The person who has to lead the fight against complacency, Belichick had learned, was the man at the top. Some three years into his career, after he had finished working at more or less entry-level positions in Baltimore and Detroit, he was at something of loose ends. The group he had been a pat of in Detroit had all been fired. His colleagues at both places had understood how talented he was, that he was a young coach with the rare ability to take film and turn it into a living profile of an opposing team, that he produced scouting reports of exceptional value. Because of his Ohio connections, Don Shula, then one of the two or three ranking coaches in the game, was a possibility. Shula, too, had come out of the Paul Brown alumni association, and Steve Belichick, if he had not actually played for Brown, was connected to him because Bill Edwards had once roomed with Brown and had been an assistant coach under him. The name Belichick would be known to Don Shula in Miami. So Bill Belichick had contacted Shula, explained what he thought he could bring to the job, and given his references, which were already glowing, especially for someone in his mid-twenties. Shula was gracious and listened carefully. Then he said, “I’m afraid you’re exactly what I don’t want. I don’t want someone like you doing film. I want my coaches to do it themselves. I don’t want them delegating responsibility to their assistants and distancing themselves from what is happening. I want them right on top of it.” With that Shula apologized, and there was no job offer–it was an interesting lesson; Belichick had been rejected for being able to do something important too well.The Education of a Coach, page 27
Bill Belichick learned a valuable lesson after only three years of coaching. It seems unlikely that this would even be a thing, but he was rejected for a job because he was too good at something crucial to the game of football.
The temptation to specialize is real. We hear it from all over.
The temptation comes backed with enough logic that some fall prey to it.
Become an expert at one specific thing, and you’ll be very valuable to an organization.
In Belichick’s case, he thought being the best advanced scout would open up doors.
Instead, he faced rejection precisely because he had become so good at one thing.
Years later, Belichick had changed his stance.
“The less versatile you are, the better you have to be at what you do well.”Bill Belichick
The Don Shula interview and many other experiences led him to understand the value of not just being a one-trick pony. Instead, Belichick looked to master every discipline of football. He’s known as a defensive mastermind, but his understanding of and innovation on the offensive side of the game is up there with some of the all-time greats.
Belichick didn’t stop with becoming a master scout.
He continued on and built a wide range of skills.
You should too.
No matter what you do, look to build a broad range of skills. Read widely. Understand things outside of your discipline. I bet you’ll start making connections you would have never expected.
You may never break down film in your life, but you can surely benefit from Belichick’s lesson learned.