PATRIOTS HEAD COACH BILL BELICHICK
November 30, 2018
Q: Was there a point in Mike Zimmer’s career, before he became a head coach, where you feel like he began to establish himself as one of the best coaches in the league?
BB: Yeah, I mean, I heard a lot of great things about him when he was in Dallas and, obviously, when he went to Cincinnati he did a great job there. Yeah, I have a lot of respect for Mike. I think he does a tremendous job. His teams are always fundamentally sound. He’s got great schemes. They always play good defense, good situational football, tackle well, defeat blocks, run force, pass defense, red area, third down, two-minute, you name it. They’re always good. They were good in Cincinnati.
Q: Is it surprising to you when a coach of that caliber doesn’t become a head coach until much later in their career?
BB: Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t make those decisions. You’d have to talk to the people that do that. I don’t hire coaches. You’d have to talk to them. I don’t know what they’re looking for.
Q: How prevalent and expansive is the act of taking recommendations from players on the field and incorporating that into in-game adjustments?
BB: Yeah, well sure. The players have a better look from where they see it. They have a better look at some things than we do, certainly in line play and things like that. Sometimes they can give insight into what’s going on out there. Sometimes we’re not sure and we ask them. Sometimes we’re sure and they confirm it and we go from there.
Q: I think you mentioned on radio last week the effectiveness of giving feedback to players both as a group and in one-on-one settings. How do you decide which players to meet one-on-one with and what is the value of giving feedback in both those settings?
BB: Well, I think when you’re talking to 11 people they all need to understand what the play is, what the concept is and who’s doing what. If there’s a breakdown on it then they need to understand what that is. Otherwise, they might think that they did something wrong and maybe they didn’t. Maybe it’s another area that needs to be fixed, or maybe two guys or three guys all need to do something a little bit differently for it to work. Maybe it’s not just one guy that can fix the problem. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s anybody’s fault. Sometimes there’s a mistake. Sometimes it’s we need to coach it better. We need to identify and explain it better. There’s always opportunities to sit down with players individually and just talk specifically about what they’re doing that doesn’t really relate to anybody else. It’s just about whatever it is we want to talk to him about then.
Q: I imagine you’ve had a lot of one-on-ones with Tom Brady and teachers often say they’re able to learn as much from their students. Do you find that that’s been the case with you and Tom over the years?
BB: Sure. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, Tom’s got great understanding and vision for the game. He sees a lot of things. I’ve learned a lot from him. I mean, I’ve learned a lot from, I’d say, probably every player I’ve coached. What they see, how they learn, what they do. There are things that I’ve been able to take from, that I’ve learned from what players do and try to teach it to another player and help him get better. Yeah, I’m learning every day.
Q: How did you go about finding and evaluating Brandon King at Auburn given that he kind of played all over the place and sort of had these limited roles?
BB: They weren’t limited. He started. Scott O’Brien. Scott O’Brien, Joe Judge. Those four words – that would sum it all up right there. They found him.
Q: When you have an undrafted player come in to the team like Brandon, what has he done to be able to develop into the special teamer that he is now?
BB: Well, he played in the kicking game at Auburn. Again, we’re not that concerned with what everybody does somewhere else. We’re concerned about what their contribution is to our team, how they can help our team and what their role is. That determines what their value is. So, whether a guy has or hasn’t done whatever it was that he did or didn’t do somewhere else is not really as important as what he does when he gets here, what kind of role he can establish and how he can help the team. We give guys an opportunity to do that as we evaluate them. We sometimes move or change what they’re doing to try and give them better opportunity in what we think will be the better fit for them on our team or give them more versatility to create more value for themselves and then let them go do it and coach them. They work hard at it to get better and then we keep going. It’s no set formula.
Q: Brandon is now leading the team in special teams tackles. How much growth have you seen from him in that area now in his fourth year in the league?
BB: He’s a versatile player. He’s a tough matchup guy for our opponents and he’s a good matchup guy for us. He can handle speed. He can handle size. He can play inside. He can play outside. He can play the perimeter positions. He can play the inside positions on punts and kickoffs, kickoff returns and punt returns. He’s done all of those things. Sometimes we put him in the position that’s probably best for him. Sometimes he does what we need because we have depth in the position that maybe he’s been working in, but he has more versatility than somebody else. He’s got a great attitude. He works hard. He understands what he’s doing in the complementary position. A lot of times when he moves, he’s able to help the person who took his spot with what they’re doing because that’s where he played. He’s got a lot of versatility – the matchup of size, speed, aggressiveness and instincts to be very good in the kicking game. It’s outstanding.
