How to value loyalty


If you’ve followed New England Patriots football this season, or the NFL in general, you know that perhaps the hottest topic has been the future of head coach Bill Belichick with the team.

After 20 years of dominance, we have seen a shocking decline in the four years since Tom Brady left town. Of course, a decline and rebuild was predictable, but it has been a total free fall and most issues can be directly traced back to Belichick.

This year has been a disaster and many people are calling for his removal from the team and some anonymous sources have claimed that owner Robert Kraft has already made the decision to part ways at the end of the season behind closed doors.

The topic has been fascinating and the debate is ongoing. Is Belichick’s sterling resume from 2001-2019 enough to grandfather him in as head coach until he decides to walk away? Or are the Krafts obligated to shake things up, even if it means walking away from a coach that has been so important in helping the Patriots achieve NFL glory six times over?

The bottom line, the ultimate question is, how much should we value loyalty?

If we are talking high school coaches, that loyalty should be everlasting once you find the right leader. At that level, it is about much more than just winning.

Teaching the game, enforcing sportsmanship and superior classroom performance, being a positive role model. Those are the things that are important.

I have covered plenty of coaches whose teams have lost, but are still elite coaches. If I am a high school athletic director, my goal is not “What can you do for me now?” The goal is what can you provide long-term and can you be a stable, consistent leader? If the team wins, great. If not, that is not necessarily an issue if the kids are having fun, excelling in the classroom and improving as each season wears on.

The same goes for college as well. Every year there is roster turnover. There are ebbs and flows that come and go in high school and college so it is difficult for any coach to produce a winning team each and every year. That is also why these coaches deserve loyalty and patience once they are established.

Going back to Belichick, though, I am afraid to say that I have shifted toward waving goodbye at season’s end.

In professional sports, where these coaches and athletes are being paid millions, where fans are spending hundreds, sometimes thousands for tickets, winning is truly the bottom line. Perhaps not on an annual basis, but over the course of a contract, the wins are what matter.

Sure, Belichick is a future hall of famer and absolutely earned a long leash once the Brady era ended. At this point, though, we have seen enough and this team needs a new voice.

The argument made in favor of retaining Belichick is, “Which coach would be a better option anyway?” Well, I agree that Belichick can coach the game better than just about anyone, even at his age.

However, there are just times in pro sports where things go stale and the message just doesn’t resonate. That is what we have seen here this season. Not to mention the fact that Belichick’s grip on how modern rosters are assembled is off base, he is behind the times and this season it has all caught up to him. This is a team built for the 1980’s, not the 2020’s.

Kraft mentioned in an interview at the Army-Navy game that he values loyalty and is proud that his organization has retained much of the same staff for two decades. Was that his way of letting the viewers know that Belichick isn’t going anywhere? Or was that way of letting us know that he has been loyal for long enough, and next year is when it runs out?

If this was college or high school, then there would be no doubt in my mind that Belichick should return. He still coaches the right way and demands the best from his team on a daily basis. No coach works harder or sets a better example for his players than he does.

This is professional football. The roster does not just get reset each year, it’s not like he has a crop of juniors that will be seniors next year. Although some of these problems can be addressed through free agency, trade and the draft, the core of this terrible roster will be intact next season, so something significant will have to change for the Pats to return to relevance. That significant change has to come from Belichick. This team needs a new decision maker and a fresh perspective.

In pro sports, loyalty is only good for so long. In this case, it is good for four years.



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