There is a general perception that the cold, militaristic machine Bill Belichick has built in New England is not only the reason for the Patriots’ unprecedented dynastic empire, but that it’s the only way one of its magnitude could possibly be constructed.
The coaches who have left New England to attempt to form their own powerhouse in the Belichick image have repeatedly fallen, with many being complete dumpster-fire disasters. As Belichick’s cogs leave the machine and sputter helplessly on their own, Bill quietly adds new ones and continues marching forward.
It all feels so by-design and endless. The Patriots keep winning, but the “Patriot Way” falls to rubble without Belichick at its foundation. It lends credibility that perception that Belichick has cracked some sort of code that no other coach could possibly decipher.
Does divorcing emotional attachment and algorithmically orchestrating your team raise your chances of winning in a league where loyalty to players and coaches tends to be a tad overvalued? Of course. But you also have to have a team of players who have bought into that culture of “do your job,” the mantra equivalent of telling your players they’re just numbers.
To have players buying into something like that, you have to consistently win. If you think back to the early 2000s and the dawn of the Patriots’ dynasty, Belichick wasn’t seen as a puppet master supervillain in a hoodie. Spygate started that. Before winning their first few Super Bowls, he also wasn’t seen as the callous, winning-above-all coach who would cut his son if his replacement could catch one more pass or do it for one dollar less.
Once you win a few championships, though, you can get players to buy into the idea that the best chance of winning is entering the machine.
Then you have Andy Reid, who in many ways is the anti-Belichick. Reid’s an offensive genius, while Belichick’s brilliance was born in defense. Reid has a reputation, fair or not, for brain-farting time management and challenges in critical moments. Belichick is both loathed and revered for his obsessive maintenance of those details, many times giving the Patriots the edge in close games. Belichick spent the last two decades winning titles at an unmatched pace. Reid spent them struggling to get to the top of the mountain just once.
And an even deeper contrast, Reid is known for being among the most player-friendly coaches in the history of the NFL. His training camps may be infamous for their intensity, but his willingness to let players be themselves and let their personalities flourish is nearly the antithesis of Belichick and “Do Your Job.”
Which, again, seemingly gives more credibility to the idea that "The Patriot Way" is the only way to build an expansive, league-consuming dynasty. Reid and Belichick are seen as near-equals purely schematically speaking. The impact Belichick has had on defensive innovation though his career is matched only by Reid’s impact on offense. But while Belichick has six rings as a head coach, Reid only just got to wear his first last week.
So, obviously, that has to be the difference, right? Belichick’s rigid, buttoned-up, detail-obsessed Patriots teams juxtaposed against Reid’s Eagles and Chiefs teams that have been more loose and fun, but ultimately more messy.
Well, then there’s also Tom Brady.
First, let me say the “who’s more responsible?” debate around the Patriots’ dynasty is inherently silly. It’s Belichick and it’s Brady. What’s important here is the "and it’s Brady."
During all but two years of the lifespan of the Belichick/Brady union, Reid’s long-term starting quarterbacks were Donovan McNabb, Mike Vick, and Alex Smith. None of them were bad quarterbacks. Vinny Testaverde and Drew Bledsoe weren’t bad either, but Belichick wasn’t winning any Super Bowls with them.
Reid carried the Eagles to consistent winning the 2000s but was overshadowed by Belichick and Brady’s historic success and the Eagles' inability to get over the hump. Reid even lost to Belichick in his only other Super Bowl appearance.
But, again, Reid was doing that winning in Philly with McNabb and, later on, Vick. Both good, but both resting much closer in the quarterback annals to Testaverde and Bledsoe than to Brady.
This isn’t to say Belichick wouldn’t win Super Bowls without Brady. He likely would have won at least that first one with Bledsoe. But it’s undeniable that Brady was the perfect complement to Belichick in nearly every conceivable way. Brady thrived within Belichick’s cold machine, and Belichick was only able to build that machine because he had Brady.
Sounds a lot like Reid and Patrick Mahomes, doesn’t it? We only got a brief glimpse of Belichick without his perfect match at QB in Cleveland and early in New England. With Reid, we got 15 years of it. Reid’s ability to elevate the McNabbs, Vicks, and Smiths of the world cemented his legacy at the very least as an offensive wizard. But it wasn’t until he crossed paths with Mahomes that the full breadth of Reid’s genius became plainly visible.
Mahomes is a perfect match with Reid in the same way that Brady was Belichick’s perfect match. I don’t just mean on the field, where it’s evident every time Mahomes flings an impossible touchdown pass and bounds to the sideline to hug his head coach. It's off the field, too, where Reid’s career-long embracing of the entire spectrum of personalities that make up a football team has been heightened by Mahomes’ presence. Mahomes embraces and elevates everyone around him, whether it's on the field or on Twitter. That's the exact culture Reid wants to build.
It’s undeniable how tight-knit this Chiefs team is. In a sport where it’s beyond cliche to call a locker room a family, the Chiefs actually fit that description without exaggeration or irony. This, of course, isn’t the feeling you got from the Patriots’ 20-year reign on top of the league.
There was a time when the Patriots’ icy, mechanical approach to team building was seen as unworkable in the long-term. Now that it’s done nothing but work, it’s seen as the only way to keep a window of success open over a decade or more.
In 2020, the Chiefs enter the season flying in the face of that. This is a league where the near-universal understanding is you can’t pay all your stars and that sort of loyalty will be the death of your future. This offseason the Chiefs gave Mahomes half a billion dollars and then paid nearly everyone else too, including the coach and GM.
Across nearly all major sports, team construction has become a loop of finding one superstar and cycling though players on short-term contracts to build around that star. The Chiefs are looking to keep the entire band together for much, much longer than most teams even dream of attempting. A lot of that, of course, is a credit to GM Brett Veach’s mindboggling salary cap maneuvering in 2020, which made virtually every other NFL GM look incompetent in comparison.
In 2001, the Patriots started down a long path of breaking conventions, and it led to winning a lot of Super Bowls. That path became "The Patriot Way," and now stands as the monolithic symbol of NFL prosperity. They seem unmatchable and unable to replicate.
This is untrue.
Their ways are not worth replicating. Their success, however, can be. The Patriots' dynasty was not the impact of a lifeless, soulless machine chewing up and spitting out players with no feeling. It was the impact of a partnership between a coach and a quarterback who were once-in-a-generation talents on their own who were so in tune with one another they may as well been extensions of each other.
The next NFL dynasty will not come when someone else figures out how to copy "The Patriot Way." That strategy builds no dynasty without its two architects. The next dynasty will come when another once-in-a-generation coach and quarterback find each other and begin building a new way that works only because they built it with their own unique gifts.
Enter Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes.