Hannable: If Bill Belichick really is changing his ways, it’s wrong

Cover Image
Photo credit Robert Deutsch/USA Today Sports

This was an unusual week for the Patriots and Bill Belichick.

No, not canceling the final two OTA sessions — he’s canceled some in the past. Rather, the team-bonding trip to Fenway Park on Monday where the team reportedly played games such as cornhole and then Tuesday’s final OTA session where the facility was turned “old school.”  

The team-bonding trips have happened for years, but they usually are just a walk to Patriot Place to see a movie. Nothing like we saw Monday going off-site. And on Tuesday, according to ESPN’s Mike Reiss, Belichick turned the day into a history lesson with leather helmets on the practice field, showing black and white throwback football highlights, covering up all the digital clocks and even serving basic foods like hot dogs and hamburgers in the cafeteria. 

Was this Belichick’s way of “having fun?”

The coach acknowledged before one of the OTA sessions that he reevaluates himself after each season and tries to be better than the last.

“Every year is different,” he said. “I think each of us – every player, every assistant coach, head coach, everybody in the organization – is constantly trying to improve their performance and make efforts to find ways to do things the best possible way. I think we're all doing that, whatever that is.”

With these strange occurrences taking place this week, it’s worth wondering, is Belichick trying to change the way he does things in order to make his players have more fun? After all, his program was highly criticized on the outside this offseason with several opposing players saying the Patriots don’t have any fun.

Sure, it could just be Belichick trying to pass along some football history to his players, but he’s done that in the past in much smaller doses. For example, after the Patriots played the Browns in 2016 he had the team stop at the Jim Brown statue on the way to the airport.

This week felt like the coach perhaps was going out of his way to try and have fun with his team and what it probably turned into was a heck of a lot of awkwardness. Is watching videos from 1950 fun? Is playing corn hole really fun? NFL players don't need experiences like that to have fun.

Belichick isn’t good at having fun — at least on the football field. For him it’s a different kind of fun and that’s winning. Playing in playoff games late in January and going to Super Bowls year after year, now that’s fun.

Just look at what players said last month when asked about the culture in New England and if they have fun.

“It’s a tough place to play,” safety Duron Harmon said. “This is a place where coaches, Coach Belichick, he expects a lot of his players. He expects everything to be done at a high level and a lot of people can’t have that. They don’t like having that pressure on them. You look at the track record of this organization and it’s not a coincidence why so much success is had here. It’s the reason why Coach Belichick has been able to win as many games and lead this team to all the games we’ve won. 

“You can say we don’t have fun here and we don’t do this, but at the end of the day I have a lot of fun because we win a lot. That is what this game is about. It’s about winning. I am around a great group of guys, great group of coaches, great organization. So, when you’re working hard at a goal to win, it’s fun.”

The players in New England know what they are getting into. The majority of their fun comes later in the season, but in order to reach that point, they need to put in the work. This is what has made Belichick so successful over the years — planning field trips and decorating Gillette Stadium is not.

This week could have simply been Belichick trying to give a history lesson to his team, but it seems too involved to be just that.

If this week was in response to the criticism this offseason, it goes against everything Belichick has ever done and was something that just didn’t need to happen. His methods have worked in New England for 18-plus years, so why change now?

The five Super Bowl rings speak for themselves.