New England Patriots: Misunderstanding “the Patriot Way”


Nov 22, 2012; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick (left) greets team owner Robert Kraft. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

With the media circus that was the Aaron Hernandez arrest and murder charges this past week, there has been much (often gleeful) discussion of the end of “the Patriot Way”. Much like the playoff losses in 2005 and 2006 seasons, the much ballyhooed “Spygate” scandal and loss to the Giants in the Super Bowl to ruin the perfect season of 2007, the Tom Brady knee injury in the opening game of the 2008 season, the retirement of linebacker Tedy Bruschi and home blowout loss against the Ravens in the 2009 season, the playoff loss to the Jets in the 2010 season, and the loss in the Super Bowl versus the Giants after the 2011 season, and now with Hernandez released from the team, national and local columnists, beat writers, bloggers, radio ranters and television talking heads once again are crowing about the demise of the New England Patriots and the end of “the Patriot Way.”

What everyone seems to miss, is that “the Patriot Way” is an ownership credo or philosophy that has not changed or diminished but rather has been reinforced by the team actions during the Aaron Hernandez investigation and arrest.  What is really happening with the Patriots is that there is “the Patriot Way” and there is “the Belichick Way”.  While they are often confused, however, is that there is a very big difference between “the Patriot Way” and “the Belichick Way”.

Feb 5, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; New England Patriots president Jonathan Kraft (left), NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (center), and Robert Kraft (right). Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

“The Patriot Way” is a Kraft family code of ethics passed on from team and family matriarch and late wife of owner Robert Kraft, Myra, that the team will win or lose with dignity. It is a philosophy that upper management (Owner Robert Kraft and his son, President Jonathan Kraft) have put in place since owning the team to promote the values they believe should represent the franchise. Rebranding the troubled franchise with “the Patriot Way” was a necessary mantra to deliver to the press to delineate between the Kraft owned Patriots and the mess of the Victor Kiam franchise mired in controversy (the Lisa Olson/Zeke Mowatt scandal).

The term first came to the forefront when the Patriots released troubled Nebraska defensive lineman Christian Peter five days after drafting him in the 5th round when owner Robert Kraft was notified of the various criminal charges against the talented young player from Nebraska.  While Kraft noted that he was not notified by coach Bill Parcells hand-picked scouting personnel that when brought up as a possible pick, Peter had been convicted of sexual assault (groping a former Miss Nebraska), a pending assault charge for a dustup in a bar, and a civil suit alleging he raped a former Nebraska student. After the draft, a reported faxed a copy of Peter’s rap sheet to the Patriots public relations department, who forwarded the fax to Kraft, and at that time the owner had to face the media and answer for his team’s draft pick.

March 19, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

What people in the media mistakenly refer to as “the Patriot Way” is actually “the Belichick Way”. “The Belichick Way” is the team concept rooted in growing up in a military environment while his father Steve Belichick was a scout for the Navy football team.  Basically, it is the idea that the team comes before anything else and that on the team, everyone is all-in all the time focused on their job between the white lines.  If a player puts himself before the team and gets arrested or negatively impact your team in any way, the team then has no use for player.

Often harsh, many insiders have commented that the split between Belichick and his former prize pupil on defense, defensive end Richard Seymour, came directly from when Richard Seymour Sr passed away and the defensive end missed practices that week to attend his father’s funeral. When Sunday rolled around, the team took the field with Seymour on the bench the entire first quarter and half the second against the Jacksonville Jaguars.  Although “the Belichick Way” may have been showing that no player is above the team (rumors at the time indicated Seymour may not have gotten permission to leave prior to flying home on the Wednesday) it also sowed the seeds for the departure of Seymour as the coach and player were never as close as they were previously.

With “the Belichick Way”, the coach is rationalizing and compartmentalizing distractions to the team such as Aaron Hernandez and moving on simply as if he had suffered a career-ending injury (in this case it appears to be self-inflicted stupidity by Hernandez). In “the Belichick Way” if a player is not on the team any longer, there is nothing to do to change it, then the team will move on and focus on the players on the roster. “The Belichick Way” focuses on eliminating all outside distractions, unless they can be used to motivate and incite the team to focus on their opponent even more in an attempt to add emotion to preparation for the game and potential victory. “The Belichick Way” is ruthless when it comes to letting a player go, whether it be a trade for maximum value (Richard Seymour to Oakland for a 1st round pick) or releasing a popular but expensive player who can be replaced by another younger, more athletic, and cheaper player (Lawyer Milloy’s surprise release before opening day in 2003). “The Belichick Way” is not nice. It is a business and bottom-line focused process.  It is all about one word: Value.

That focus and single-mindedness about the TEAM is what makes Bill Belichick a Hall of Fame coach. It is what puts him on with former coaches Paul Brown and Bill Walsh on the NFL’s Mount Rushmore of coaches as the only ones with their team’s dominance measured in decades. It’s why the team has been winning 10 out of 12 division titles (and having the same number of wins as the division leader and losing out on the playoffs due to tie-breakers in 2002 and 2008).  It is not about anything but maximum production between the white lines for minimum cost.  It is simply “the Belichick Way”.