For those of you just joining us, this is part of (the last, actually) in a series of excerpts from The Education of a Coach, David Halberstam's instant-classic biography of Bill Belichick. This passage is at the very beginning of Chapter Three, but it seems a great summation of the rest of the story.
Bill Belichick was a star who did not want to be a star, a celebrity in search of privacy and the right to do his job without any public interference. Unfortunately for him, on a playoff weekend, upward of 40 million Americans cared about him and what he and his players did. The camera had long since let the entire nation into his world, and it had created an appetite, healthy or unhealthy (he thought it was unhealthy), to know more about him as a celebrity, something he most demonstrably did not want to be. That on an ordinary Sunday some 15 or 16 million people wanted to watch him at work--and that the figure swelled to 90 million for a Conference championship and to around 135 million for a Super Bowl--moved him not at all. He was a man for better or for worse, remarkably without artifice. He had little gift or interest in modern public relations--if anything, he seemed almost uniquely resistant to it for someone so much, however involuntarily, in the public eye. He was about one thing only--coaching--and wary of anything that detracted from hit, and in his mind, much of the modern media, especially television, did precisely that--not just because it took up time that could be better spent doing other things, like watching a bit of film for the tenth or eleventh time and working with assistant coaches, but because it was singularly dangerous, it fed egos, and swollen egos detracted from the essence of football, which was the idea of team. Modern media created a Me-Me-Me world, whereas he insisted on a We world.
He feared the celebrity culture's addictive force, which was particularly dangerous to athletic endeavors, though much less of a problem in baseball, rooted as it was in individual accomplishments, and a little less of a problem in basketball, where (as in the case of Michael Jordan) an individual accomplishment and team accomplishment could often be merged, and where there were so few players on a team. But football was a sport based entirely on the concept of team, where as many as forty players might play important roles in any given victory--yet the television camera might celebrate the deeds of only one or two. Thus, a great deal of time and energy in the world of the New England Patriots went into selecting players who were at least partially immune to displays of ego and self. This did not mean Bill Belichick was without ego--far from it. His ego was exceptional, and it was reflected by his almost unique determination. He liked being the best and wanted credit for being the best, a quiet kind of credit. But his ego was about the doing; it was fused into a larger purpose, that of his team winning. It was never about the narcissistic celebration of self that television loved to amplify.