Is it possible to be rejected for a job because you’re too good?
From the very beginning of his coaching career, Bill Belichick was a standout performer. But that didn’t stop him from being axed from Detroit along with the entire coaching staff in his mid-twenties.
Finding himself without a job, Belichick plotted his next move. His dad had ties with Don Shula, then a top NFL head coach.
He figured he was a near-lock for the position, so he reached out to Shula.
Here’s how David Halberstam tells the story in Education of a Coach:
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.
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. Instead of promoting specialization, Belichick’s advice switched to becoming a generalist.
“The less versatile you are, the better you have to be at what you do well.”
The Don Shula interview led him to understand the value of not being a one-trick pony. Instead, Belichick looked to master every discipline of football. He’s known as a defensive mastermind, but his 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.