The Patriot Way

Here's something that has been on my mind the last couple of days, and I wondered what you all would think about it. Sorry if the post ends up a little wandering, but I'm sort of thinking as I go.

There is no real debate (except from Pittsburgh maybe) that the New England Patriots are the most consistently successful team of the new century. It's hard to argue with 4 Superbowl appearances with three wins, and a perfect regular season thrown in for good measure. That kind of success definitely brings attention, and since smart people often want to emulate the success they notice, it gets a lot of people thinking that maybe we could be that good if we could do it the same way that they do. So, other teams have raided Patriots' leadership for coaches (Crenell, Weis, Mangini, and now Jedi McD) and GMs (Dimitroff, Pioli) in hopes of implementing THE PATRIOT WAY.

The problem, in my opinion, is that THE PATRIOT WAY was never implemented in New England. Rather it emerged from the Patriots' underdog run to their first superbowl win. They learned to do things in the organization first, players are interchangable, 'the rest of the world just doesn't get it' way they do things during that rise to prominence. It probably isn't a coincidence that this style emerged from a team where the only bona fide star on the team was hurt and replaced by an unknown who led them to greatness. They did things in a way that made them feel good about themselves as they won, continued success reinforced the methods, and THE PATRIOT WAY came to be what we all know and love/loathe.

Of course, we all know how the experiment with coaches brought in to impose THE PATRIOT WAY has turned out so far. Cleveland under Crennel has been mostly awful and the Jets under Mangini have been average at best. Weis at Notre Dame is demonstrating that THE PATRIOT WAY probably isn't real effective for college kids.

Here's my theory as to why it has been so difficult to translate THE PATRIOT WAY to other teams through coaching changes. It's because it's such a harsh and unforgiving way to do things. Unless you are part of its emergence or deliberately choose to embrace it (in free agency for example), THE PATRIOT WAY is going to seem constraining, brutal and downright unreasonable. To illustrate what I'm saying let me bring on a big piece of group psychology from history. German fascism under the Nazi's was constraining, brutal and downright unreasonable yet vast numbers of Germans loved Hitler and the Nazi way. Why? Because he made the German people believe that if they banded together against all that opposed them, both within and without, their natural greatness as a people would inevitably emerge. What a brilliant message for a proud, but historically second tier power like Germany. So from within their own pride and desire to be great the German people were willing to cull those who they blamed for messing them up from within (the Jews most notably of course) and to try and use their way to conquer all that opposed them.

Now look at the Patriots. They have always been a proud and class organization. Prior to their current dynasty, they had moments of success that always ended in disappointment (think WW I for the Germans). You gotta think (and Broncos fans could relate to this for a very long time) that maybe the organization and their fans might have had a long term self-esteem problem. So when Bill Belichick (der Fuerher) and his way of doing things led them on the path to greatness, everybody from coaches to players to fans was willing to go with it. The point being, that like fascism, the harsh and brutal and unreasonable emergence of THE PATRIOT WAY came from within.

The other half of this theory is to look at what happened historically when the Germans tried to implement their harsh and brutal way of doing things on other people. Those people fought it tooth and nail. You simply can't go to another group of proud people treat them harshly and tell them it is for their own good. It's unreasonableness is apparant and people resist. Fascism that comes from within feels like the soft grip of the velvet glove while fascism imposed from without feels an awful lot like taking brass knuckles to the kisser. People embrace the first and fight the second.

My point in terms of football, the Belichick coaching tree, and its failures to this point is that you can't force people to accept THE PATRIOT WAY just by showing up and trying to make it so. THE PATRIOT WAY is not a system like the West Coast Offense or the Amoeba Offense or the 46 Defense. It's a way of being and thinking and constructing identity, and a hard one at that. Coming in and treating people with a dictatorial, harsh, and unforgiving attitude looks unreasonable and unjustified to people that haven't accepted it on their own terms. Is it any wonder then, that Jedi McD is finding the overt ruthlessness he learned in New England is blowing up in his face early on in his Broncos career?

Jedi, think about this. THE PATRIOT WAY emerged. It was not imposed. My advice to you is be open to letting THE BRONCOS WAY emerge from the blend of your systems, coaches, players, and fans. Get players that fit your way, but also move your way toward players you already have. Adjust and let the Broncos become something. Don't try to make them into something. People hate being made to do things.

And if you don't believe me, look at the one current success story in Atlanta. Michael Vick (like the Versailles Treaty) brought the Falcons to rock bottom. This made them pretty open to letting nearly anything better emerge from within. Dimitroff's vision is what is being implemented, but those guys had to be willing to go with the program. Jedi McD, the Broncos are a different animal with a pride and history and level of success that means you are going to have to give to get.

And now I"ve written WAAAAAAY more than I meant to :) .

DISCLAIMER: I am not calling Bill Belechick or Josh McDaniels Nazis! It's a metaphor!


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