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The secrets behind Belichick’s success

Holley looks at how Bill Belichick made the Patriots the envy of the NFL

By Thomas Smith
November 16, 2011

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The process of evaluating college football players for the professional ranks has taken gigantic strides since the inception of the NFL amateur draft in the mid-1930s. Then, team owners and general managers based their selections on the recommendations of a few scouts, college coaches, sportswriters, and personal acquaintances. Today building a successful team is a yearlong effort involving scores of specialists who analyze computer data, scout players, scrutinize game films, attend scouting combines, and investigate issues involving the character of individual players. In recent years, no coach has been more adept at team building than Bill Belichick.

While running the Cleveland Browns, Belichick and his player personnel director, Mike Lombardi, conceived the idea of devising a uniform method of grading and evaluating draft-eligible athletes. When Belichick took over the New England Patriots in 2000, he developed that idea into a system, and it proved remarkably successful, producing four AFC championships and three Super Bowls.

In “War Room,’’ journalist Michael Holley provides a fascinating account of how Belichick, and his top associates, Scott Pioli and Thomas Dimitroff, used the draft and shrewd trades to build the Pats into the envy of the NFL. Their success prompted other teams to raid Patriots coaches and front office personnel. Pioli and Dimitroff, for example, left to become general managers of the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons, respectively. When they left, with Belichick’s blessing, they carried with them revised versions of the Patriots’ player-evaluation system.

The first half of “War Room’’ provides biographical information on the three main characters, their work, and personal habits, how they broke into the game, the development of the evaluation system, and how that system uncovered players like Vince Wilfork, Tedy Bruschi, Tom Brady, and Dan Koppen, who brought championships to New England. The less-riveting second half of the book focuses on how Pioli and Dimitroff , very close friends, worked to build successful teams in Kansas City and Atlanta.

Based on extensive interviews and access to the draft-day activities of the Patriots, Chiefs, and Falcons, “War Room’’ has the strengths, and some of the weaknesses, of an insider’s account. Crisply written, the story moves along like a two-minute drill. It also sparkles with interesting anecdotes and tidbits. (Dimitroff is a bike-riding and trail-hiking vegetarian. Pioli’s wife is Bill Parcells’s daughter). This “fly-on-the wall’’ approach helps shed light on the character of the three men and their football mindsets.

On the other hand, Holley often comes across as a booster rather than a detached journalist. Belichick, Dimitroff, and Pioli all are portrayed as princely men who possess sharp minds, warm hearts, enviable work habits, and strong family values. A public relations firm could not write more glowingly. The “Spygate’’ cheating incident is soft-pedaled. Holley states that Belichick and the team were fined heavily and lost a number one draft pick when they were caught videotaping the defensive signals of the New York Jets in 2007. But then he glosses over the incident by declaring that the Patriots were not the first to cheat, and Jets head coach Eric Mangini (another Belichick disciple) regretted escalating the incident to the NFL commissioner’s office. Additionally, the criticism over Spygate proved ultimately advantageous by motivating the Pats to an undefeated regular season.

While a bit too reverential, “War Room’’ is a lively, fast-paced insider’s account that will please ardent and casual fans alike.

Thomas Smith teaches at Nichols College and is the author of “Showdown: JFK and the Integration of the Washington Redskins.’’ He can be reached at


The Legacy of Bill Belichick and the Art of Building the Perfect Team

By Michael Holley

It, 338 pp., illustrated, $25.99

Patriots Video