Super Bowl winning coach Bill Belichick is a stickler for details – almost to the point of obsession. So how does Belichick drill information into his players so that the retention is so successful? It’s called random quizzing and his players may be the most prepared NFL team because of it.
The questions can be things that are noticed on film—like a subtle trait of an opponent—or they can be biographical, like when an opposing player joined the team or what his background is.
The variety and seemingly random nature of the questions can cause a degree of panic in the locker room. There’s a hint of psychological warfare to the trivia contests. It’s great way to increase athlete motivation.
According to players, if a younger member of the team offers an answer, Belichick will often ask a studious veteran if that player is correct. It once happened with star quarterback Tom Bradyand then-backup Matt Cassel.
Belichick would ask a detailed question: “Hey, we’re in the high red zone, it’s second-and-six from the 18. What’s Indianapolis’ favorite blitz?” Cassel would answer “overloading the weak side.” Then Belichick would turn to Brady and ask “do you concur?” On the times Brady said the backup was incorrect, the room would erupt with laughter.
This happened often between veterans and younger players. If the younger player was wrong, Belichick would tell him: “You need to meet me in my office tomorrow morning to study,” a former player noted. “He would kind of turn players against each other to push them as far as he could.”
Defensive back Tavon Wilson said that Belichick can also turn the tables and ask younger players if the veterans are right. “He tries to find different ways for us to answer the questions.”
While a wrong answer can lead to laughter in a meeting room, make no mistake, players say: It’s a miserable experience for the player who was incorrect.
“It’s a chill silence for a few seconds. Bone chilling. If he doesn’t move on from there, and he’s just looking at you, oh yeah, it’s pretty awkward,” Wilson said.
Players say the quizzes are vital when they are on the field. Veterans who have played for multiple teams said the questions, and the anxiety that comes with being unprepared, contribute to a team that studies harder than just about anyone.
“Sometimes he’ll hit you with a couple real tough questions. But you’ve got to know that. And it’s not him just asking questions— it’s him trying to depend on us, us showing that we know what’s going on,” said safety Patrick Chung. “It keeps our minds going, it’s a daily thing… if you can anticipate certain things, or you know the game plan inside out, it makes it a lot easier to play fast. If you’re thinking about stuff, it’s impossible to play fast.”