What does Bill Belichick have in common with Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos?
Bezos believes in his business -- that if a team cannot be fed by two pizzas it’s too large. Belichick feels the same way about coaching staffs. Both agree that the larger the staff the more communication, bureaucracy, inefficiency and, eventually, chaos.
Perhaps tiring of having no competition in the AFC East, Belichick recently revealed this secret to his success: eliminate middle management.
In a league and division where coaching staffs have proliferated like rabbits, the Patriots won eight straight AFC East titles and 13 of the last 14 (not to mention five Super Bowls, appearing in seven since 2001). And they accomplished this while having the smallest coaching staff in the league.
Where Belichick has only 15 assistants, including two strength and conditioning coaches, his AFC East rivals average 23.3 assistant coaches per team. You may notice that’s 1.3 more coaches than there are regular positions.
That’s the definition of duplication of effort. It’s also the definition of loser in the NFL.
In the AFC, the last place teams in each division a year ago – the Chargers, Jets, Jaguars and Browns – averaged 22 assistants per staff. The Jets have the most with 23, and L.A. has the least with 21. Among them, those four teams won 14 games. The Patriots’ lonely, 15-man staff won 18 and another Super Bowl.
In the opinion of both Bezos on business and Belichick on giving the NFL the business, more is less. As Belichick told lacrosse superstar Paul Rabil on a recent Rabil podcast, “Even though you have more people, sometimes less work gets done.’’
Belichick points out busy assistants feel more involved and productive and thus are less distracted and stay more on message. The more people you have, he reasons, the more dependent the leader becomes on others to relay his message and monitor it.
Anecdotal evidence seems to support this conclusion. Who has the biggest staff this year? The 2-14 49ers and the 7-9 Bills with 25. The smallest? Guess.
“Big coaching staffs beat up little coaching staffs,’’ former NFL head coach Chip Kelly once claimed.
He’s been fired twice in four years and went 8-23 over the last two seasons. He is now gainfully unemployed but probably still has a big staff around him doing something. Or nothing at all.
In the AFC East, two of Belichick’s competitors (the Jets and Bills) have more coaches (25 and 23) than there are positions. Miami’s Adam Gase has 21, but that includes both an associate head coach and an assistant head coach. We only have one President running the country, but it takes three forms of head coach to run the Dolphins? Bill Belichick would look at that and shake his head.
Then he and his tiny band of 15 assistants would do what they’ve been doing to overstaffed opponents for the past two decades: Beat their ears back by outcoaching them. And probably outworking them too.