Q: Do you appreciate now, as an older coach, the spirit of competition and gearing up for potentially another shot at the playoffs late in the season here versus maybe how you felt when you were younger?
BB: Yeah, in all honesty I’ve tried to appreciate every game that I’ve coached in this league, whether it was an assistant coach, a head coach, first game of the year, last game of the year. It’s an honor to be in this league. It’s hard to be in this league. It’s hard to stay in this league. It’s a production league and if you’re not productive then somebody else will be doing your job. We all know that when we sign up for it, whether you’re a player or coach, whatever your role is – assistant coach, head coach, coordinator – it doesn’t matter. It’s a production league. I’m thankful for the opportunity that we have this week. I just try to do the best I can with it. Worry about next week, next week.
Q: How has J.C. Jackson responded to being thrust into playing time in some games considering he has not been a starter here for you?
BB: We’ve played players in different rotations throughout practice and so who starts, who finishes, who plays in the middle – the most important thing is when you get an opportunity to play to go in there and be productive and help the team. We don’t necessarily know how that’s going to go. They don’t know how it’s going to go. We don’t know how the games are going to go, but if everybody is ready then whenever they get the opportunity then they go in there and do what they’re prepared to do. Whether that’s him or anybody else, I mean we don’t even really focus on that. I don’t know. Maybe that’s important to some people. Probably is, but it’s not really very high on our list. I mean, honestly, the most important thing is who’s in there at the end of the game, not who’s in there at the beginning.
Q: He has two interceptions on the season where he has played the ball well. Are those ball skills that he has shown in practice as well?
BB: He’s got good ball skills. He does. I’m sure you saw it in training camp. He had his hands on a lot of balls in training camp, intercepted balls. He’s got good ball skills, good instincts.
Q: Are you impressed with how feisty he is as a rookie? He was called for a few penalties in the Chicago game but came back and made some big plays and put those behind him which seems to be a great trait for a cornerback.
BB: It’s a great trait for a cornerback. Yeah, it’s a good trait for every player but that’s definitely a cornerback. Yeah, he’s a very competitive player. Again, he’s shown that since the beginning of training camp, all the way back in the spring actually as an undrafted free agent. He came in here without a lot of fanfare or outside expectations. He just came in and has worked hard every day, has been durable and dependable and he’s gotten better every day. He takes coaching. He works hard at what he needs to do to get better and he does it and he improves. Yeah, he’s been competitive all the way through.
Q: Are there certain distinguishable traits that you may ignore on a player that you sign undrafted versus maybe someone that you invest draft capital in?
BB: No, I don’t think so. I think you’re still looking for the same thing. Again, we get into the sixth, seventh round and there’s probably 20 players, call it – I don’t know, whatever the number is, 15, 20 players, that are up there that you could probably make the case for any of them. Some of it is draft strategy like, "If we don’t draft this player, we know he’s not going to be available as a free agent," or maybe we know he is going to be available as a free agent if we don’t draft him and we feel like we have a shot at him. Maybe it’s a need or some other set of circumstances. Not saying that those are all interchangeable, but I think on our board, like a lot of other draft boards at that point, there are a number of different ways that you can go and a lot of times those players have similar, let’s call it grades on them. Certainly there’s a reason why you take one guy ahead of another. There’s good reasons for that, but in the end, a lot of those players, I would say, have similar grades and their opportunities are relatively similar. There’s people ahead of them and if they can outperform those people then they do, and if they can’t then next year somebody else comes in there and gets that opportunity. Whether you take a quarterback in the sixth round or a quarterback who’s going to be a wide receiver in the seventh round, or whatever round [Julian] Edelman was in or guys like that. Some of those you draft, some of them you get at the other end – the Jacob Hollisters, the Malcolm Butlers, the J.C. Jacksons. We’ve had those guys every year. Sometimes you take guys – Nate Ebner, Joe Cardona, Matt Slater – and Brandon King doesn’t get drafted. I would say those level of players - college level, not pro level – when you’re putting a grade on them, a lot of those players have a similar grade; sixth, seventh round, free agents. So when you get to free agency, if you have a guy that has the same grade as a guy you drafted in the sixth round then you try to get him and it’s not that surprising when he comes in and is as competitive, sometimes more competitive than the player you drafted because you had him graded the same. Again, for whatever reasons you took one guy ahead of another, but in the end we value their ability similar and then, obviously, as they play then those grades are no longer valid. What’s valid is what the performance is.
