying to pull each other apart. We actually were always trying to go in the same direction,” he said. “I think when we were in New England for 20 years together, they get tired of writing the same story. Once they write all of the nice things, the championships, then they just start going, ‘Well, this works. Let’s start trying to divide them.’ I never really appreciated those ways that people would try to do that. He and I always had a great relationship.”
Per usual, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Brady acknowledges there were moments of disagreement between him and Belichick, but insists their conversations were always productive.
“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. I know he respected me for the job that I did, and I certainly did the same. I think even when you go away from each other, you respect each other probably that much more. I know I certainly did, because I realized the commitment he was trying to make to get our team to win. That’s the purpose of sports. To try and go compete and win. When you have someone who believes in winning as much as you do, you want to be a part of that. When people try to do that, they become the enemy. I always thought the people trying to drive us apart brought us closer together.”
Belichick, for his part, said Brady and the players deserve the bulk of the credit for the Patriots Dynasty — not him.
“Players win games. You can’t win games without great players, and coaches can lose them,” he said. “If coaches don’t give the players a good opportunity and give them a chance where they can have a fair fight and can win on their ability, then great players can’t overcome bad coaching. I always tried my best to put the team in position to win.
“Tom always found a way to make his players productive. It didn’t matter who the receiver, who the tight end was. He could understand what would make Rob [Gronkowski] more successful, what would make Troy Brown more successful. What could Wes Welker do? Not, ‘what did I do with Troy that I want to do with Wes Welker,’ but how can I make Wes Welker successful? How do I make Randy Moss successful?’ Those were all great players, but they’re all very different, and they had different skills. Tom could always bring out the best of their skills.”
For 20 years, Belichick and Brady certainly brought out the best in each other.