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When Belichick Brainstorms, New England Reigns

It was an act of, if not genius, wizardry. But ask him how he managed it, and Belichick makes it sound simple. He summarizes it with one sentence, a sentence that, typical of him, doesn't sound like much at first. And then you think about what he just said, and realize how smart it is.

"The less versatile you are, the better you have to be at what you do well," he says.

Patriots' Bill Belichick has built a team without superstars, one that is built on simple, solid valuations, like the coach himself. (Brian Snyder -- Reuters)

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That sentence suggests what Belichick does so well. In the end, what is a coach's job? Strip away all the schemes and strategems and it boils down to this: the job is to find ways to accentuate players' strengths while correcting or managing around their weaknesses, and sometimes even hiding them altogether.

This is not nearly as easy as it sounds, not when you factor in all of the potential complications, such as players beset by injuries, stars clamoring for playing time, relatives and friends badgering for tickets and attentions, skeptics and fans demanding victories, and everyone craving fast answers.

But Belichick's penchant for understatement and simplification imbues the whole franchise. It's a team built on simple, solid valuations. Take for example Belichick's appraisal of kicker Adam Vinatieri, whose leg has won Super Bowls and whose consistency is the envy of the league. "The only time you put a kicker on the field, it's because you expect to make it," he says. "Otherwise it's no sense putting him out there."

Now, once Belichick has stated this point, it seems perfectly obvious. But it's not especially apparent to a lot of overwrought coaches who agonize over field position.

Or take Troy Brown, who has transformed himself from a wide receiver into a reliable defensive back. Brown is the epitome of the kind of players the Patriots spend their money reasonably on: hard-working and versatile role players who do whatever is asked of them, and who don't make team-killing mistakes.

"You get the job done or you don't," Belichick says. "We're not talking about making the AFC play of the week. You're talking about getting off on the snap count like a good high school player would do. Or catching the ball like any good high school player would do."

Belichick has done something no one thought possible in this day and age in the NFL. He has built a team without superstars, without a receiver who strikes poses in the end zone, or holds Sharpie parties, guys who when they get to the end zone act like they've been there before and they're just doing their job.

He has fashioned a dominant team out of personnel flotsam -- guys such as Brown, who is a 12th-year vet who was an eighth-round pick in the 1993 draft. And David Givens, who was the 253rd player taken in the 2002 draft. And David Patten, who was an undrafted free agent. And center Dan Koppen, who was a fifth-rounder in 2003, the 163rd player taken. And of course there is Tom Brady, drafted as a sixth-rounder in 2001.

All you have to do is spend five minutes in Belichick's clubhouse to realize there isn't an ego in the room. It's a team built on unselfishness, with no exotic stars and comparatively few highly-paid ones. It is so correct in its on-field conduct that the Boston press has dubbed it The Stepford Team. This is a direct extension of its coach.

"It's a great group of guys that are very selfless, just committed to winning," says Brady. "That work hard, that listen to their coach, and respect their coach. And we get out on the field and we all have the same thing in mind. It's fun to lead a group of guys where there's no other agenda but winning games.

"I look at so many other teams and it's like, they have personalities. There's some people with good personalities, and some who can distract from what you're doing. And if you don't have everybody working in the same direction it becomes self-defeating. It's hard enough to win a game each week if you're doing everything the right way. Now when you have factors that are fighting against you, it's that much more difficult."

Does all of this make Belichick a genius? Nah. Probably not. The funny thing is, just about every week, Belichick says, "You call yourself an idiot."

But he's the winningest idiot around.

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