Belichick uses weekly captains meetings to keep lines of communication open

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FOXBORO -- It's been a strange season for the Patriots for a variety of reasons, which Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran laid out in this space earlier this week. What's followed have been questions about the team's leadership and Bill Belichick's ability to connect with the players in his locker room. 

It's a topic that Jerod Mayo touched upon earlier this week for Quick Slants the Podcast. He said that Belichick's weekly meetings with team captains -- Mayo was a captain from 2009 to 2015 -- helped keep the lines of communication open between players and their coach.

“Bill has never been the type of guy to just hang out in the locker room," Mayo said. "There is a hierarchy there which I could always appreciate: ‘This is my coach, I would always treat a coach with the utmost respect.’ That’s just how I was raised. Everyone’s not raised the same way especially through the football ranks and the sporting ranks. 

"Bill is from the old-school mentality where it’s a coach-player relationship. Bill would have these captains meeting sometime during the week or on a Friday. He would tell us the message, give us the message and it was our job to translate that message to the players who really wouldn’t be able to understand it coming from Bill."

It's a process that's worked well enough that Belichick has done it every year that he's been a head coach. He spoke at length about meeting with captains and the benefits the team derives from those meetings during his press conference on Wednesday morning.

"I mean, for us it’s a good opportunity to . . . look, I can’t meet with every single player," Belichick said. "That’s really not practical. I rely on those meetings to get feedback from the players or sometimes I explain things to the players that I feel like the team needs to know and let them convey the message in their way or at least understand what the thought process is from my standpoint or the staff’s standpoint. But I talk to them and they give me a lot of feedback every week. 

"They do a great job of, I’d say, not telling you what you think the coach wants to hear but telling you what they think is important, what we need to do, where there’s an issue, what we need to address, and then that helps me address it. Most important thing for us is on Sunday is everybody being ready to go, being on the same page, going in there collectively ready to perform our best. Between Friday morning and Sunday afternoon there’s still plenty of time to sometimes make some changes, or adjustments, or go back over something, or whatever the situation happens to be and address it. That’s very valuable." 

This year's group of captains includes linebacker Dont'a Hightower, safety Devin McCourty, special teamer Matthew Slater, tight end Rob Gronkowski and quarterback Tom Brady. They take those meetings as an opportunity to provide Belichick of a sense of where they're coming from on a weekly basis.

"I think for us it’s the ability to give Coach the insight of the player’s perspective and the player’s point of view, and how things are going that really the coaching staff doesn’t see," Belichick said. "Then, for us, it’s kind of getting the mentality of the coaches of going forward in that week and how exactly they feel game plan-wise and how the game is playing out. 

"A lot of times the chance to talk and discuss what we like in the game plan and what we don’t like and it’s really guys from all sides of the ball -- offense, defense, and special teams -- guys that are usually the signal callers and the guys that have a good [bead] on what’s going on, what the players are mentally [thinking], if there’s too much in or if we need to add something. So it’s always kind of a good chance to recap and review right before we go into a game."

"I mean, if a player tells me in that meeting ‘Look coach, we’ve worked on this. We’re not really comfortable with it. I think there’s too much confusion here,’ [then] throw it out. No problem," Belichick said. "Get rid of it. I don’t want that to happen. 

"Or sometimes it’s ‘Look, we’re having a little of trouble with this. I think if we just get a couple of more times I think we’ve got it. We like it, it’s a good idea, it’s going to work, we just don’t quite have it down yet.’ Well, maybe we add a couple of plays in practice that we hadn’t planned on having to cover that situation. Or it could be on the punt team like ‘Hey coach, we just need one more look at this rush that they’re running. We’ve got it but can we just see it one more time?’ Yeah, sure; things like that." 

Their discussions go beyond Xs and Os, too. 

"They might," Belichick said, "tell me that, 'Hey, this guy is down a little bit. I think he needs a little confidence. I think if you said something to him that would really help him.' 'I wasn’t aware of that. I’ll definitely do it.' I mean, it could be a million different things. There’s no set formula, but it’s just about communication and feedback."

As a result, McCourty explained, Belichick could be considered a "player's coach." Some newcomers to the team share their surprise, he said, when they see how open Belichick can be to hearing from team leaders. 

"I think all they see are his press conferences so you don’t really expect him to listen and understand different things," McCourty said, "and I think guys come here, and they’re a little shocked at how much goes into him listening to the players and trying to get a good understanding of how the players feel, especially as you get towards the end of the season."

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