What UMass can learn from the Patriots

By Ryan Walsh

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Many students at the University of Massachusetts love NFL football. Football Sundays are indeed many students favorite time of the year. Fittingly, most UMass students’ favorite team is the New England Patriots. The Patriots are one of the most successful football teams of all time, though this has not always been the case. In the last 10 years, the Patriots have appeared in four Super Bowls, out of which they’ve won a total of three. They are also the only team that has finished the regular season with a perfect 16-0 record – sorry to bring this up.

Under head coach Bill Belichick, the Patriots have established a model for success whereby their system is greater than any one individual player. UMass can learn a lot from the Patriot’s proven success. If we assume that UMass is the Patriots, the players are UMass students, and the coaching staff is UMass faculty and staff, it’s easy to translate the Patriots’ model into a plan for UMass success.

Before their restructuring under coach Belichick, the Patriots were a lot like UMass is now. They ebbed and flowed and made it to a Super Bowl once but never won. They showed flashes of greatness, but that greatness eventually fizzled out. UMass needs to turn the corner like the Patriots did; the results will be monumental.

The Patriots are not a typical team. In a league often defined by touchdown celebrations and outspoken personalities, the Patriots do not fit the stereotype – and they wouldn’t have it any other way. The Patriots famously avoid selfish and attention grabbing players in exchange for humble players who go about their jobs like the professionals they are. Patriots’ players don’t always get the most attention on ESPN, but that’s a willing and conscious tradeoff for Super Bowl rings at the end of the season. The Patriots don’t care about who the biggest star is or who makes the most money. Instead, everyone in the organization, from top to bottom, stands united for the sake of helping the team win.

This is analogous to UMass’ potential if we could all get on the same page. It’s clear that the Patriots are marked by certain undeniable characteristics. Perhaps if UMass copied some of these, we could be viewed with envy by other schools like the Patriots are by other teams – even if many of these teams won’t admit it.

First, the Patriots are notoriously tight-lipped about their team. Interviewing Bill Belichick is like pulling teeth. His famously vague answers that sidestep or even blatantly ignore the media’s questions might be frustrating for Boston Globe reporters, but certainly serve as a competitive advantage for the team. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady once relayed one of Belichick’s mottos: “When you win say little, when you lose say less.” UMass can learn from this.

People overly revel in the bad parts of UMass. If something goes wrong or could be improved, UMass students often laugh it off, or worse — boast about it to other people. The Patriots would never do this. Statistically, the Patriots have one of the worst defenses in the league this year. That being said, trying to get one of their players to concede that fact would be a fool’s errand. The Patriots will give you tidbits when they win but nothing when they lose. It is okay for us to brag a little when we do things right, but we need to be more tight-lipped about our shortcomings.

The Patriots are self-critical perfectionists who understand that perfection can never be reached but that they can never stop trying to get there. Their preparation is unparalleled. When a game ends, the press conference is all about getting ready for next week’s game instead of about the one that just ended. The Patriots treat every opponent – no matter how good or bad – the same.

The implications of this for UMass are obvious. We’d be naïve to assume that the changes we wish to see within UMass will magically happen on their own. If we want to see change, we must be proactive in taking the steps to get there. Constant hard work and preparation is where it all starts.

While preparation is fundamental, execution is equally important. The Patriots are masters of taking advantage of what the other team gives them and they do not use a one size fits all game plan. Each week, the Patriots adapt their game plan to capitalize on the opportunities that the other team presents. In Super Bowl XXXVI, as 14-point underdogs against the St. Louis Rams, the Patriots abandoned their typical 3-4 defense and instead used a physical bump and run, nickel and dime package that disrupted the timing of St. Louis’ “The Greatest Show on Turf,” resulting in the Patriots’ first championship.

The Patriots also famously adapt their original strategy mid-game depending on what the other team does. UMass needs to learn from this, too. If certain programs, departments or teams at UMass pale in comparison to other schools, we should focus on different areas. Holding ourselves to the predetermined standards of other schools will no doubt end in disappointment. We’re like the Patriots in the middle of a game: our original game plan wasn’t bad, but now it’s obvious that we’re going to have to adapt it if we want to win. Seeking new and less traditional opportunities could be a way for us to prosper. The Patriots don’t care if they win because of defensive turnovers or Tom Brady’s arm, as long as they win. We shouldn’t be picky or personal about how we prosper, as long as we do so.

The Patriots players have an unbelievable dedication to their team. They never treat teammates inferiorly. Practice squad players are held to the same standards as the stars. Players with overly bold, distracting or selfish personalities soon become free agents. Player ego or the lack thereof is what collectively makes the team so strong. We, at UMass, completely ignore this. We need to be more loyal to our own team, i.e., UMass. Fellow students should be treated with equality, fairness and compassion. You don’t have to be friends with everyone, but you should recognize that we’re all playing for the same team and with the same end goal in mind. If we work together instead of against each other, UMass as a whole will greatly benefit.

Patriots’ players are versatile and play many roles. I went to the Patriots vs. Chiefs game last Monday night. Julian Edelman, an undersized and seemingly under qualified wide receiver returned a punt for a 72-yard touchdown, then made the tackle on the ensuing kickoff. Linebacker Mike Vrabel was famous for his goal line touchdowns. Patriots’ players are not bound by preconceived notions of who they are and what they can do. Patriots’ players are willing to play whatever role they need to for the team to win. Even if they solely played defense in college, players are willing to play offense for the Patriots. UMass students cannot be stuck in who they were in high school or who they think they should be at UMass. We cannot try to be everything to everyone. Doing what you can, whatever that may be, is absolutely necessary for UMass to prosper. Past achievements and strengths do not entail future success. Indeed, adaptation and innovation are our paths to prosperity. If we follow our personal strengths as they present themselves instead of seeking idealized but false competencies, our success is inevitable.

Ryan Walsh is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]