New England Patriots: Coach or GM, which is more important?

Who's the key, the field manager, aka head coach, or the personnel manager?

New York Jets v New England Patriots
New York Jets v New England Patriots / Winslow Townson/GettyImages
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The New England Patriots football world is in a state of flux, if not turmoil. After a last-place 2023 finish in the AFC East, rumors are swirling around a mile-a-minute over who does what, when, and where among NFL general manager types and coaches. Not the least of places is in Foxborough, where long-time Head Coach and General Manager Bill Belichick's status is in play.

Rumors abound about whether Bill Belichick will remain as Head Coach and General Manager, or BB will remain as just Head Coach, or he'll be fired and or "moved on," and new individuals will perform both functions. A decision has to be made, and soon. So, which part of the equation is more important?

The argument here has been that the New England Patriots need a new general manager whether or not Bill Belichick remains as Head Coach. Belichick can coach; no doubt about that. But as de facto GM, his track record of late, read, sans one Tom Brady, has been decidedly underwhelming, if that. His alter ego, Bill Belichick, the general manager, has been his undoing as a successful coach. So which function is more important?

The position of paramount importance for the New England Patriots is ...

The question is far broader than just impacting the New England Patriots. It equally affects every NFL franchise from Boston to Los Angeles. And that position is not the one that always gets more attention, the field manager. For it's not that guy who's the most critical to get right; it's the man who brings in the players who's the key. Let's expound on that.

Bill Belichick will go down in NFL history as one of the top five coaches ever. He's won more Super Bowls than any other Head Coach. And, by the time he hangs up his coach's whistle, he'll likely be the winningest head coach ever, if and when he passes Don Shula with 15 more wins.

That situation is irrefutable, and Belichick will waltz into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and get his yellow jacket on the first ballot after he becomes eligible. It's as simple as that. But, that fact obscures the central argument here, that it isn't the Head Coach whose excellence is paramount, but the general manager, the guy who brings in the players.

And the point is no more evident and demonstrable than in Belichick's own case. Whether in Cleveland early in his career or the last four years in New England, Belichick has been a below-average coach with a below-average winning percentage. The numbers don't fib. And why is that?

That's a rhetorical question because the answer is now totally evident to all who pay serious attention: his success lay primarily during the tenure of Tom Brady as his quarterback. That's the scenario for Belichick, but it can be broadened substantially.

New England Patriots situation is a microcosm of the global fact that the GM matters more

The Patriots/Brady situation is so clear-cut that it defines the entire issue. For Belichick, no Brady equaled not much of anything. So, what's the ultimate observation that has to be made? It's the players, always have been and always will be. As noted previously, coaches don't block, tackle, run, or throw the football. His players do. Without great players, the greatest coaches in the works are just other guys. The best are mediocre or a bit better; the worst are total flops.

The man who makes it all happen is the guy who brings in those players. It's not a debatable item; it's a fact. The general manager or whatever other fancy and sometimes ludicrous titles (see Boston Red Sox's head of personnel's title) may be designated to make or break any NFL football team or any other professional team sports outfit.

So the primary New England Patriots debate is and ought to be, who will make the player personnel calls in the future? If it remains Belichick, absent a home run hit on a quarterback plus numerous other top additions, he'll flop as he mostly did in Cleveland and then post-Brady in New England afterward. That awful Brady personnel decision was his, the owner's, and the team's undoing.

So, as rumors abound and names are floated for any new coach and/or new personnel guy in New England or anywhere else, it's essential to keep one thing in mind. It's the guy who brings in the players, starting with the quarterback and then the offensive tackles, who'll determine the future of this franchise. Look at the record; it's as clear as day.

Pay the most attention to who gets the GM position if Belichick leaves or gives it up, not who steps in as coach, whoever that might be. Get that decision right, and it matters only marginally who any legitimately qualified coach is. No matter, you are on your way to being a winner. It is what it is. It's the General Manager and always has been.

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