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The divisional round of the NFL playoffs are over. In many ways the legacy of Bill Belichick was on display. The Patriots, led by Belichick took their division and won a bye week yet again, for a long streak of dominance among a division filled with the futility of other teams leading to frequent turnover. Once again the Patriots are in the AFC championship game. Either they are the Steelers will go to a record 9th Super Bowl.

The team the Patriots beat, the Texans, has a coaching staff stacked with former Patriots’ coaches and players (O’Brien, Crennel, Larry Izzo, and Mike Vrabel). The team the Steelers beat, the Chiefs, had former Patriots’ Director of Player Personnel Scott Pioli as their GM for 4 years. While the Chiefs struggled during his tenure, many of the key players for this team were acquired by Pioli.

Pioli is currently the assistant GM for the Atlanta Falcons who also won their division, got a bye week and defeated the Seahawks to advance to the NFC conference championship against the Packers. The Falcons’ GM is Pioli’s old friend from the Browns and Patriots (both under Belichick), Tom Dimitroff.

Half of the teams in the divisional round came from the same organizational roots!

This organization is the subject of Michael Holley’s book War Room: The Legacy of Bill Belichick and the Art of Building the Perfect Team. Holley spent a year with the team researching his earlier book, Patriot Reign. He wanted that book to be about Belichick. It has paid off for a growing number of books. Contrary to common opinion, Belichick isn’t self-absorbed and keeps wanting Holley to write not about him but about the organization.

In this book, Holley focuses on Belichick, Pioli and Dimitroff. He provides some biographical information, particularly as he introduces Piolo and Dimitroff, and traces their relationships, how they achieved great success together, and how they’ve been building teams since (when this was written, Pioli was still with the Chiefs).

There is plenty of interesting information about football as Holley retells how some key seasons unfolded. It covers some key drafts as well, bringing you into the process to better understand it. It isn’t just about successes. You see that in drafting disappointments Laurence Maroney and Chad Jackson, Belichick tuned out the scouts who were raising red flags. You discover Belichick is not the man you see or typically hear about, but that is rather is “stage personae”. Behind the scenes and to his friends he is seen as having a great sense of humor and caring about the people he works with, often providing them with advice.

Reading this book you get a better sense of why so many organizations flounder, or lack consistency. Their organizational games of musical chairs, approach to scouting, focus on the short-term instead of the long -term too, are here to see.

I think this book extends beyond football. There are some principles to appropriate for other organizations. While it is about football, it is about more than football. Success begins with people, identifying people with both skills and character. This is not simply players but the whole organization. Belichick, for instance, hired Pioli to a low level position and watched. He saw a guy driven to know more, do more. Pioli quickly rose as Belichick tested him and he passed those tests. Belichick largely develops staff from within instead of importing people from elsewhere. This way you know if they can actually do the job, not just interview well (a problem not just in football but in most organizations). Evaluating players is not just about skill, but character (the flaw in the Maroney and Jackson picks for instance). Players are not evaluated in the abstract, but in comparison to current members of the team. The idea is whether or not they make the team better in both the short-term and long-term.  The focus is not on “stars” but depth, spending your money so you can survive the attrition of an NFL season instead of floundering because a few key guys are hurt.

I don’t want to give it all away. I want you to read the book. It is interesting as well as informative. There is more here than just the “inside story” on some draft picks (though that is interesting too). There is organizational wisdom for those with ears to hear.

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Parcells: A Football Life is an apt title. His life was wrapped up in football such that in a sense if there is no football there isn’t much Bill Parcells. His life also intersected with many people, and the book gives some brief background on men like Curtis Martin, Drew Bledsoe and so many others.

This is a quite interesting read to be sure. It isn’t just about what happened, but gives much insight into the “whys”. You read about how he learned about scouting and rating players from Bucko Kilroy, the beginning of the 3-4 defense and other interesting aspects of football. You soon begin to think that most football executives should read this.

While the book is authored by Parcells and Nunyo DeMasio it is written in the third person. There are numerous quotes from interviews of the many people in Parcells’ life. This helps balance Parcells’ perspective in many ways.

In many ways the portrait that emerges is not surprising. He is a driven man. As he noted in his Hall of Fame induction he was also married to football. Just as you can’t serve two masters, you can’t serve to “wives.” His passion for football eventually cost him his marriage, and nearly cost him his daughters. But the man who didn’t parent his daughters essentially parented many young men. That is the odd, bitter irony of Bill Parcells’ life. Football gave him nearly everything he has, but it also took so much from him.

He also emerges as a man torn by indecision apart from football strategy. He could be quite indecisive, seemingly changing his mind at very inopportune moments. As a result there was also a trail of fractured relationships with GMs and owners that paralleled his long-term relationships. So strong and decisive in some areas and so unstable in others. In other words, a real human being.

As a life long Patriots’ fan, I was most interested in his time with the Patriots and his relationship with Bill Belichik. Little Bill, in many ways, is his most successful disciple. You understand Little Bill when you understand Big Bill. Much of what he learned about how to run an organization, deal with the press, draft players etc. were learned from Parcells.

Parcells did not simply emerge. His father was a great collegiate athlete. Bill loves sports growing up. For a time he lived down the street from Vince Lombardi, and played with his son. Bill worked hard, very hard and studied the greatest coaches. He developed friendships with many legendary coaches. He felt the obligation to pass what he learned on to the next generation of coaches. He did well since so far his coaching tree has won 6 Super Bowls. He soaked up all he could but he also freely helped those who sought his help and advice.

It was those relationships on the way that got him started. He first coaching job was under his college coach who took a new job. In this way Parcells by-passed coaching in high school. He ended up working at West Point after his high school basketball coach recommended him to his high school football coach who was the new head coach for Army. Football is the only world dominated by “who you know.” It is well illustrated in Parcells’ life but this is often how the world works.

DeMasio helps Parcells’ story be told in an interesting and informative fashion. In some ways it reminds me of The Perfect Storm because it will go off on those tangents (though not nearly as long). It is a captivating story about many captivating men centered on one captivating man.

[I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review.]

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