Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who cloaks everything he does in mystery, makes no mystery of his disdain for analytics. He repeated his views while speaking on Tuesday at the General Manager Forum.
“I’d prefer good players, good fundamentals and good execution,” Belichick said, via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
It’s not the first time Belichick has publicly dismissed analytics.
“I’ve never looked at one,” Belichick said in 2019 regarding analytics websites. “I don’t even care to look at one. I don’t care what they say.”
The issue also emerged, as MDS pointed it out, prior to Super Bowl LII.
“You could take those advanced websites and metric them wherever you want,” Belichick said in 2016. “I don’t know. I have no idea. I’ve never looked at one. I don’t even care to look at one. I don’t care what they say. . . . . All the metric pages and all of that, I mean I have no idea. You’d need to ask that to a smarter coach than me.”
Belichick downplays analytics, but the evidence shows that he relies on and incorporates advanced statistical analysis into his approach to football.
He’s the smartest coach, along with the most secretive. Whatever he does with analytics (and recently-retired man of mystery Ernie Adams surely did plenty), Belichick isn’t going to share that information with anyone, including with some in the organization. And if he has found an edge that others haven’t through analytics, he’s not going to share that, with anyone.
That said, Belichick also may be trying to prevent analytics from upending the apple cart. In some teams, the analytics department has a direct pipeline to ownership and, in turn, a surprising amount of juice. More and more coaches are taking analytics-driven risks because, if they eschew the numbers and fail, the coach will have to deal with an internal round of I told you so, led by folks with far less accountability and ever-growing influence.
As we’ve said before, based on conversations with coaches who understand how it all works, analytics have a role but are no substitute for full and complete consideration of all relevant factors, including but not limited to the cumulative experiences of a coach who has awareness of and sensitivity to the look, the sound, and the feel of a given situation. The best coaches, like Belichick, know when to embrace a numbers-driven approach and when to defy the numbers, for strategic reasons.
For example, Belichick wasn’t relying on analytics or objectivity when allowed the clock to keep ticking near the end of Super Bowl XLIX. Even as precious seconds that the Patriots would have needed if/when Seattle had scored a touchdown evaporated, Belichick sensed chaos and uncertainty on the opposing sideline, and he didn’t want to stop the clock and give Pete Carroll and company a chance to realize that they were perhaps selecting a play consistent with the code that Adams had cracked.
Instead, the Seahawks called a play they had previously used, and the formation gave it away. Brandon Browner stopped Jermaine Kearse from applying a pick to Malcolm Butler and Butler, who had defended that exact play poorly in practice that week, made the championship-winning interception.
Blind adherence to the analytics regarding clock management and the usage of timeouts would have given Seattle a chance to choose a play that perhaps would have defied their tendencies and tells, maybe even with something as simple as quarterback Russell Wilson running a quarterback draw from a formation that, based on the offense’s past practices, screamed that a pass was coming.
So, basically, Belichick uses analytics. But he uses them his way, and he doesn’t allow them to replace the wisdom, judgment, and instincts of a coach who has studied and lived the game for most of his life. And he likely downplays analytics so that others who are inclined to dismiss analytics will find comfort in Belichick’s attitude and not use them to the same extent that Belichick does.