Military Service, Law Enforcement  A Common Thread to Success

The New England Patriots have enjoyed unparalleled success during the past two decades and have reached the last three Super Bowls under coach Bill Belichick. And four of the past five,  winning six in the past 18 years. And a common thread that links part of what makes the team’s success so consistent in the past 18 years is that so many players grew up in a military or law enforcement household.

Kevin Duffy who writes for the Boston Herald wrote an intriguing piece on Friday that touched on how growing up in a military or law enforcement family has shaped many of the player’s lives and the traits that they’ve been ingrained with which are in demand with not just the Patriots but the entire NFL and the corporate world.

About 20 percent of the Patriots players grew up in either a military or law enforcement background. In Duffy’s piece, he lists some of them:

Both of James White’s parents work in law enforcement in South Florida. Trent Brown’s father, Reginald, is a 25-year veteran of the police force in Albany, Ga. Rex Burkhead’s dad, Rick, is an FBI agent in Dallas. Adam Butler’s father retired a Master Sergeant in the Air Force. Elandon Roberts’ father, Eli, served in Iraq and retired as a Master Sergeant. The McCourty twins’ father, Calvin, who died when the boys were young, served in the Army. So did their older brother, Larry White.

Then there’s Keion Crossen’s mother, Winnie, and Deatrich Wise’s mom, Sheila. Both were in the Army.

And Joe Cardona, who himself serves in the Navy. His father, Patrick, spent 24 years in the Navy.

Of course, those of us who served or still do in either the military or law enforcement understand that the traits and characteristics that make for successful military careers carry over into any civilian occupation. Belichick grew up at the Naval Academy where his father Steve coached for 33 years. The formative years growing up at a military academy had a profound effect on the younger Belichick who instills the almost military-like discipline on his team.

He’s in charge and it is his way or the highway, there will be no beating of one’s chest with loud “look at me” moments or press conferences with talking smack to another team. Everything is clipped, understated and follows the company line. This team embodies the term “Quiet Professionals.”

New England isn’t for everyone, just like, not so coincidentally, the military. During the NFL Draft, 31 other teams have draft boards with hundreds of players listed. Not Belichick’s. They have only about 50-75 players who are listed as “draftable” that would fit their needs and they follow strict parameters. They list 15-20 character traits that they feel fit their program.

They then dig into the players’ backgrounds to see what makes them tick and how they are motivated and handle stress-related events. Obviously, attention to detail, self-discipline, and self-motivation are at the top of the list. And above all else, a team-first mentality has to burn within those players or they’ll never work out. They have to embrace that they are part of something bigger than themselves.

They swing and miss on players, some slip thru the cracks, not unlike the world of Special Operations. Those are eventually revealed and culled out of the group.

“For a team to accomplish their goal, everybody’s got to give up a little bit of their individuality,” he says. “We’re looking for people … [who] have gotten over themselves, and you can tell that pretty quickly,” Belichick said.

“You can talk to somebody for four or five minutes, and you can tell if it’s about them, or if they understand that they’re just a piece of the puzzle. So we look for that.”

If this sounds like what then-Major Brian Decker did with the Special Forces Assessment and Selection Course (SFAS) at the Special Warfare Center and Ft. Bragg, you’d be spot on. Last year, we here at sat down with Decker in an interview about the changes he made at SFAS. That interview can be read in its entirety here:

However, Decker at that time had been just hired by the Indianapolis Colts as their Director of Player Development where they were looking for him to use similar parameters for Indianapolis to do a better job of selecting players who will fit the Colts system.

During our off-line conversation, Decker did say he met Belichick at the NFL Combine prior to him landing a job with the Colts. Belichick had heard what he’d done with Special Forces and was interested in his program. He related that Belichick asked excellent questions and intimated to Decker that New England had “a similar type of program” that they use to draft players that fit.

Players are still allowed to and encouraged to be themselves, there are always a ton of different personality types on every team and in every unit. But the principles and character traits have to fall in line with what is best for the overall unit.

Some look at the success of the New England franchise for the past two decades and will point to a variety of things. But in the end, what makes them able to sustain their excellence are the same traits and characteristics that make for successful Special Operations troops. But hell, …we knew that all along.

Photo: DOD/Author