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Bill Belichick. (Photo: JC Ruiz).

The O’Toole Chronices: Lessons from Two Great Coaches

By Kevin O'Toole, September 06 2022 12:01 am

There are certain benefits to longevity in any particular job, and I believe coaching is one job where the more time spent, the better you will become at your craft.

Allegiances aside, I think we can all agree that two of the best coaches in football are undeniably Alabama head coach, Nick Saban, and New England Patriot head coach, Bill Belichick. 

I admit that while I have appreciated the successes of these two-future hall of fame coaches, I have never really been a fan of either individual.

After watching a special on HBO about these two, I reversed my opinion.

Interestingly, Nick and Bill first met when Nick Saban was an assistant coach on the same team as Bill’s dad. While visiting his father, Bill and Nick soon developed a friendship that remains intact to this day. After several years of toiling and working as an assistant coach, at the age of 38, Bill Belichick was offered the head coaching job for one of the worst NFL teams, the Cleveland Browns. Bill was overjoyed to finally get his shot at the big time. His first phone call was to Nick to recruit him to join the team. Nick accepted and over the next four years the duo turned the worst team into a contender.

This is where their paths diverged. 

Nick became an impactful and successful college coach. He won seven national championships and won 10 SEC championships as he compiled a record of 175-25. Once again, Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide are favorites to win the National Title.

Bill Belichick stayed in the NFL and is now in the discussion as the “GOAT” of NFL Coaches. Six Super Bowl Championships (with Tom Brady’s help), three Coach of the Year awards and an overall record of 321-156. Not bad for a guy who made “We’re on to Cincinnati” more famous than WKRP in Cincinnati (let’s see how many of you young readers need to Google this). 

To the point of the column. 

Nick and Bill have very similar styles and are considered old world. They both depend on gut instinct over statistics and human observation over computer generated data. It works for them and they are guided by a philosophy that is applicable to our world of politics:


  1. As a manager or coach/leader you need to clearly lay out objectives and assigned tasks. Making sure everyone is crystal clear about the team’s mission;
  2. Once everyone understands their specific job, it is incumbent on each to DO THEIR JOB.

It sounds like pretty easy and simple rules to follow to give your team a chance at success. But we see too many leaders today who fail to lay out a clear mandate or objective. Either they don’t have a grand plan or are too timid about offending someone with the plan. I once worked on a campaign where the candidate appointed no less than 4 different people as campaign managers, all privately and all at the same time. The principal didn’t want to offend various interest groups and wanted to appease them all. In short order, chaos broke out and someone had to jump in to restore order.

Getting to point 2. Assuming the vision is clear, then it is up the individuals to carry out their jobs. What I find in today’s environment is no one wants to do their job. Everyone wants to be the boss. Everyone knows best. And when things go awry, those same individuals are quick to cast blame elsewhere. (Important message to staff who read this: Don’t be afraid to get it wrong. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. Quickly learn from it and don’t make it again. In my political life or at our law firm, I’d much rather have the person willing to make the pass and miss it, than the person unwilling to make the play for fear of getting it intercepted).

Last point of the HBO segment. 

As I mentioned before, Nick and Bill are old school. The two super coaches trust their own personal interactions with players to make informed decisions and use data when it is needed to help a decision point. They made a final observation about how today’s players get their validation from social media and how many “likes” they get from total strangers. Both coaches found it peculiar and stated that players should be more focused on working with their teammates and coaches and getting validation from them, as opposed total strangers behind a keyboard they’ll never meet.


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