December 31, 2016


Matt Patricia, Bill Belichick's Right-Hand Man (Tim Rohan, Nov. 28th, 2016, MMQB)

Belichick felt strongly because, the way he runs the Patriots, his coaching assistants serve a vital role. More than most NFL coaches, Belichick morphs his defense each week, tailoring it to stop that specific opponent, requiring endless amounts of preparation. The assistants study hours of film, write scouting reports and handle whatever work trickles down from the coaches. They do a lot of necessary but grueling grunt work.

Belichick likes hiring assistants young because they have a "clean mind," says Mike Judge, a former Patriots coaching assistant, and Belichick can program them to think the way he wants. Josh McDaniels was selling plastics in Cleveland when Belichick hired him. Bill O'Brien had no NFL experience and was the offensive coordinator on Duke team that had just gone 0-12. Eric Mangini was a Browns ball boy and public relations assistant.

When the Patriots brought Patricia in for an interview, his résumé wouldn't have caught the eye of many NFL teams:

• Bachelor of Science degree, aeronautical engineering, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
• Application Engineer, two years, Hoffman Air & Filtration Systems, East Syracuse, N.Y.
• Defensive line coach, two seasons, Amherst College
• Graduate Assistant, three seasons, Syracuse University 

Patricia spent his first two years out of college working at Hoffman Air & Filtration, where he helped sales reps supply industrial blowers to wastewater plants. The sales reps loved him, called him brilliant, and so did his colleagues. He convinced them to use computers and input data in spreadsheets, and it streamlined Hoffman's entire ordering process. The market for selling blowers was competitive, says Jim Ward, Patricia's boss at the time, and the new computer system allowed them to "focus more on the strategic side of the sale. It gave us more time to think: What more can we do to position our products better?" Patricia became a rising star in the engineering world. General Electric and General Dynamics showed interest in him, according to his father, Ed. Westinghouse reportedly offered him a job maintaining nuclear subs and aircraft carriers, for a salary close to six figures.   

Then fall came around, and Patricia smelled the fresh-cut grass of the local football fields and realized he missed the game. Through his RPI connections he got a job coaching the Amherst defensive line, for less than $10,000 a year. He rented a room in another coach's apartment and rode his bike to the football facility up a hill each day, dodging passing cars, questioning his decision whenever one came too close...

When Belichick hired him as an assistant, Patricia felt indebted. He worked so hard and watched so much film that he often ended up sleeping at his desk at Gillette. At one point, he stashed an air mattress there for convenience. Patricia told one friend that defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel worried for his health. Boy, you've got to go home and sleep! Take a break. Relax a little.

But those nights reminded Patricia of his RPI days, when he pulled all-nighters studying for engineering exams, chugging Mountain Dew and downing Pixy Stix powdered candy to stay awake. Watching film, Patricia used the same note-taking technique he had developed at RPI. Engineering students were usually allowed to bring a page of notes to exams, and Patricia had a reputation for having arguably the best. "You'd look at it and it'd be like hieroglyphics," says Mike Mucci, another RPI engineer. "All these crazy equations."

Patricia's specific engineering discipline had also prepared him well for hours of meticulous film study. "[Aeronautical engineering] promotes a very structured, very rigorous, very systematic way of thinking," says John Tichy, a long-time RPI engineering professor. Building a rocket and getting it off the ground requires more precision than building a bridge that will stand in place. With the rocket, Tichy says, "every little last decision is delicate."

With that attention to detail, Patricia, a lowly coaching assistant, established himself as one of the smartest coaches in any room. When Belichick rattled off the daily practice schedule, Patricia organized everything down to the minute, in his head. When Belichick approached the coaching assistants with special "projects"--opponents' tendencies he wanted studied on film--Patricia juggled eight, nine, 10 of them at a time. "He'd be helping crack the code for that week's opponent," says Judge, the coaching assistant who worked alongside Patricia in 2005. "There were guys in the building that didn't see [a tendency on film] until he pointed it out."

Patricia told friends that, when he arrived, Belichick was still "a pencil and paper guy," writing film notes by hand. Patricia helped digitize the Patriots' film review system, just as he did at Hoffman. He ran a seminar teaching Patriots rookies the video system, gave older coaches basic computer training and showed the savvier coaches how to input data into spreadsheets, analyze it and incorporate the information into their weekly game plan.

Patricia told one friend that he saved Belichick "two to three hours" a day because the new system gave Belichick, a notorious film junkie, an easier way to study tape. Which gave Belichick that much more time to scheme and strategize for each week's opponent.

Belichick started taking Patricia on scouting trips, giving him a glimpse into his world. "[Matt] logged a lot of hours driving Bill around," says former Patriots lineman Matt Light, who is friends with Patricia. "[Bill] wanted him close because he saw the value in a guy like Matt. People talk about players, but a really good coach? That may be more rare than an elite corner or quarterback or defensive end. They're very difficult to find in this league."

And they are all that matters.

Posted by at December 31, 2016 6:48 PM