Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Belichick is both film critic and tutor

Video analysis is an important piece of the evaluation process for a coaching staff, and is also an invaluable teaching tool.

In relation to the use of video, I always tell our players that 'you have what I thought, what you thought, and the truth...because video NEVER lies.'

The ability to show critical analysis of what went wrong in the previous match or training session, as well as areas of improvement from the previous week, is an invaluable way to help your players grow and develop.

No coach in the National Football League is more renown for his use of video analysis than Bill Belichick,who is known as "The Belistrator" by his players.

Jackie MacMullen writes of Belichick's roles as both film critic and tutor.

New England Patriots safety James Ihedigbo crouched in his seat, attempting to make himself as tiny and as indistinguishable as possible.

He knew what was coming.

Coach Bill Belichick clicked off the lights and rolled the film.

James Ihedigbo looked bad in his matchup against Santana Moss in December ... and he's still hearing about it. "So now we're going to watch a double reverse," said Belichick, launching into his weekly film analysis, which former linebacker Mike Vrabel gleefully revealed earned the coach the nickname "The Belistrator."

The play on the screen was painfully familiar. Just one day earlier, the Patriots slipped past the Washington Redskins 34-27, but not before Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan suckered the Patriots by calling for a double reverse. Quarterback Rex Grossman handed off to running back Roy Helu, who pitched it to receiver Brandon Banks, who tossed a 49-yard touchdown pass to an untouched Santana Moss.

"As you can see clearly here," said Belichick, slowing the game action to an excruciating crawl, "this is where Ihedigbo gets beat."

Ihedigbo, slinking farther down in his chair, squirmed uncomfortably as his coach skewered his performance.

("They ran the double reverse in Cover 2. I bit on it, and got caught. I blew the coverage," Ihedigbo later lamented.)

"So this is how you DON'T defend the double reverse," Belichick said as he showed it again.

And again. And again and again.

"Well, at least that's over with," said Ihedigbo, in his first year with the Patriots, when Belichick finally moved on.

His friends in the secondary erupted with laughter.

"James," one of his teammates informed him, "it's just beginning."

"They were right," Ihedigbo later confirmed. "Bill ran that play for weeks. He kept bringing it up: 'Now see, this is where Ihedigbo got caught deep.'

"After a while, it became more generic. It was, 'Hey, we might see a double reverse this week like we did against Washington.' And there I am, up on the screen, in the wrong place all over again."

The Belistrator is an equal-opportunity humiliator. He doesn't care if you are a young safety or a first-ballot Hall of Famer; if you mess up, he's going to hold you accountable.

And then he's going to degrade you.

Former linebacker Don Davis was a popular and revered figure in New England's locker room. He was a pastor who coordinated Bible study groups for the players and proved to be a tireless worker on the field and in the weight room. He even earned the offseason conditioning award.

"So there's this one play that made Don look really bad," Vrabel recalled. "Bill showed it a few times then said, 'Offseason award winner, my ass. You look like a cow on ice.' Tedy [Bruschi] and I were in the back laughing our butts off.

Even superstars like Tom Brady can be frequent targets of Bill Belichick's film-room barbs."Of course, it's only funny until it happens to you."

Belichick's current and former players and coaches say his vicious film critiques have been part of his motivational arsenal for as long as they can remember. The roots of the tactic are murky -- Belichick declined a request to be interviewed for this story -- but the desired impact has been well documented.

"It was very, very effective," said Brad Seely, the former Patriots and current San Francisco 49ers special teams coach. "Just look at the former players who have been gone a few years and can still describe it in vivid detail."

Seely said he rarely knew in advance what Belichick had prepared for the dreaded Monday meeting.

"We all were as anxious as the players to see what Bill came up with," Seely said. "Those sessions were always quite enlightening."

Past Patriots veterans fondly remember the time Tom Brady uncharacteristically threw a weak, fluttering pass. As they left the stadium, Brady announced, "Bring the popcorn. I'll be the star of tomorrow's show." Sure enough, when the lights were dimmed and the film began rolling, there was Brady in technicolor, tossing a wounded duck up for grabs -- over and over again.

In that instance, the coach let the picture tell the story. Then he clicked on the lights and announced, "I've seen better passes thrown at Foxborough High School."

The Brady lowlights have been frequent and biting through the years. Belichick stresses the need to never leave points on the board and whenever his quarterback does, he's treated to his own personal film festival. The clips include bad reads, interceptions and poorly timed bombs, such as one in 2009, when Brady overthrew Randy Moss as he streaked toward the end zone.

"As you can see," the Belistrator pointed out, "Randy is wide open. The defense let him go. Not that we can hit him, though. Right, Tom?"

Picking on Ihedigbo is one thing; embarrassing the face of the franchise would seem to be another matter entirely.

It isn't.

"The message was always clear," Bruschi said. "No one was off limits. That's why you had to respect it."

"None of us are immune from his coaching," Stephen Gostkowski added.

Not even the kicker. In Super Bowl XLII against the New York Giants, the Patriots had just scored on a Laurence Maroney 1-yard run when Gostkowski kicked off -- and the ball sailed out of bounds.

That critical error gave the Giants optimal field position at their own 40-yard line. Gostkowski had to sit through weeks and weeks of replays of his stray kick, as well as Eli Manning's ensuing 38-yard pass to Amani Toomer that placed the Giants inside New England's 20-yard line. New York did not score on that drive because Ellis Hobbs picked off a Manning pass, but footage of that play is never shown. The Belistrator always ends the clip with the Giants seemingly ready to cash in on Gostkowski's miscue.

For a split second, Gostkowski actually thought he might escape the humiliating film sessions, since his mistake occurred during the season finale.

Ah, no.

"Bill teed it up the first week the following season," Gostkowski said. "He reminded me of that kick almost every day. He has a way of putting pressure on you so you accept any challenge he puts out there.

"He never forgets anything. He still brings up plays from when he was a coach with the Giants and the Browns. Those meetings are like an NFL history lesson."

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