Certain players are automatic bids into the Patriots Hall of Fame, and there are zero arguments otherwise.
Sitting inside the team's Hall of Fame headquarters outside Gillette Stadium, the Patriots, led by owner Robert Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick, honored a red jacket lock with Devin McCourty retiring following 13 terrific seasons that included three Super Bowl championships.
Coach Belichick and owner Robert Kraft were joined by a room full of coaches, current and former teammates, and executives within the organization. The list included linebackers coaches Jerod Mayo and Steve Belichick, former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, wide receivers coach Troy Brown, brother Jason McCourty, and quarterback Mac Jones, among others.
The team also put together a video tribute from former teammates like Tom Brady, Julian Edelman, Vince Wilfork, Stephon Gilmore, Duron Harmon, Matthew Slater, David Andrews, and many more.
Several things make McCourty a Hall of Fame person off the field, but head coach Bill Belichick broke down the on-field elements that made the 12-time team captain the perfect quarterback of his defense.
Belichick told a story about a pre-draft meeting with McCourty on the Rutgers campus. He was attending linebackers coach Steve Belichick's lacrosse game and decided to watch film with McCourty ahead of the 2010 draft.
"When we got into the film, I got blown away. Coach [Greg] Schiano told me that Devin was really smart, could run the defense, and knew what everybody was doing. I've heard that before, so I was like, we'll see," Belichick began.
"I started asking him a few questions about the secondary. What's this coverage, who does this, who does that? If this guy goes in motion, what's the call? He went through all that pretty good. So I thought I'd wrap it up a little here and started asking him about the linebackers. What are they keying on this? What are they doing on that? He knocks that out too."
"So then I figured I'm going to embarrass him a little bit here. Let's start talking about the defensive line. One of the classic things everyone calls is a stunt where the tackle and the end go inside, and the corner comes. It's called a pirate stunt. It's pretty universal," Belichick continued. "I said, what's this called, Devin? Let me guess, it's called a 'pirate,' and he goes, no, it's actually 'buck' because everybody knows what a pirate is, so we call it a buck. He knocks out the whole defensive line, too."
"I had never had an interview like this. I was completely stunned that he knew as much as he did about the entire Rutgers defense," Belichick said.
The Patriots head coach then cited the 2018 AFC Championship Game as an instance where that high football IQ translated on the field, adjusting their coverage calls on then-Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill.
McCourty's excellent football IQ and on-field awareness were a perfect pairing with Belichick, which is why the two were a fantastic match with the Pats safety running Belichick's defense.
The future Patriots Hall of Famer told behind-the-scenes stories of his own about Belichick's coaching points during practice that would stick with him in games. Reminiscing about his kickoff return touchdown in his second season, McCourty said, "I had two kickoff returns in the preseason my rookie year. Both times I broke out and got to the kicker, and ran straight to the sideline. He was like, you can't just run straight to the sideline. Square the kicker up, and then go.
"As soon as I broke that run against the Jets, I was like, square the kicker up, square the kicker up. And I squared the kicker up and scored. For the next ten years, any time someone ran out of bounds, he [coach Belichick] would bring up that play and show it."
From the beginning, McCourty's ability to absorb information to orchestrate the backend of the Patriots defense was essential to New England's success on that side of the ball. Although the Patriots have several safeties and leaders on their roster that he leaves behind, replacing McCourty's mind is essentially like replacing a coach on the field and combining that intelligence with fantastic physical tools made him a dominant player.
A true field general is calling it a career after 13 seasons, and that all-around skill set makes McCourty an all-time great Patriot.