Attention to detail is Bill Belichick's calling card.
An obsession over the "little things" has helped him accumulate an absurd 259-89 record, including six Super Bowl victories, as head coach of the New England Patriots.
"(Belichick) understood that the key to success, the secret to it, was the mastery of the grunt work, all the little details...the little things were not little things, because it was the accumulation of little things that made big things happen," writes David Halberstam in his Belichick biography, The Education of a Coach.
When a new assistant joins Belichick's football empire, he makes sure they fully appreciate just how important the little things really are via a brutal pen-and-paper exercise known simply as "Padding." Terez Paylor of Yahoo Sports recently wrote a deep-dive on this rite of passage for Patriots coaches. From Paylor:
When padding games, assistants are required to watch tape of a given game and—on every single play—draw the offense and defense on a sheet of paper, and map out the movement and assignment of each player on the field. They're also asked to note everything from receiver and offensive-line splits to tendencies and protections, along with deeper observations about what players on each side are trying to accomplish on the play.
Assistants can be tasked with padding as many as five games for an upcoming opponent, and their work is then reviewed by an elder coach. If it's not up to snuff—and it rarely is—corrections must be made. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels recalls his first drafts coming back from Belichick plastered with 75 sticky notes of corrections. Padding one game and then correcting all the mistakes could take as long as 20 working hours in McDaniels' estimate.
But padding isn't just some torturous form of hazing designed to break the spirit of aspiring coaches. It forces young assistants to learn the responsibilities of every position, see how all the pieces work together inside different schemes, and appreciate how seemingly small details can drastically alter the outcome of a play.
"What it taught me was details are everything, every mistake, matters," McDaniels told Yahoo Sports. "I don't think there's anything better for a young coach than to go through that."
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