Q: How do you generally know if a player will or won’t be available as an undrafted free agent?
BB: Again, there’s a lot of circumstances. Sometimes you just go with what the information you have is, what your instinct is. We have a lot of experience in this. Some guys you know are going to get drafted based on the amount of activity or whatever you determine. There’s a lot of places to get information from however you get that information. It doesn’t mean you’re right. You’ve got to go with what you go with, so sometimes you go with that. Sometimes you think a player’s not going to get drafted and you have a shot in free agency. We’ve been right and we’ve been wrong on that. Matt Cassel – we thought he definitely would have gotten drafted or signed with somebody else had we not drafted him even though we didn’t really think he was going to get drafted. He threw 30-something passes in college, but there was enough activity on him and certainly people know about him that had been at SC [University of Southern California] that were in the league that had shown interest that had a prior relationship with him, which we didn’t. As an example, we drafted him because we didn’t think we’d be able to get him as a free agent.
Q: When you’re evaluating a college player, how important is it to know the system that they’re operating in. For example, can you call a college coach and ask about a certain play and whether it was a busted play by the player or not?
BB: Yeah, again, there’s not a lot of situations that really fall into that category. But regardless, look, everybody has busted plays. We have them in college. We have them in the NFL. We have them on our team. We have them in training camp and certainly the coaches, the head coach and all the assistant coaches, we’ve all had plenty of busted plays, too. I think in the end when you take a player, you take a player based on where you think he’ll be for you, what he can do for your team. That’s why we draft him. We draft him to help our team. Again, not all of them work out. It’s an imperfect science, but when you take him you have an expectation that the player is going to be able to help your team in some capacity. Obviously, guys in the first round and the third round or the seventh round, I mean the expectation level is a little bit different. But in the end, once they’re here, they’re here. It doesn’t matter how they got here. If they came as free agents or they came in the first round or they came in a fourth-round trade, it doesn’t matter. However they get here, they get here and then you evaluate them once they’re here and see what they can do for your team.
Q: Given all of the crossover film you’ve probably seen from the Vikings this season, have you noticed any improvement from Kirk Cousins in his first year in that system?
BB: I think he’s had a pretty good year. He’s had a really productive year in all areas – high completion percentage, efficient. He gets the ball to – I mean, look, there are some guys that are really targeted because they’re really good players, but he gets the ball to all of his receivers. He gets the ball to his backs. He used the tight ends. Obviously, [Kyle] Rudolph more than [Tyler] Conklin and [David] Morgan, who’s been hurt, but they’ve certainly used him. He’s used all of his receivers. I mean, [Chad] Beebe’s been productive. He’s missed a couple of games. [Aldrick] Robinson’s been productive. They’ve gotten a lot out of him, [Laquon] Treadwell. Those guys – he’s done a good job of that and I think certainly he’s gotten the ball out and made quick decisions. That’s offensive line, that’s certainly the timing of the passing game helps the offensive line. We know that. He does a good job there. He’s had a good year. This is going to be four highly productive years in a row for him – three in Washington and one in Minnesota where he’s going to be near the top of the league in a lot of important categories. It’s pretty consistent. I’m sure it’ll probably continue to get better but I’d say it’s a pretty high level right now. He’s a smart guy and he’s a tough kid. I have a lot of respect for him. That’s another guy who’s kind of come up the hard way, earned his stripes. Nobody’s given him anything. He’s had to go out there and earn it and he has.
Q: Did you know that two of your former players, Sebastian Vollmer and Markus Kuhn, are going to be commentating for this Sunday’s game for a German broadcast?
BB: In German? Yeah, we’ve heard him [Sebastian Vollmer] commentate in German before. I don’t know what he was saying, but yeah. Yeah, he did that as part of a rookie show. He imitated me and talked to the team.
Q: In German?
BB: Of course. He wasn’t going to say what I was saying in English. He was kind of making fun of me and saying what I would say in German. Of course, he’s the only one that understood it, but it was pretty entertaining. It was a good rookie skit, a memorable one.
Q: Did you try to learn any German from him?
BB: Yeah, I can’t; no.